The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I saw this book recommended on a blog post somewhere which encouraged people who don't read romance to give it a try. I occasionally read fantasy or SF that has a romance plot in it, so I thought I'd see what straight (historical) romance was like.
It's good. The editing is clean, which means I can relax and focus on the story. Romance, as I understand it, is all about the relationship between the characters, and that is certainly what you get here; there are events, but they are there to drive, complicate, or illuminate the relationship.
One problem I sometimes have with romance is that the couple concerned don't seem like attractive people to me. The woman is some combination of weaksauce, stupid, or an emotional mess; the man is a heartless brute; together, they fight crime - I mean, bonk like rabbits. I'm glad to say that was definitely not a problem here. The female lead is clever and determined, level-headed, and generally admirable, though not overly perfect or without problems; she isn't ridiculously beautiful, she has believable emotional issues from her past, and she struggles with the decisions she must make for powerful reasons that made sense for her character and situation. The male lead is kind, open-minded, and respectful of women in general and the female lead in particular; he, too, is messed up by his background in ways that drive the plot. (However, I did think that he made a remarkably stupid decision at one point that teetered on the edge of being driven by the plot rather than making complete emotional sense.)
I flirted with the idea of giving it five stars, but in the end didn't, because just occasionally the illusion slipped, and I was reminded that I was reading something written in the 21st century by an American, but set in 1860s Britain. The most glaring example was when the duke says "that was dumb", something that I suspect very few British dukes would say even today; but there were a few others. I also wondered, and never found out, where the characters got their sex education, and why they appeared to be so comfortable with their sexuality. All of this made it more like watching a play (where you have to consciously suspend your disbelief that the painted backdrop is a drawing room) than watching a movie shot on location. Still enjoyable, but more mental work.
Notwithstanding that, a fine effort, and I recommend it.
View all my reviews