Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TBR Challenge 2013: Seducing The Duchess

The Book: Seducing The Duchess by Ashley March (Author is now apparently writing under the name Elise Rome)

The Particulars: Historical Romance, Signet, 2010, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: According to my records, I picked up this debut novel at RWA 2011 (New York City, AKA Wendy's Librarian Of The Year year).  I also seem to recall meeting this author at that conference.  Possibly hanging out in the hotel bar one night?

The Review:  I have been in a reading slump, partly because I've read some books I haven't enjoyed and partly because I've read books that have bored me.  Neither bad or good, but flat.  Lifeless.  Which honestly?  Those books are worse for me than ones I dislike.  At least dislike is an emotion.  Indifference is just....depressing.  So when picking up a book for this month's TBR Challenge, I wanted something with some fire in it.  So yeah, I went with a book that promised to give me two characters in an adversarial relationship.  Make no mistake, this book has it's issues - but do I care?  No.  No, I do not.  This book actually got a reaction out of me.  Several in fact.  Good, bad, gasping, swooning from the angst, and it damn near ripped my heart out in parts.

The slump is dead!  Long live the slump!

Philip Burgess, Duke of Rutherford, has just kidnapped his wife out of a notorious gambling den.  Their marriage has been a disaster since the morning after their wedding night - which was when Philip told his wife that he only married her to get revenge against her traitorous brother.  This news was a major blow for Charlotte.  Philip wooed her, romanced her, claimed his love for her, and in turn she fell in love with him.  To have him tell her that it was all a lie?  Immediately abandon her for his mistress?  And to essentially ignore her when they are living in the same house for three, long years?  Yeah, Charlotte gets pissed and grows a spine.  She may love Philip, but she hates him more, and she'll do anything to get her freedom.  Even though divorce means scandal, there is nothing more than cold fish, unemotional Philip loathes more than a scandal.  So she puts on the full court press to horrify him as much as humanly possible - which essentially means acting the faithless whore.

The joke is on them both though.  Because while Philip may have wed her for revenge?  He's fallen in love with her.  And while Charlotte may want nothing more than to be free of her husband?  She can't stop loving him that easily.

What I liked about this story, I really liked.  I liked that in other plots of this ilk, the heroine would run off to the country, live in seclusion, and become a martyr who fills her days with charity work.  Not Charlotte.  Philip's betrayal so deeply wounded her that where other women would shrink back?  She fights, and she fights dirty.  She may have been an innocent country mouse when Philip married her, but at twenty-two she plays the game as well as he does.  Never let them see you sweat, and choose your words carefully to inflict maximum damage.  It's those words, the dialogue, the back-and-forth, that made this book so compulsively readable for me.  I couldn't get enough:
"If you do no release me at once, I vow that at the first opportunity I shall incapacitate you, and any hope you have of ever reproducing will be lost."  
Philip carefully set her away from him.  "I had forgotten how charming and pleasant you can be." 
"Only with you, dear husband.  Only with you."  She thrust out her arms.  "You may untie my wrists as well." 
"I don't suppose you would say please." 
"I don't suppose you really care that much for a son."
It's blissful to read exchanges like this, all the while realizing that Philip's sole reason for kidnapping his wife is because he loves her and wants to be with her.

Which isn't to say this book is perfect.  It's a story with a legion of issues.  For one thing, both of these characters are manipulative as hell.  They're not nice people, and frankly I'm not sure I should care that they get a happy ending.  The nicest thing I can say about them?  That they deserve each other.

Also, the time period of this book is rather hazy.  It's 19th century England, uh in some year.  Clues are short in coming, but my guess would be early-to-mid Victorian.  Also, I could have used some more background when it came to the romance.  It's easy to understand how Charlotte would fall in love with Philip, a charming Duke putting on the full-court-press with a young woman in her late teens.  But Philip falling in love with Charlotte?  That I'm not so sure about.  Why?  How?  How does he go from marrying her for revenge, living in the same house with her for three years, basically ignoring her, to realizing it's love?  And speaking of that revenge thing?  That needed help.  Mostly because Ethan betrays Philip by attempting to elope with the woman Philip was supposed to marry.  Yet the elopement never happens, the woman marries someone else, and Ethan is disowned.  None of this is delved into in any depth, and dagnabit, it's a major tease!  I wanted more!  More angst!  More anguish!  More, more, more!  Given that this book only clocks in at 300 pages?  Yeah, why not give readers 50 more pages and delve into some of this back-story a bit?  It certainly would have made for a more well-rounded story.

And yet?  I still loved this book.  All these issues keep me from giving it an A, but dang, the angst!  The anguish!  It damn near ripped my heart out in places (I defy anyone to read Chapter 10 and not get choked up.  Seriously).  Was it perfect?  No.  Was it the best romance novel I've ever read?  No.  But it found me at the right time.  It reminded me of why I like to read this genre.  It made me feel.  It triggered an actual, viable emotional response in me.  Thank you sweet baby Jesus, I wasn't bored!  No, it's not perfect and yes, I can totally see how other readers would strongly dislike this book and think I've finally gone off my nut.  But again, ask me if I care.  The answer?  Yeah, I don't.

Final Grade = B+


willaful said...

I put this one down and keep meaning to pick it up again, because I just loved her second book. (Romancing the Countess....? Something with a countess.)

Phyl said...

Ha! Like willaful, I started this one but didn't get far. Certainly not to chapter 10. I'll have to try again.

Christine said...

You've got my attention! I love angsty romances.. especially historical romances for some reason. I'm going to look for this one and add it to my TBR pile. HA! TAKE THAT TBR CHALLENGE! :P

Anonymous said...

I thought this looked familiar, but apparently it isn't in my TBR. I almost added it on the strength of this review, but the price stopped me. Penguin, naturally; the Kindle edition is 70 cents more than the MMP. No sale.

Wendy said...

Willaful: I really liked her voice/style - so I'm off to hunt down her other books. I did have my issues, but I still thought it was a strong read.

Phyl: It's definitely problematic. I can totally see some readers saying, "These people are asshats. I don't want to read about asshats!" LOL But it caught me at the right moment, and sucked me in....

Christine: I'm an angst ho. I might need help.

SonomaLass: Yeah, I did a double-take when I looked up the book on Amazon. My digital reading tends to be exclusively ARCs and Harlequins, so I still have that double-take reaction when I see more-expensive-than-print digital editions :(

Hilcia said...

Wendy, I love that this book reached you even with all the issues you list above. It may sounds contradictory, but it happens! I just finished reading/reviewing a book like that. AND, that book helped pushed me a "little" out of my own reading funk.

Cheers to the end of your reader's block.

Wendy said...

Hils: Too many "C" reads in a row and I tend to hit a wall of indifference. I hate that feeling. I'd much rather be reading books that provoke a strong reaction out of me (good or bad!) than wade through "Blah, it was OK....I guess."