This review is a series review of the four books that make up the Duchess Quartet by Eloisa James.
The books in order are
- Duchess in Love
- Fool for Love
- A Wild Pursuit
- Your Wicked Ways
The books revolve primarily around three women of the Ton, very different to the regency misses I usually read about.
We have Ambrogina (Gina), Duchess of Girton – married as a child to the 18 year old Camden Serrard, now the Duke of Girton, who promptly ran away to Greece before consummation. Twelve years on she wants an annulment, leaving her free for a proper marriage. Cam takes one look at her and starts to think marriage might not be too bad after all.
The ‘Infamous’ Esme Rawlings is also estranged from her husband and has created quite a reputation for taking lovers herself while her husband lives with his mistress. Esme takes great delight in behaving outrageously in public and flirting at every opportunity, but when she decides she wants a child she needs to review her lifestyle and identify her priorities.
Helene, Countess Godwin has a husband who kicked her out and moved his mistress into her bedroom three years ago. They are incapable of speaking to each other without arguing and being in the same room is an ordeal. She has been the epitome of respectability although her situation is the topic in many a parlour. Helene is desperate for a baby, and when her husband will not divorce her she takes drastic action, deciding that no more will she be respectable Helene. She will find a man to father her baby, divorced or not.
Esme has her story running through the first and second books before finally getting her ‘happy ever after’ in book three. This would have frustrated me were it not for the fact I had all four books, so I could read them one after the other. Helene gets her happy ending in book four but again, her story builds all the way through the series. Because of this it would be very annoying to read them out of order so I would suggest start with the first one, otherwise you will have no idea what is going on!
In each book we have a number of different story lines going on and it was sometimes hard to remember who was doing what with whom. Book one covered Gina and Cam’s romance primarily, but also involved another friend of hers – Lady Carola Periwinkle who is estranged from her husband Lord Tuppy Periwinkle. Having realized she is still in love with him, her friends start giving advice on how to seduce Tuppy back into her bed. I enjoyed this book although it wasn’t my favourite of the series. Ms James has a wonderful way of writing which is at times humorous, but is always descriptive. There is sex of course and the sex scenes are written well without being too crude. Gina is a strong character but because of this I find it hard to understand why she imagines herself in love with Lord Bonnington who is a total bore and prude.
In book two, there is the continuing story of Helene and her scandalous husband and while Esme also features heavily, the main happy ever after is between her nephew by marriage Simon Darby and Lady Henrietta McLellan. Henrietta feels she will never marry due to a deformity which could kill her, as it killed her mother if she were to ever have a child. What man would want to marry someone who could not have children. Along comes Simon with no paternal instincts but guardian to two adorable little girls – adorable in Henrietta’s eyes if not Simon’s. Henrietta dares to believe she could find happiness until her dreams are shattered following a conversation with her step-mother. This was probably my favourite book of the series and I particularly enjoyed a well bred lady trying to bring up the subject of a sheath without actually saying what it was.
In book three we reach the conclusion of Esme’s story and also have a side story involving Stephen Fairfax Lacey and a ‘fallen woman’ Lady Beatrix Lennox. Now this is where it really does get confusing, with Stephen at one point being ‘engaged’ to Esme, ‘lover’ to Helene and smitten with Bea – quite an achievement for a staid Member of Parliament. It does of course get worked out in the end but I cannot say too much more for fear of ruining Esme’s ending.
Book four focuses on Helene and was my second favourite of the series. Throughout the other books Helene is seen as some downtrodden wife who is too weak to do anything about her errant husband. In this book however the tiger turns – well, partly. I found some of Helene’s decisions surprising, but I guess after being put down for so many years it takes more than a new haircut and wardrobe. Rees really is portrayed as a total jerk in previous books and indeed for the first half of this book he stays true to that persona. He is a selfish musician who thinks only of his own needs, including in the bedroom – no wonder Helene detests all that ‘bedding’ business. As the book progresses though we get to understand some of his reasoning and it all seems to come back down to parents – parents in the 19th century have a lot to answer for it seems.
With these four books, no matter what my initial feelings for the characters were, by the end of the series I was in love with all of them. Because the books were all linked, the three main characters popped up all the time so we get flashes of their lives and their sexy husbands! Poetry, Shakespeare and the Bible are all quoted with frequency – usually appropriately but at times it did become a bit tedious – I am not a fan of any of those!
These books give a fascinating insight into what life was like for women in this time. For example, a woman cannot divorce a man for adultery (after all it is expected) and a woman can only get divorced if there is public proof of her adultery, and then only if her husband allows it. If she wishes to get remarried following divorce it requires an act of parliament! It also made a refreshing change to read about women who were less than perfect, even scandalous, in marriages that were definitely not perfect. However, I still expected it to all turn out happily ever after in the end and the author does not disappoint.
Overall I loved this series, I enjoyed having more than one romance going on in each book (seven happy endings for the price of four) but am very glad I had them all available to read at once. These are full length books which are available as e-books for only £2.99 each (as at Jan 2013) an absolute bargain and definitely worth a purchase if you enjoy historical romance, particularly if you want a change from the virginal debutante and the rake.