Genre: Historical Romance
Original Pub. Date: 2008
Unusually for me, I have very little to say about this book, unless it's to make the general comment that it is, like most of Eloisa James's other books, decently written, entertaining, and a good example of a fun genre.
Oh, what the hell, I guess I do have something to say. I originally picked up one of James's books to see what Avon's been doing with the historical romance subgenre, since it's one that has a lot of potential -- Georgette Heyer, anyone?** -- but one that's lately turned into an orgy (pun intended) of anachronistic peeresses-having-barn-sex and oiled-up guys in kilts. Don't believe me?
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The cover of Duchess By Night is better than this one, almost by default, and I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the book is better too, though I haven't had the pleasure of reading X Marks the Scot.
Like most of Avon's historical romance publications -- or those I've read, anyway -- Duchess By Night has a more restrained attitude, in addition to a more restrained cover, than entries in many other publishers' similar lines of sex-in-postchaise stories.**** Harlequin's books, for example, almost always require the hero and heroine to jump into bed with each other with unseemly haste. To give Harlequin's writers a little bit of credit, the heroes frequently don't finish the job that way. Even so, it's hard to build up much sexual tension, or plot of any kind, when the driving force of the first few chapters is all aimed at getting two people unclothed. Two people, let us recall, who are almost always rich and titled, and therefore surrounded by servants and others -- not to mention the morals of the period, but let's not even bother with those. Harlequin so rarely does. In short, Jane Austen these books ain't.
Eloisa James's books take a little longer to reach a climax, let's say, although they do contain plenty of . . . postchaises. I'm not sure if this reflects James's preferences or Avon's editorial preferences -- given what I know about the industry, I'm guessing the latter, with James choosing Avon as a publisher partially based on that good fit -- but the fact that the first sex scene is often in a double-digit chapter makes Avon's historicals in general, and this one in particular, more interesting as novels rather than just sexy corset time interspersed with a few lame attempts at plotting.*****
Duchess By Night is part of a series, and as such contains multiple secondary characters who all have their own sexy and corset-y books. And further as such, it would be sporting with your patience to really describe much of what goes on here. Suffice to say, a duchess dresses as a man and goes to a scandalous house party in the country. There are a few farcical misunderstandings; as in most of James's books, the plot and tone are strongly influenced by Shakespearean comedy. There are truly funny moments, the characters aren't too annoying, and if you're looking for a light fluffy read, you could do much, much worse.
Since you might have gathered that from my point of view one review (more or less) covers most of James's books, let me clear up the great mystery that's no doubt been tormenting my gentle reader(s) (Hi, Mom!!): I chose this one because of the dedication page. In the context of my recent read, Laura Lee Guhrke's
Georgette Heyer, inventor of the Regency romance, also dabbled in the 18th century (in which Duchess By Night is set). Heyer's The Masqueraders (1928) features a woman wearing men's clothing who becomes friends with a man who then discovers her secret. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the only point of similarity between the two books. The plots are otherwise entirely different, the characters are completely dissimilar in every way, and honestly, most people wouldn't even notice the small loan James took from Heyer for this one.
The dedication reads: "This book is dedicated to Georgette Heyer. Though a few writers before her did dress women in male clothing (Shakespeare comes to mind), Ms. Heyer's brilliantly funny cross-dressed heroines set the standard for all modern romance novelists."
How gracious is that? Duchess By Night gets 2.75 stars; it wasn't a great read, but it was perfectly acceptable, if forgettable. Eloisa James, on the other hand, gets about a million stars for style and courtesy.
* Not, not, NOT to be confused with E.L. James. Now that's a similarity that would have most decent writers tearing out their hair in frustration.
** Hah! Reviewers can use foreshadowing too!
*** Pam cooking spray, then 425 degrees for half an hour.
**** While I'm not discounting historical romances set in other places and times, let's face it: when we think of the genre, we think 1770-1830 in the British Isles.
***** Since I've already ranted about novels vs. romance novels, please feel free to catch up before reading on.