Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Review: The Duke Is Mine

The Duke Is Mine
By Eloisa James
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Five Stars

Olivia Lytton was born to be a duchess, and her whole life has been a process of preparing her for that role. She and her twin sister Georgiana, younger by seven minutes, have been schooled in all the finer points of proper duchess behavior. The result in Georgiana’s case is perfection. From her slender beauty to her every word and move, she is ideal duchess material. Olivia, on the other hand, is disastrously frank with a fondness for bawdy limericks and a lushly curved body that fails the elegance test. Nevertheless, by virtue of being first born, she is destined to be the bride of Rupert Blakemore, Marquess of Montsurrey and heir to the Duke of Canterwick. Rupert is five years her junior and a simple soul who has none of Olivia’s intelligence and wit. But Rupert has reached the age of eighteen, and his father is eager to see him wed. Olivia is unhappy but resigned to her fate. Her consolation is that her marriage will enable her to dower Georgiana and help her to find a man with whom she can find happiness.

Surprisingly, it is young Rupert who delays the marriage because he has a vision of achieving military glory. He departs with a retinue his father is persuaded will keep him safe, leaving Olivia with the true love of his life, Lucy, a most non-aristocratic dog. Meanwhile Georgiana has received an invitation from the mother of Tarquin Brook-Chatfield, the Duke of Sconce, a woman bent on finding a proper duchess for her widowed son. Olivia accompanies her sister on her visit to the ducal domicile.

The Duke of Sconce, like Olivia, is resigned to marriage. His first marriage was a love match on his part, and it ended in tragedy. He allows his mother to play matchmaker because he has determined to have nothing more to do with love. His devotion now is reserved for mathematics, a field where he has better fortune solving the problems. But from his first sight of Olivia, his life begins to change. He finds her beautiful and the more time they spend together, the greater distraction she becomes. Since his mother is putting Georgiana and another young woman through a series of tests to determine their fitness to become the next Duchess of Sconce, Quin and Olivia are often in each other’s company. Soon to the physical attraction that sparked between them early are added an appreciation of one another’s intelligence, an openness in their communication, and the sense of wholeness they discover in one another. Georgiana thinks Quin will make her a perfect husband. Olivia’s betrothal papers to a man who is fighting for his country have been signed. What are two honorable people who are hopelessly in love to do?

The Duke Is Mine is the third book in James’s Happily Ever After series, novels that offer the author’s take on classic fairy tales. Although I loved A Kiss at Midnight (Cinderella) and When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Beauty and the Beast), I had reservations about a romance based on the Princess and the Pea. Unlike the other two, it was not a favorite fairy tale, and I didn’t see it as romantic at all. I should have trusted the author. James takes elements from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale and weaves them into a story that is truly and delightfully a romance.

Like the princess in the fairy tale, when Olivia first meets “the prince,” she is a refugee from the storm, “in a sad condition; the water trickled down from her hair, and her clothes clung to her body.” But unlike the original bedraggled princess, Olivia doesn’t feel like a real princess—or even a real duchess. She is convinced that she is totally unsuited physically and temperamentally to be a duchess, and it is not she but her sister who is being tested by the reigning matriarch. Olivia is everything Quin’s mother finds most unsuitable for a real duchess. But Olivia is no passive princess who goes meekly off to sleep on twenty mattresses. She challenges Quin from their first exchange. I loved her irrepressibility and vulnerability and determination to be herself. I loved that she was more earthy than ethereal. I loved her wit and her bawdy sense of humor. I loved her intelligence, strength, and honor. I loved her understanding heart.

And Quin! I fell hard for him from the first description.

. . . the Duke of Sconce was the sort of man repulsed by the very idea of fairy tales. He neither read nor thought about them (let alone believed in them); the notion of playing a role in one would have been preposterous, and he would have rejected outright the notion that he resembled in any fashion the golden-haired, velvet-lad princes generally found in such tales.

Tarquin Brook-Chatfield, Duke of Sconce—known as Quin to his intimates, who numbered exactly two—was more like the villain in those stories than the hero, and he knew it.

I loved Quin’s intelligence, his passion for mathematics, and his logic. Most of all, I loved his overwhelming feelings for Olivia.

This is a story rich in humor, and I smiled a lot and sometimes laughed aloud while reading it. But as the story unfolded, I became aware how much more there was to the novel than a few hours entertainment. James takes a company of flawed characters and from the hero and heroine to Quin’s arrogant mother to the plebian pet, Lucy, shows love making them all “real.” Quin’s mother might have been just another controlling mother, but James reveals that it is not false pride but genuine love for her son who was devastated by his first marriage that motivates her actions. Even Rupert’s manipulative father becomes endearing when the reader sees his pride and love for his son. Rupert’s foil, his cousin Justin (a Bieber tribute in honor of James’s daughter), might have been shallow but instead possesses an enviable joie de vivre. Georgiana’s perfection would have been boring had the reader not seen the unconventional ambition that lay beneath her polished exterior. And most surprising, Rupert, who in less skillful hands might have been little more than a buffoon, become the realest of all—not because he ends up a military hero but because he had all along the sensitivity and compassion that are the very definition of realness, as the story of the Princess and the Pea illustrates.

The Duke Is Mine has all the things I look for in an Eloisa James novel: the wit, the literary allusions, the lyrical moments, the love scene in an unexpected setting. Quin and Olivia’s tree house, which “had windows on all four sides open to the moonlight, which poured in like fairy dust turned silver,” may just be my favorite in a long list of such scenes.

This is a book to which I will return, one that I will reread often, anticipating that it will break my heart in places and set it singing in others. I highly recommend it.

Do you like romances based on fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?


TerriOsburn said...

You. Are. Killing. Me!!!

I need this book. And I'm claiming holiday brain for not having an answer to the question. Other than Eloisa's, I can't think of any right now. LOL!

irisheyes said...

I do like fairytales with Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast being among my favorites. I have to confess that I know nothing about The Princess and the Pea, except the title. LOL

As with anything, though, I would trust EJ to hit it out of the ballpark for me, with me knowing the basis for the story or not.

Santa said...

I do adore James' wit in her stories but what always gets me is her gift of painting such beautiful pictures with her pen. '...like fairy dust turned silver.' Yes, she's right...fairy dust does turn silver in the moonlight!

Yes, I am certain I will be delighted with Eloisa's latest. I always am.

Janga said...

Terri, even for Eloisa, this is a special book. I can't wait for everyone to read it so that we can talk about it.

Janga said...

Irish, The Princess and the Pea is a short tale. The main thing is the prince's mother's test of a pea (or three peas in some versions) under twenty mattresses (seven in some versions) to see if the fugitive from the storm is a real princess. Evidently real princesses have very tender skin. LOL If I had ever harbored any doubts, TDIM would have convinced me of EJ's genius. What she does with the pea is so smart.

I can't wait to see what she does with the Ugly Duckling, which is next.

Janga said...

San, isn't the image perfect--and so beautiful. I always look for those lyrical lines in EJ's books. I love them. I love the literary allusions too. Rupert's poem in this one is one of my favorite things about the book.

TerriOsburn said...

I believe the Ugly Duckling (The Ugly Duchesse is the title, I think) has a bit of pirate fun. Can't wait for that one either.

Janga said...

I think you're right about the title, Terri. I didn't know about the pirates, but that does sound like fun.