As You Wish by Eloisa James
2/5 + 4/5
Before you get confused about that rating, here’s the thing – As You Wish contains a short story called “Seduced By A Pirate” and a novella called “With This Kiss” which appear in this order. Much better? Good.
“Seduced By A Pirate” ties closely to The Ugly Duchess, one of James’s fairy tale retellings. In Ugly Duchess, the heir-to-a-duke hero marries his lady love young, but misunderstandings ensue and he runs away to the seven seas to become a pirate, only to return seven years later to find his formerly mousy wife the most stylish and socially powerful woman of the polite society. With him returns his cousin, Sir Griffin Barry, also pirate-slash-privateer, the hero of this short story.
What I found most annoying is that Griffin, like James of The Ugly Duchess, married young and then abandoned his wife (on their wedding night, in fact, after the mortification of not being able to get it up). Therefore he needs to return to the wife he left and see if a true marriage is possible. This is too similar to the plot of The Ugly Duchess, and therefore feels tedious. Yes, there are different and interesting complications – what to make of the three children involved – but all in all I would have liked some more originality. Griffin has, after all, been gone for fourteen years; I do not find Phoebe’s abstinence believable at all, especially considering their marriage was arranged. The most delightful part, I found, is the father-son relationship between Griffin and his sire the Viscount.
In short, I did not care for this short story very much. It feels like a lost chance: with a plot and setting as similar to The Ugly Duchess, I would have liked to see this story to tackle some issues that the novel didn’t. The story would feel more justified had Phoebe had Griffin declared dead, or fallen in love with someone else in his absence, or anything similar. As it is, “Seduced By A Pirate” sticks too close to the conventions of the genre and is very unsurprising or exciting. I was shocked to find that it won the RITA Award for Best Romance Novella in 2013.
Now, “With This Kiss” is a completely different matter. Its hero is Phoebe and Griffin’s adopted son Collin, and the heroine is Grace, the daughter of the couple in The Ugly Duchess. Friends from early childhood, the quiet Grace develops first a crush and then deeper feelings for the older Collin, who goes out to sea and eventually becomes a captain. She writes him letters to entertain him during hard times, which deepens their relationship despite his infrequent answers.
I’m very impressed by the way their relationship is developed. It is absolutely excellent. James uses some key moments to illustrate her characters and the picture that emerges from these moments is believable and genuine. There is also some discussion on siblings and other relationships; Collin is briefly fascinated by Grace’s younger sister Lily, and Grace needs to sort out her feelings about that, which she does with maturity and, I think, considerable realism. Although in love with Collin, she tries to move on with her life and put behind her the hurts he causes her.
This is a romance narrative, so you know how it ends and I won’t bother talking about that too much. What I would like to commend is the trauma Collin has from the Navy and the way, although very likely not described in perfect detail, it affects his life and how he comes to help himself to deal with it.
I might so as far as saying that you might just as well skip “Seduced By A Pirate” altogether, especially if you’ve read The Ugly Duchess. But “With This Kiss”? Very much worth it!