Top critical review
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A rare depature from form
on 12 January 2012
Olivia Lytton, not titled but of 'good stock' has been engaged to be married to a future duke, the son of her father's best friend, from the time she was 5. She cares a great deal for Rupert. He's a sweet, good-natured man, even if he isn't all that he could be mentally-speaking. Which makes her attraction to Tarquin ('Quin'), the Duke of Sconce problematic. The fact that he is the suitor her parents wish for her sister, Georgiana, is even more problematic. But worst of all is the fact that the attraction doesn't seem to be one-sided...
Eloisa James's novels are extremely well-written, engaging, and provide a wealth of accurate and fascinating historical detail. They're romances, but fresh, intelligently written, articulate romances whose author isn't afraid of dealing with some difficult issues... and all without becoming smug/preachy. So for me to find myself not thoroughly enjoying one of these books was a big disappointment.
The fairytale theme as a plot device almost seems tacked on as an afterthought, instead of providing the promised reworking of a classic tale. Indeed, the book seems to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, including a departure into romantic adventure territory (in the fashion of The Scarlet Pimpernal) towards the end - a change of scene and pacing which sees some interesting characters and plot lines being thrown by the wayside. A real shame as in earlier novels, such as the Duchess sequence and the Essex sisters novels, an array of secondary characters got to play out various aspects of their stories (e.g. Rafe's alcoholism; Esme and Sebastian's relationship; Tuppy and Carola's revived marriage). To me, this felt as though two novels had been awkwardly and belatedly spliced together and forced. Either had potential if properly seen to fruition - but neither had time to properly play out.
It's not a bad novel, but it's a long way from the best by this writer.