Once a Duchess by Elizabeth Boyce

Short version: Don’t bother.

Long version: Damn Kindle with their free samples and $1.99 historical romance novels. I am nigh on powerless to resist. I’m not technically powerless, rather I make no effort to resist. Two decent opening chapters and I think “Oh, what the heck?”. They use my indolence against me. It’s how this happened.

Isabelle Fairfax is the former wife of the Marshal Lockwood, Duke of Monthwaite. She was wrongfully accused of infidelity by her particularly awful mother-in-law and ceremoniously divorced then cut off without a penny by both her former husband and her own family. Desperate, she is working as a cook at the local posting inn when her ex-husband stops there for a meal. Necessary repetition: Isabelle is working as a cook. Isabelle, a former duchess and current genteelly impoverished lady a. knows how to cook well enough to do so for groups of people and b. is doing MANUAL LABOUR. Later in the story, she volunteers to cook for 30 people at the Duke’s estate, but starting from scratch as no preparations to feed said 30 people have been made in a manor house with a huge staff anticipating a large group of guests. Isabelle draws on the memory of her French mother’s cookbooks to help her because if there was one thing the English were known for during the Napoleonic Wars, it was their love of all things French. To be fair to the author, being half-French is one of her mother-in-law’s many reasons for despising Isabelle.

Anyway… Marshall is still drawn to Isabelle, even in her mob-cap and cook’s apron, as he has not been to any woman before of since. He writes to Isabelle’s brother and ducally encourages him to take his sister back. Her brother does and decides that the solution to everyone’s problems is to get Isabelle married off immediately, sooner if possible. Hijinks ensue.

I did a lot of eye rolling and accusing the novel of having a lower than average IQ:

  • There is a multi-tasking subplot provided by a dead pregnant horse (and her foal). Marshall is a botanist in the way of wealthy people with time on their hands. When he was 9, or maybe 15, he made a berry concoction to help the labouring horse, but it had the opposite effect. Every time I thought this sub-plot was out, the author pulled it back in.
  • Marshall’s mum is a bitch of the first water. She goes unpunished. None of the villains are effectively punished even though there are some truly awful people in this book. Has Elizabeth Boyce never heard the following Oscar Wilde quote:”The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily, that is what Fiction means.” It’s a romance novel! Smite some fu*kers!
  • TSTL (too stupid to live) is an expression in the romance vernacular describing a heroine who acts like an idiot. Once a Duchess has the distinction of being a novel in which BOTH the hero AND the heroine are TSTL. The events before the story starts qualify as Y&S (young and stupid), but both characters grow to maturity and full possession of their respective idiocies.

Much like my experience of reading the book and skipping through chapters, I can’t muster the energy to continue with this review. Could you please just go back and read the “Short Version” again?

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