Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

I'm certain I'm not the only one who felt frustrated when Jo March didn't end up with Laurie in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. The friends-to-lovers story plot is one of my favorites to read -- I love that the hero and heroine have a rich backstory together, shared experiences that shape their dynamics. Somehow, the love that develops between friends runs deeper, feels sweeter -- and the pain of betrayal runs just as deep and tastes just as bitter.

James and Theo have this -- that easy connection that comes from being very good friends and being there for each other for their entire lives. How they came to discover love was a bit dubious, with James's father forcing him to marry Theo to save their estates (and to cover up his father's embezzlement of Theo's dowry) -- but when they realized that they loved each other ... wow.

Being young, being giddy in-love, the exuberance and excitement that the two young lovers feel is infectious -- and Eloisa James makes the exhilaration that they feel leap off the page.

And we feel for Theo when she hears of James's (and his father's) duplicity. It isn't only her lover who betrayed her, but her dearest and closest friend.

"We had a chance, you know. Even after the way it happened."
- James to his father, p. 120

James goes away because that's what Theo asked him to do. Then James stays away for almost seven years -- at first, intending to stay away forever, planning to be declared dead so that Theo could be free of him.

It is devastating for our hero and heroine to lose their lodestones (each other) -- and, for awhile, both of them are lost before discovering that there is another way to live.

And they change.

James returns, tattooed and scarred, tanned and rough around the edges. No longer the perfectly handsome young man he was. And Theo blossoms, exuding a beautiful and quiet confidence, shedding her Ugly Duchess reputation.

But can the new Theo love the new James?

This is the emotional core of the story -- two people who knew each other so perfectly have now become perfect strangers to one another after almost seven years of separation.

The Ugly Duchess reminds me of Eloisa James's earlier work, When the Duke Returns -- the main difference is that Theo and James already have some emotional investment in their relationship and are trying to pick up the pieces, whereas Isidore and Simeon are just starting out.

There's a lot of Theo to overcome: James admits to infidelity while they were separated and he has lived the past seven years as a pirate

Add to these, their past, which Theo still hasn't forgiven James for.

But James is determined to stay and fight for their love, something he wished he had done all those years ago. Both Theo and James struggle to find the friend they lost and they struggle to find the love they lost.

Two stories are being told: what is and what might have been -- while reading the book, I kept thinking, what if James had stayed? How would things be with him and Theo? It's a different sort of sadness when James comes back to Theo and they aren't the same people anymore --

"So I think -- I hope -- we can simply be honest with each other, like the friends we once were, and with respect to the affection we once shared."

He muttered something.

"I'm sorry?"

"It was love, not affection,"he said, raising his head.

"Of course," she said lightly. "I've come to think of our marriage as being very like Juliet and Romeo's in its brief intensity. I expect it was a good thing that we were never tested by life. Our love was too passionate, like a summer storm thay quickly dies down."

"I disagree. I think we would have had children by now," he said evenly. "We would have fallen more deeply in love. I would have confessed why I married you, at some point, and you would have forgiven me, because that's what people in love do."
- p. 264

I really loved this story. I loved how the author takes us through the experience of loving and knowing all the different kinds of love that exist: young, innocent love; the imperfect love of parents; the older/wiser kind of love; etc.

The characters are very relatable and I found myself cheering for Theo and James as they stumble and make mistakes and as they picked themselves up and moved forward.

Eloisa James expertly captures the essence of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale and weaves this spellbinding, immensely enjoyable tale of two young lovers driven apart by circumstances but find each other again and find love the second time around.

The Ugly Duchess is part of Eloisa James's Fairy Tales series. There is a companion novella, Seduced by a Pirate, which tells Griffin Barry's story.

To find out more about Eloisa James and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

I read this book as part of the Reading Romances Challenge 2013 for January.

reading romances reading challenge 2013


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