The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Olivia Lytton has been raised since birth to be a duchess. Her father and the Duke of Canterwick were schoolmates who pledged to betroth their first-born daughter and son, respectively, so Olivia has always known who she'd marry. However, her fiance is a few bricks shy of a load and five years younger than she to boot, so she takes refuge in bawdy wit, to the despair of her mother and twin sister.
After an embarrassing encounter forced on the pair by their parents, Rupert heads off to war, determined to bring glory upon his family name before he marries Olivia. For her part, Olivia becomes Rupert's champion as she learns to appreciate his sweetness and realizes he had been deprived of oxygen at birth. With Olivia's future settled, she and her twin sister Georgiana head to the country where Georgie is auditioning for the role of duchess to Quin, the Duke of Sconce. (In other words, they attend a house-party hosted by his mother).
Unlike the frequently irreverent Olivia, Georgiana would make an ideal duchess, and the dowager agrees. Problem is, Quin cannot keep his eyes or his attention away from Olivia, and the feeling is mutual. What a tangled web!
I loved Olivia's sense of humor. Were I in her shoes, pledged to marry a man who could never be my intellectual equal and who would require a lifetime of care, I likely would become clinically depressed, but Olivia chooses to make herself laugh instead, and I admire that.
I also loved that you get to know and understand the characters better over time, which makes them more human and sympathetic. For example, Georgie may be perfectly behaved, but she longs to go to university, in an age where women simply weren't allowed access to higher education. Even the obedient child has a bit of rebel in her.
The overall story is a re-imagining of the Princess and the Pea fairy tale, and I enjoyed how Ms. James played with those themes. Apparently, though, the ending was also a tribute to The Scarlet Pimpernel...although it's been too long since I read it to catch those allusions.
Based on other reviews I've read, this is a book you either love or hate, and I loved it. Zany fun, and great for a day cooped up indoors with a nasty cold.
For readers' advisors: character and story doorways are primary, setting secondary. Some steamy sex scenes set in Regency England.
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