Meredith's Reviews > The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James
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's review
Sep 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: romance, brits, fairy-tales, historical-fiction, 2012
Read from July 22 to 29, 2012

Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:

Theodora “Daisy” Saxby isn’t very pretty – and she knows it. But she’s always been fairly confident in herself, thanks to her mother’s unwavering support and the loyalty of James, Earl of Islay, heir to the duke of Ashbrook, and her lifelong friend and psuedo-brother. When James makes a dramatic and romantic proposal in front of the Prince Regent himself, Theo is dazzled – and accepts. The press, however, isn’t so kind, nicknaming her The Ugly Duchess. Still, Theo tries to ignore the name, convinced of James’ love. Then she discovers the truth behind James’ proposal and her short-lived marriage turns into a scandalous separation. Despite their time apart, James is determined to prove that his love for Theo began long before the Ugly Duchess transformed into a swan.

The Ugly Duchess is Eloisa James’ fourth novel in her series of re-envisioned fairy tales and, as the title clearly suggests, is an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling.” This book is a bit of a departure from the previous fairy tale novels, which were more lighthearted and playful. Here, the overall tone is a bit darker and more somber, as James tackles self-worth and self-esteem, betrayal, forgiveness and second chances. While I did miss some of the lighter, funnier moments from the previous books, The Ugly Duchess felt more mature and its happy ending more hard-won. It’s not an easy romance or a quick resolution; James and Theo’s story takes years to sort out and requires growth and maturity on both their parts. Eloisa James is a fabulous writer, though, and with this story and its less-than-sexy issues (betrayal, infidelity, anger, resentment, etc), she makes you a believer with a satisfying story that does indeed pay off in the end.

My favorite part of The Ugly Duchess is, easily, the transformation of both main characters. James and Theo are both very young, very impulsive and very naive at the beginning of the story. Had they been older and a bit wiser, the entire novel would have been over much sooner because they would not have remained stubbornly separated for so long. Thankfully, for the purpose of my reading enjoyment, it did take them both time to grow up and become very different people who are still, somehow, perfect for each other.

I loved Theo’s strength and backbone. Despite the gossips and their cruel nicknames, she stands up for herself and learns to love and appreciate her own unique qualities. I especially loved that she made James work for his place back in her life and in her heart. She didn’t just welcome him home with open arms, ignoring all that had come before. For his part, after a childhood plagued by his volatile father, James found self-control and, more importantly, self-worth. As a grown man, he’s willing to fight for what he wants instead of following someone else’s will. Mostly, I loved Theo and James together. Apart, Theo is cold and unyielding, rigid in attempt to prevent others from hurting her, and James couldn’t maintain his pirating lifestyle forever. Together, they balance each other out. James brings out Theo’s emotional, messy side and Theo gives James a sense of purpose.

Throughout The Ugly Duchess, Eloisa James demonstrates her great eye for detail and her deft ability at taking a familiar story and making it her own. This novel is a fairy tale, but it’s Eloisa James’ fairy tale. Theo doesn’t wait for her prince to come home and save her from dire financial straits. She figures out how to fix the problem herself. I was also intrigued by what I thought of as James’ ADD, ADHD or perhaps some learning disability. There are a few subtle hints that try to explain his excess of energy and his restlessness as a young man who didn’t know what to do with it.

Eloisa James’ The Ugly Duchess is one of those wonderful novels that stirs up a great range of emotions: the sweet flush of new, young love; the naivety found in the early days of marriage when you believe that nothing will ever go wrong; the pain and sting of betrayal; and the satisfaction of a hard-won happy ending. With each new addition to this fairy tale series, James gets better and better. Her novels are “must-reads” for me and I have yet to be disappointed (no pressure or anything, though!).

I received an e-book advanced copy of this novel from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

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Reading Progress

07/28/2012 page 100

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