Ah, Ms. James.. you certainly know how to make a girl want to stay up all night reading your entire series! As the first installment in Ms. James' "Desperate Duchesses" series, Desperate Duchesses managed to introduce most of the characters we will be seeing in the coming books, and still have time to fully develop a romance that was so sweet I will be grinning about it for days.
Roberta is, to be honest, a bit of a brat. She feels that her father is unfair to her and that because of him she will never ever marry! So she decides to take matters into her own hands - she even picks the man she will marry. He is a Duke, the Duke of Villiers, one of the most notorious bachelors in London. Notorious for his ruthless skill at chess as well as for his dalliances with young ladies - even marriageable young ladies!
Damon, the Earl of Gryffyn, knows that Villiers isn't the man for Roberta - because he himself is, of course! Now if only he could prove that to her... of course, Ms. James specifically chose the Georgian time period because of the blatant debauchery, so it's no surprise when Damon decides the only way to persuade Roberta is to seduce her until she surrenders to him.
****Some spoilers may lie ahead... ye be warned****
It's difficult to get all of the wonderful detail of this story into a brief synopsis. The main romance is a beautiful story. Roberta really grows up over the course of the story and Damon learns an important lesson about having to fight for what you want. But the true joy in this novel is seeing the future storylines coming into play. Ms. James is clearly weaving these stories together very intricately, building them on top of each other - structuring them, actually, rather like the chess game that Villiers and the Duchess of Beaumont play for many chapters.
I adored Damon's son, Teddy. We see Roberta gradually accept him as the adorable rascal he is. We can tell she will be a good mother to him, despite her internal insistence that she would be terrible mother material. She is clearly good with Teddy, and even slightly critical of the way Damon speaks to him.
The only issue I had was with the dissolution of Roberta's engagement to Villiers. It happened too quickly, too eagerly almost. But I feel that it was somewhat redeemed by the following scenes with Villiers and some of his chess-mates. I also liked that we could see Villers' regret at some of his behavior, and hints at his reformation in the last book in the series, A Duke of Her Own, which is coming out this year. In the meantime, there is a slew of other characters that will continue to delight and intrigue me for the next four books before that one!