My American Duchess by Eloisa James
I’m a little unclear about whether this book is part of the Desperate Duchesses series exactly, but nonetheless, My American Duchess is without a doubt one of the most anticipated releases of early 2016. James’s first American heroine takes London, and her readership, by storm.
Merry Pelford has come to London from Boston after two broken engagements start to threaten her reputation. The book opens with her third proposal and this is where the trope comes in. The man proposing is not the hero, and oh, how delicious that is! Because third time’s the charm, and Merry is determined not to break another engagement. This time, she swears, this is love, forever, and even if it’s not, she’ll just make it work.
I do like Merry. I’m just not madly in love with her. What I must say of her, and in commendation of James, I think she has captured her heroine’s American-ness really well: Merry definitely stands out from the heroines of previous books, simply through her attitude and almost shocking disregard of society’s opinion. Of course, she doesn’t completely ignore society – after all, she does worry about what people say about her and how they think of her – but she doesn’t stick to the tiniest details. Through this, James also gets the opportunity to explain some differences between British and American societies and attitudes of the time, which I’m sure works for both American and non-American readers. These differences culminate in what some readers I’ve talked to refer to as Pineapplegate. (So make sure you’ve got some fresh fruit in the fridge, because the attention given to this has been known to cause cravings.)
Funnily enough, I actually have to think a little to remember the hero. A little prodding of my brain reminds me that I appreciate Trent; he sees the heroine’s good qualities, and admires her in a way that can only be described as utterly heart-warming. Can we also talk about how he doesn’t set out to seduce the heroine for himself when she’s engaged to another man? Because that’s fantastic. Initially, Trent comes off as rather Alpha, with his rakish air, but oh, what a softie he is! I like stoic softies. I also like heroes who aren’t easily categorised, and Trent is just that.
There are two things that make this book not the perfect read for me. The first one is a rather deus ex machina twist, which feels half-hearted to me, even though there is an attempt to explain it; I suppose it’s needless to say I didn’t buy the explanation. I don’t know. We’ll see. The second thing is pacing; I was on page 300 and would have been perfectly happy to wrap things up there. It didn’t feel like there was anything insurmountable that a good declaration scene wouldn’t have solved, and so one had to wonder what the last hundred pages were about. However, I must admit that those last hundred pages turned out to be a delight; twists and turns, and in a delightfully dramatic manner, too! I could have done with a little less build-up, but it is sweet in the end anyway.
Other points of interest and delight in this novel are the letter at the end (promise of a future book?), George the dog (I am madly in love with this mix puppy. MADLY), Merry’s passion for gardening (a heroine with a serious hobby is always delightful), and the ring motif.
You should absolutely read My American Duchess. In style, it may be the most accomplished James yet, no matter what I think of the pacing, and the comparison of cultures is clearly well-informed. The heroine is one of a new direction for James, and I think especially American readers will find her more relatable than some of the British heroines.