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The Duchess referred to in the title is Victoria Carson, an American heiress who has lived in London since she was a young girl. Her mother has grand ambitions of having Victoria marry a title, and Victoria has lived her whole life preparing to be a peer's wife. It is near the end of another season for Victoria, and with only one suitor, she is preparing herself to accept his proposal, despite her own reservations.
But when her parents inform her of her (sudden) engagement to the Earl of Dunnley, Victoria is, at once, concerned and intrigued, because she had never heard of or met the man before, and she wonders how a man could propose marriage so quickly without ever having met her. She had long accepted that society would regard her for her wealth first, and that seems to be the case with the Earl of Dunnley.
She said nothing more. No one cared what she thought anyway. She existed only to be attractive, polite, and to marry well, and that was apparently about to happen with very little input from her. Whenever she'd imagined her future, her husband had always remained little more than a shadowy figure in the background. Since she had almost no say in the choosing, she didn't waste mental energy imagining some paragon of a man she'd never have. Now it seemed she would have the Earl of Dunnly, whoever that was.
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No one had heard of the Earl of Dunnley, because Andrew Carson had spent most of his adult life away from England. He enjoys his work in Italy, digging up remnants of Etruscan history, his field of expertise. As a second son, and a bastard, Andrew has never had close ties with his families -- but, when his older brother died, Andrew knew it was only a matter of time before he would be summoned by his father to do his duty to their family name.
It was already a distasteful prospect, but, when Andrew discovers how his engagement to Victoria came about, it became even more disagreeable.
Prepared to dislike Victoria, Andrew is unprepared for Victoria's breathtaking beauty. And Victoria is equally disarmed by Andrew's handsomeness.
None of this was genuine. This was an arrangement he was being forced into to save his sisters. And Miss Carson, no matter how attractive he found her, was marrying him for one reason only: to claim his cursed title for her own. Whatever desperate straits had driven him to this moment, she was here because she wanted something, and that something had nothing to do with him as a man. For her, this was business, and it needed to remain that for him, as well.
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For a while, I worried about Victoria and Andrew, because it was obvious that they were relying solely on the physical attraction between them, and I wondered how the author would proceed with their love story with that being the sole basis. But, Amanda Weaver shows that she has a clear vision of her story, and that the initial draw between our hero and heroine would later become part of a more complex picture.
In truth, this story takes a while to set-up: with the lengthy narrative into Victoria's unhappy relationship with her mother, and her years at Lady Grantham's Finishing School. Then there's the emphasis on Victoria's (lack of) experience in managing country estates. This was another point that I initially wondered about -- because it made Victoria seem so shallow, but, as the story progresses, I realize that this is a very useful detail after Andrew and Victoria marry.
All the pieces start falling into place when Andrew and Victoria marry -- to be more precise, it starts to fall into place on the night before they marry. Andrew discovers a deeper (more insidious) story to his father's arrangement with Victoria's father -- and, while Andrew's first instinct is to call off the wedding, but he is honor-bound to fulfill his part of the bargain.
There is a tug between attraction and repulsion between Andrew and Victoria -- Andrew is determined to keep Victoria at arms' length, but Victoria's innocent and passionate response to him is hard to resist. Fight or fold? Andrew abandons his wife of one day in Briarwood, their broken-down estate and returns to Italy with only a brief note informing his wife of his plans.
Victoria wakes up alone, and unprepared for the life Andrew has left her with -- but, like her husband, she is determined to fight -- and, with the help of her maid and the housekeeper, Victoria slowly restores Briarwood. This is where all the set-up in the early chapters really come to play -- and we see Victoria grow from a social butterfly, into something grander -- into a version of herself that she hadn't even imagined for herself.
My favorite part of Weaver's plot: Victoria's quest for a family. It is such a tension-filled arrangement with Andrew -- and I love the ruthlessness and single-mindedness in which Victoria pursues her goal. After Andrew's initial abandonment, Victoria turns the tables on him and takes control of their sexual affairs. She is clear that she wants a child, and she lays out all the ground rules for her and Andrew. Page after page, chapter after chapter, I kept wondering if she is able to achieve her goal -- because, at this point, I found myself rooting for Victoria. I want her to have it all. I want her to achieve her dream. I want her to have her happy ending.
She could not let him in. He was untrustworthy, and had broken her too many times already. She wasn't giving him any more chances to do it again. He could do what he liked with her body, if that's the way it had to be. He would not gain access to her heart through it.
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A slow start that leads to a spectacularly amazing finish: I hadn't expected to enjoy Amanda Weaver's novel as much as I did, but it really is a beautiful, well-planned out story. There are a lot of points that I could discuss further here, but this is really one of those books you have to read for yourself.
A Duchess in Name is Amanda Weaver's debut historical romance novel (She previously wrote and published contemporaries) and will be released on January 18, 2016. It is the first book in her Grantham Girls series. To find out more about Amanda Weaver and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC through Netgalley. Thank you to Carina Press and Amanda Weaver for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.