Duchess by Night by Eloisa James

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Duchess by Night by Eloisa James

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Bonkbuster meets chick lit meets bodice ripper in this Georgette-Heyer-inspired modern take on the Regency romance, this time among Georgian posh ladies in compromising circumstances. Escapist entertainment at its best, pure, simple and glorious.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0340961087

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In this third instalment of the Desperate Duchesses series the focus is on Harriet, the Duchess of Berrow. A widow of two years, Harriet manages her vast estate, makes judgements in the local court (where the judge is only a drunken figurehead) and is generally settled into her life. But she feels unattractive, old and boring; ready to find another husband but doesn't attract too many dancers, never mind suitors, when she turns up at a costume ball dressed as a dumpy Mother Goose (complete with a stuffed bird). When her friend sets off on a visit to a permanent house party at a residence of a certain very disreputable Lord Strange (in order to create a scandal and entice a husband she never met back to the country), Harriet decides to go with her, but worried about the debauchery, she goes as a young man, a nephew of Duke Villiers who also accompanies the ladies.

Wearing of breaches brings Harriet new freedoms and new interests. She discovers her talent for rapier, develops a liking for riding (men's style) and acts as a go-between to a hopeful actress and the master of the house. She also, freed of the wig, the panniers, the corsets and the skirts, sees her legs for the first time, discovers her own attractiveness, and falls in lust, or is it love?

With elements of chick-lit, bonkbuster and a classic bodice-ripper, a sprinkling of bawdy humour and the delicious gender-bending possibilities always associated with cross-dressing heroines, Eloise James revives the successful template of Georgette Heyer's classic Regency romances (Heyer is even credited on the front page) for our more liberated age. One can argue about which rendition is closer to the original mores of the time, although both are undoubtedly anachronistic.

Duchess by Night combines a lively plot, evocatively presented background, a touch of class snobbery, romance, sex, heartache and posh Georgian ladies in compromising situations to produce a witty, tasty and very enjoyable caper.

Harriet is a fundamentally mature woman and a decent human being, always ready to make a stand in a good cause, but she's also insecure about her attractiveness and unaware of the deepest joys of sexual pleasure. She makes an immediately likeable and endearing heroine, anachronistic enough to enable modern readers to identify with her, but not as much as to make her totally unrealistic. James cleverly makes her a widow, which not only allows Harriet to be seven-and-twenty years of age but also gives her a degree of sexual experience and awareness (and thus an 18th century Duchess becomes much more like a typical chick-lit character than traditionally barely-of-age heroines of historical romances could be).

The other characters, as stereotypical as they often are, fit the bill exceedingly well: a very manly main love interest; a cynical, decadent male friend; a jolly actress of an easy virtue but rather traditional values; a precocious child in need of a mother. It's all immensely enjoyable and the essentially derivative character of the tale doesn't matter at all – in fact, a historical romance is one of the genres in which general predictability combined with an inventive application of details is a distinct virtue.

I enjoyed the first half of Duchess by Night most. The sparkle fizzed out a bit after Harriett's disguise was discovered by her main protagonist and the romance proper started in earnest, giving way to lush sex scenes and mandatory misunderstandings leading to a temporary but heartbreaking setback.

The sex scenes, as usual in historical romances which contain any, were rather long, but done with merciful restraint. Instead of the gushing typical of the genre, Jones' part-explicit, part-oblique descriptions make a decent job of what is a difficult task. With cuppings of kept to a very reasonable minimum, purple-prose held mostly in check and no Clelandesque names for penises, sex scenes in Duchess were actually bearable even to this reviewer who normally doesn't delight in such a thing at all.

Duchess by Night is escapist entertainment at its best, pure, simple and glorious. Make yourself a generous, sparkly, Lush bath, pour a glass of favourite tipple, light some candles (but keep a light on for reading) and enjoy this lively romp.

Thanks to the publishers for delighting the BookBag so!

Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon is an ultimate bodice ripper, while fans of the Desperate Duchesses series should be sure that they've also read An Affair Before Christmas.

Buy Duchess by Night by Eloisa James at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Duchess by Night by Eloisa James at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Duchess by Night by Eloisa James at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Duchess by Night by Eloisa James at Amazon.com.


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