Eloisa James’ Fairy Tales series includes nine historical romances based around twists on the stories we learned growing up. The two I read were The Princess and the Pea (The Duke Is Mine) and The Ugly Duckling (The Ugly Duchess). I don’t feel a burning need to read more of them, but I might depending on what else is, or more accurately is not, available at the time.
The Duke Is Mine
Olivia and Georgiana have spent their lives in “duchess training”. Owing to an agreement made in boyhood by their father, Olivia has been promised in marriage to a duke’s heir. Being the spare, Georgiana was trained as well – and more successfully than the outgoing Olivia. Now that she is 23 and her unofficial fiance 18, the families come together to sign the betrothal papers. While unhappy with the match, Olivia is prepared to do her duty by her family and agree to marry Rupert. He is a nice enough young man, but more enamored of his dog than Olivia and while not actually intellectually-challenged, he has compromised abilities and attendant social issues. Big-hearted and kind, Rupert aspires to the military glory he feels is his family’s destiny. Freshly engaged, Rupert goes off to war, while Olivia and Georgiana travel to the estate of the Duke of Sconce (Quin) in the hopes that the younger sister will end up with a ducal spouse as well. Olivia enters the house late at night, soaking wet, and disheveled. Quin takes one look at her and is a goner which, as you can imagine, is more than somewhat inconvenient.
There is a playfulness to The Duke Is Mine that is very welcome, a whimsical tone that is successfully maintained even when the going gets rough. The an air of unreality – different form the normal, anticipated disconnect in romance – was rather charming and I really enjoyed Quin and Olivia fighting their attraction, giving in for a second, and trying to get themselves back on the straight and narrow. Despite the lightness of these aspects, James does give serious weight to the character’s stories, Quin’s in particular, and the whole thing rolled over in to an adventure that took the plot in a surprising, but necessary, direction. I enjoyed the The Duke Is Mine, but also have to admit to skimming a bit when the aforementioned adventure was underway.
The Ugly Duchess
Like The Duke Is Mine, The Ugly Duchess makes a sharp turn partway through the story.
From Amazon: Theodora Saxby is the last woman anyone expects the gorgeous James Ryburn, heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, to marry. But after a romantic proposal before the prince himself, even practical Theo finds herself convinced of her soon-to-be duke’s passion. Theo would have given it a lifetime . . . until she discovers that James desired not her heart, and certainly not her countenance, but her dowry. Society was shocked by their wedding . . . and is scandalized by their separation.
Eloisa James is not afraid of a plot involving a protracted separation and, after falling for each other as young adults, marrying, and becoming almost immediately estranged, Theo and James find themselves as grown ups who have built interesting lives for themselves and now must reconcile not only their past, but their present as well. Truth be told, it does not take particularly long. I really liked Theo and James was just fine. He gets to be the sensitive young lover and the warrior bent on winning back his wife. James leaves a boy, but comes back a man and that sort of thing.
If, like me, you are looking for something in the genre to read, you can do worse than Eloisa James, but you can also do better. I find that while I enjoy her books they don’t really inspire any lasting impression or a desire to revisit them.