Much Ado About You by Eloisa James
Essex Sisters #1
Avon 2005
387 pages
4/5 stars

Although a bit slow to start, this first book in a series does a really good job introducing the main players in the series and is a pleasant read. I would say I like this series better than Desperate Duchesses, and here’s why.

The Essex sisters series – of which I have previously read the third and fourth ones – focuses on the four sisters whose father, in his will, has decreed that their guardian is to be the Duke of Holbrook. The poor, drunk duke expect four little girls and instead receives four young women, all but one old enough to marry, and, well, you can guess the rest.

The first story is that of the eldest sister, Tess. She’s a sort of Elinor Dashwood character (as opposed to the second sister Imogen, who is very clearly a Marianne), looking after her sisters and worrying more about them than herself. I like Tess; she’s reasonable and down to earth, knows her own mind and sticks to her personal values. I wouldn’t call her remarkable, but she’s solid and relatable, so well done!

Now, as for the hero, you can’t give me a blond man by the name Lucius Felton and not expect me to think of the Malfoys. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this was intentional – I have seen Potter references in James before.) A mere mister, Lucius is nevertheless a good catch because of his considerable fortune. And oh, I do so love a hero who determinedly pretends he doesn’t worship the ground the heroine walks on! Such good fun! However, James doesn’t go overboard with Lucius in that respect, and just as well, because that would not suit with Tess. As it is, I find them a credible couple, with similar tempers but otherwise not too similar to each other.

While this is a nicely running book, much more a romance novel than something formed after the fashion of an 18th-century novel like Desperate Duchesses are, I must say I did find a complaint: the points of view change sometimes within paragraphs, which I find jolting and a bit jarring, as it forces me to go back a few lines to see where exactly it started. That makes reading more frustrating than it needs to be – but having read James’s later works, this is clearly a problem with her earlier novels. Doesn’t help this novel though, and if you’re going to read this it might be good to know that the povs can change rapidly.

Another thing I want to bring up is horses. The girls’ father has died falling off a horse, and spent his life – and the girls’ dowry – on his beloved racing horses. As a result there is a lot of discussion about horses: the girls’ aspirations in terms of husbands include various opinions of whether a prospective husband should be “horse mad”, there is a lot of talk of horses especially among the male characters, and the girls are all excellent riders. I like horses, so this works wonderfully for me, as long as one isn’t TOO particular about the details. The horses rise to a quite a theme and, possibly, a motive.

I will also give special mention to Griselda, a young widow who agrees to chaperone the girls through their Season. I absolutely love Griselda: one marriage was enough for her, and she’s cheerful and ready for anything, and just very good fun. All my favourite lines in this book are from her mouth.

This book gets a 4-star rating from me. It’s a bit slow to start – things really get going when Griselda comes to the picture – and the changes in point of view are clunky, but otherwise this is an enjoyable read.



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