December 2008, European Historical Romance (1780s [Georgian] England)
Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061245607 Part of a series
Eloisa James is normally a hit or miss author for me, and Iím happy to say that When the Duke Returns is one of her hits. The vivacious heroine, reserved hero, and sympathetic secondary characters ratchet up a familiar plot.
Isidore married Simenon, Duke of Conway, by proxy when she was twelve. After eleven years of marriage, Isidore is finally meeting her husband for the first time after his return from Africa. Unfortunately, she is not quite what her husband expects and, as a result, there is the possibility that her husband will annul the marriage. At the ripe old age of 23, sheís too old to find a new husband and desperately wants children. Therefore, she plans to seduce him and consummate the marriage even though heís a virgin and she finds him odd, maybe even deranged.
Simeon returns to England after more than a decade abroad exploring exotic locales to discover a bride unlike the demure, subtle creature his mother described in letters. While abroad, he learned the Middle Way, a way of life that allows him to avoid chaos and suppress inner passions and urges. With Isidore, he knows heíll experience urges and disruption aplenty. To make matters more chaotic, he returns to find his estate in turmoil, his brother neglected, and his family name tarnished by the actions of his father. Before he can determine the best solution for his marriage, he has to work out his familyís problems.
When Isidore unexpectedly shows up at the estate, Simeonís resolve to avoid temptation is sorely battered. She, on the other hand, is oblivious to his internal battle and canít figure out how to make him want to stay married to her. As she tries to prove herself useful by showing how well she can manage an estate, she further shows sheís not the meek wife he hoped for while she begins to realize she might be better off without him.
In the background of Isidore and Simeonís story, is the love triangle between Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont, her husband Elijah, and the Duke of Villiers. Each time one of their scenes would appear, I wanted more. James creates a complicated story for these three that isnít anywhere near resolved in this book. At the same time, this is also a problem in that so much time is spent creating characters for a future story. It takes attention away from the main couple.
Characters propel this story. Learning to fend for herself at a young age and influenced by her feisty Italian mother, Isidore is strong and vivacious. While, I enjoyed Simeonís character for the most part, his utter control began to wear on my nerves. I would be remiss if I didnít mention Simeonís cold, bitter, and somewhat loony mother. Though there was nothing likable about her character, she added tension and is certainly a character to remember. It should also be noted that the story is set during the Georgian era and the clothes themselves are almost a character in their own right. James details the apparel, or the lack of conformity to the accepted dress code of the wealthy by Simeon in order to show how his travels changed him. However, apart from the clothing and a slight loosening of social/moral constraints, there wasnít much to indicate the Georgian era.
Ultimately, in When the Duke Returns Eloisa James delivers a story that revolves around interesting characters worth spending time with. I look forward to reading more.
-- Heather Brooks
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