Review: The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James
Reviewed by May
Perhaps if she napped, she would wake to find that this day had never happened. Perhaps she was in a fever dream.
After all, the fairy story was supposed to end when the Ugly Duckling became a swan. Everyone knew that swans got everything they wanted. Beautiful people always did.
Theo’s father died when she was a child, and she (and her mother) moved into the home of the Duke of Ashbrook and his son James. The Duke was in charge of her vast fortune until she came of age and would marry, but unfortunately he’s been stealing bits of it to pay off debts and now finds himself in a bind. To solve all the problems in one smooth move, he demands that his son James marry Theo – even though she is very ugly.
You know from the start three things: that Theo is ugly, that James loves her more than anyone else in the world and doesn’t see her that way, and that because of the circumstances of their engagement and marriage Theo is never going to believe him. As the newspapers hail her the ugly duchess and her likeness shows up in shop windows rudely drawn, as the truth about the financial state of the estate and what the old duke has been doing come out, it just keeps getting worse and you know it will explode at any moment.
The tension and humor, love and drama are all artfully woven together in this exceptionally written love story. A simple tale really, of two lifelong friends who discover they love each other, get torn apart by tempers and unfortunate circumstances, and then are at long last reunited and (hopefully) able to reconcile.
I found a lot to love about the Ugly Duchess, in fact with each page I turned I looked forward to seeing what Eloisa James would present me with next. She made the characters come to life, the love story totally believable, and had me laughing, crying, and enjoying every single page.
The scenes between Theo and James ranged from light and funny banter to emotionally charged to ones filled with sexual tension – or a little of everything. It was so clear from page one that James sees Theo as “Daisy” (his pet name for her) and that he sees her as a beautiful woman who he adores. He never thinks of her as ugly, or as lacking in any way at all. I absolutely loved this as opposed to the more typical handsome man who sees the errors of his ways and discovers the beauty too late.
“You simply must stop calling me that! I insist on being addressed as Theo.”
He had backed her against the wall and a hand was now wrapped around her breast. “I can’t,” he said, rather thickly.
“Because you may be Theo when we’re at breakfast, or at a play or something, but when I’m holding you like this, you’re my Daisy.” He took her mouth again and Theo melted against him, thoughts fading before the onslaught of his mouth and his hands and the arrogant strength of his body against her.
I won’t share exactly what James has been up to while he was away, I’ll just tell you that he returns tanned, muscled, and very much a grown man. “Oh my” was muttered under my breath more than once while reading this book – I loved the twists that the author took with James, and what a fantastic leading man he made.
Theo I had mixed feelings about, but ultimately I appreciated the moments of weakness and vulnerability the author showed us with her. Yes, she has impeccable taste in fashion as an adult woman and is considered the most fashionable woman – even in Paris, but that doesn’t mean that alone at night she doesn’t feel the sting of not being a beauty. It disappointed me that instead of finding any happiness she became exceptionally rigid and ruled with an iron fist in the years she spent alone after banishing James from the house and England, but I could understand and accept why.
Theo also had a friendship with a gentleman who likes to speak ill of others – another detail that bothered me. Would the woman who was picked on and made fun of pick such an individual to be friends with? What does this say about her that she likes to judge and pick at other people? These details did not take away from my overall enjoyment, but I was aware of them and they seem notable enough to mention in my review.
One of my favorite aspects of this story is that James and Theo are married so young, but that they separate almost immediately and then reunite years later after both have had solo adventures, successes, and have lived in very different ways. While we see glimmers of that childhood shared bond and their true love when they first reunite, we also see how the adult Theo and James are truly meant to be together.
I loved the scene where James is trying to convince Theo that he feels no wild passions or arousal (something she’s requiring of him should their marriage continue) and he is going to assist her with her bath… nude.
“Oh this?” He gave himself a careless pat. “Don’t you remember this?”
“I do. And it should be… it should be down.”
“Down?” He cocked an eyebrow. “Do you remember me ever being down?”
Theo scowled at him. “Perhaps not. But I’m sure that it’s supposed to be down.”
“Not mine,” he said, giving himself another pat. “I’m up all the time.”
Balancing humor, emotion, and beautifully written characters, this book really showcased Eloisa James at her best. Her artful storytelling, beautiful way with words, and ability to add so much into this story and weave it into a beautiful tale of love really impressed me.