Monday, April 10, 2006
Friday (err... Monday) Review — The Taming of the Duke
At long last, the awaited review of Eloisa James' latest, The Taming of the Duke. I know I promised it back in March, when it would actually have been early. But life, Lent and literature (in the form of graduate programs, which I'm currently debating between) all intruded. Enough excuses. Without further preamble, the Essex sisters!
I know Kate D. is bracing herself for Imogen's story. I shared her low (and irritated) opinion of Imogen in the second book in the series, Kiss Me Annabel. But I am perhaps more forgiving of annoying secondary characters, as I was never (or only a very little) worried about how Imogen would fare as heroine of her own novel.
In fact, the novel far exceeded my expectations. I liked it much better than Annabel's story--I'm always disposed against heroines with perfect beauty and heads for math to boot--and better than many of the books in the series that began with Duchess In Love (wouldn't Esme's story alone have made the best novel of them all?). But first, a little background.
Imogen is the third of the poor-in-money but rich-in-horse-flesh Essex sisters. She is the impetuous romantic one who trapped her girlhood crush into marrying her in the first Essex novel, only to see him killed in a horse race a few weeks after their marriage. In the second book, she threw herself into bold flirtations in an attempt to gain a reputation as a disgraceful widow.
Now, a year after being widowed, she's mellowed quite a lot and is much less grief stricken. She's still looking for a lover, though in a less obvious way. When she is forced to spend some time at her former guardian Rafe's country estate, she sets her sights on his illegitimate brother as her best candidate.
I won't go too much more into detail as I don't want to deprive you of the pleasure of this read. Suffice it to say, long-drunken Rafe, the Duke of the title, cleans up his act and a very fun case of mistaken identity, courtesy of A Midsummer Night's Dream, influences the rest of the novel.
Imogen turned out to be a delightful heroine away from London and most of her sisters. She's not showing off, playing for the audience, and trying to prove herself as she was in the previous books. She's much more reflective and her oblivion to her attraction to Rafe is pleasant and natural, rather than contrived.
Rafe is a brilliant hero, witty, self-deprecating, strong but confused. The dialogue is snappy and the situations entertaining. There's even a subtle throw-away reference to Mansfield Park in the subplot about an amateur play taking place at Rafe's estate (that's my version of "You had me at hello"). I can't promise this Duke is for everyone, but those willing to look past Imogen's prior misdeeds will be pleasantly surprised.