Title: When the Duke Returns
Author: Eloisa James
Genre: Historical Romance (set in Georgian times)
Stand Alone/ Series: Book 4 in the Desperate Duchesses series
Summary: Married by proxy as a child, Lady Isidore has spent years fending off lecherous suitors while longing for her husband, Simeon Jermyn, the Duke of Cosway, to return. But when the prodigal duke finally returns, ready to take on his obligations, he finds the woman they call his wife too ravishing, too headstrong, too sensual to be a proper duchess. But Isidore will not give up her claim to the handsome duke without a fight
Why did I read the Book: I think this is the best Historical romance series going on at the moment.
Lady Isidore Del’Fino, the Duchess of Cosway is a desperate woman. When she was merely 12, she married by proxy the Duke of Cosway who was 18 and out and about in India and she has been waiting ever since for him to come home. But he hasn’t – not when her parents died, not when she turned 16, or 18; not even when his own father died. Eleven years have passed and tired of waiting, wanting to become wife, mother, and duchess de facto, wanting, by GOD, to have sex, Isidore makes one last desperate attempt to lure him back: in the previous book in the series, Duchess by Night she decides to travel to the most scandalous house party hosted by Jem, Lord Strange hoping the scandal will be so great that it would bring the duke back. It worked. Simeon, Duke of Cosway made quite the entrance near the end of that book – big, tanned, dressed unlike any other Duke (no cravat!) –leaving the party almost immediately and taking Isidore to a hotel. And leaving her there while he tended to his businesses.
I have known Isidore for a long time now – ever since An Affair Before Christmas – and I admire the woman tremendously. She is capable, intelligent, funny, witty and of course a beauty. She flirts with men at parties but she has been saving herself , body and heart – for that husband of hers. She has talked herself into being prepared and receptive for anything: a short Duke, a tall Duke , ugly or handsome, eyeless, legless, anything, as long as he came back. She was not prepared for Simeon. Neither was I.
At first I thought: is this the Duke we have been waiting to return? Surely this is a jest, and the real Duke will show up any time now. Let me enumerate the ways Simeon is not what we (I) have been hoping for: Selfish and self-absorbed to the point that he rarely spared a thought for his wife over the years, or for his Estate back home or for his family. A control-freak that after being under the tutelage of an Indian Guru has learnt the Middle Way whereupon one most control his emotions at any cost – show no fear and no rage for example. A man who believes the man is the head of the house and the wife should be a sweet underling prepared to accept his directions. AND he is a virgin (a fact that Isidore (and I) was horrified to find out – oh the horror, the horror).
In a series populated with grand, amazing heroes such as Jem, Villiers (VILLIERS!) and Elijah and even Fletch and Damon, full of wit and humour and sexual power it is no wonder Simeon starts off as falling at the end of the queue for best hero in the series. One thinks that a new hero showing up at this point must have a je ne sais quoi that sets him apart….and after some further reading one realises that he does. And this is it: the fact that he IS utterly different from anyone else in the series.
In a world where it is easy to fall into easy characterisation, I think it is rather ballsy to create a character such as Simeon whilst at the same time making it easy to understand why he is all of the these things: the urge to escape the confines of the English ton and to travel and discover new things; the urge to escape his own chaotic family where shouting was the norm. It is clear as light why such a man would cherish control and calm above all things – and peace is not what he find when he returns . His Estate is in shambles, with his father’s death things have gone downhill and his mother is a crazed widow who thrives in being austere. They – her mother and his younger brother – live almost like paupers even though they have plenty of income to set things straight. At his father’s desk he finds letters addressed to his father who were never answered dated from years ago, most of them bills that were never paid. And on top of that, the water closets (the privy) are clogged and the house smells foul (this is actually a rather funny sequence of events.) . And of course there is Isidore.
As Isidore was not prepared for her Duke, the Duke was not prepared for Isidore – his opposite in all things. Instead of a demure, submissive wife , he finds a capable, feisty, sexy Italian who talks back at him at every turn. It is no wonder that their first impulse is to simply annul their wedding and each go about searching a more suitable match. He would find a docile, fragile someone that he could command and she would find someone that would love her as she was. But things do not work out on that front and they must work on what they have. And they do. And it is great to see how things develop between them.
He fully realises that she is better at managing people, better read than he is, more generous than he could possibly be but he still believes he has to be the one to make decisions . And that is really the point: he feels that if he gives in to Isidore he will be less than a man, he would be turned into “porridge”, follow her around like a puppy dog or fall to his knees in lust (a lust that drives him almost INSANE). It is I believe a matter of manly pride. And isn’t it always?
But Isidore is also a proud one – she is not some underling, she is a very capable woman with a vineyard, a palazzo in Venice, a house in Florence and she has managed all of them (because she had no choice mind you, since her husband was away frolicking around the world)- and not one of them as she makes sure to flaunt at Simeon, is
“filled with the stink of excrement! none of my houses are surrounded by withered lands! none of my bills are unpaid! none!!”
Quite. So , Simeon must make a choice – and he knows that, since it is his belief that everyone has a choice in the world and his is to analyse and decide if having control was worth losing this amazing woman. And so they must negotiate their relationship – and realise that opposites do complement each other.
The best thing about these books for me is the complex characterisation. Not a single one of Eloisa James’ characters fit in a predetermined mould, they are not staple fare. It is not simply a matter of listing: The Strong, Scandalous Widow; The Rake; The Prig; The Controlled Man, The Debauched Duke. In When The Duke Returns , this is once again, true. Not only with the main characters but also with the secondary ones, for example the Dowager Duchess – Simeon’s mother. She can’t be described in one sentence like for example, say: the bitter Dowager. Because she is so much more than – a mother who doesn’t approve of her different son, a wife who loved her husband and has chosen to honour his memory by keeping running the house the way he did even though he had a parade of mistresses which she was aware of – and through the pain and through the years she has kept the jewellery he has given her – one of for each of his affairs.
All of her characters sound like real people who are very human, who can be strong and yet vulnerable at the same time and none more than the trio of secondary characters that have been there since book one and that steal the show every.single.time:
Jemma, Elijah and Villiers. They could have been mere staple characters so predominant in romance novels: the scandalous woman, the prig husband, the reprobate and yet redeemable rake but all of these have so many layers and could never fit inside a comfortable box – actually, there is no comfortable here. Elijah was a bastard who cheated on his wife and never apologised for it – Jemma who was so hurt and who waited three years for him to come for her in France and he never did and so she proceeded to have affairs of her own. Villiers who is unapologetic about his life, who has done bad things, but never quite as bad as everybody seems to think (he never participated in the orgies for example, because he does not like to share or he has never bedded a married woman although he would open an exception for Jemma ). The interactions between the three of them in When The Duke Returns is the best thing in the book, overshadowing anything else and are worth the read just for them.
I would go as far as to say that their scenes here are the best out of all of the books, they are of a poignancy that I hardly see in romance novels these days, and speak of love and friendships and hope lost and found. At one particular scene my heart gave a somersault and I felt it stopping for one second in my chest and I cried – but this heart of mine was revived later in one scene that was ALL KINDS OF AWESOME. As things approach a climax and final decisions are made and for anyone who follows their story as anxiously as I do : Jemma makes her final choice and this my friends, is the beginning of the end.
I have a wish list for what I want from this series in the final two instalments to come next year: that Jemma remains one of the most intelligent women I have ever seen in a series and to never lose her edge even if she loses her heart – and I want her heart to be lost. That Elijah is the one to steal it after his apologies and after he grovels ( A LOT) and shows his regret. Of course, for that to happen, Elijah MUST NOT die of his heart condition. Most of all, I want the fabulous, witty, wicked, sly, funny, romantic (oh yes, romantic) Duke of Villiers to find someone to love him as I do.
Is that too much to ask?
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
Even though this book is full of amazing scenes between Simeon and Isidore – and his family and his estate and the hilarious water closets situation, my favourites were of course all the scenes with Villiers, Elijah and Jemma. I don’t want to spoil but I would like to quote one sentence part of one of the Jemma’s inner monologue when she makes her final choice:
“There is no accounting for the human heart”
Really, these three characters are AWESOME.
Additional Thoughts: From Eloisa James’ website, the first faragraphs of This Duchess of Mine, Jemma and Elijah’s book to come out at the end of May:
“No one dressed to please a husband. At least, not in the Duchess of Beaumont’s circle of acquaintances. One dressed – to be frank – to dazzle and amaze one’s female friends. Or, if one were so inclined, to invite a seduction…to engage in an affaire.
Husbands were just there, like coals in Newcastle and pigs in the sty.”
Verdict:This is my favourite historical romance series of the moment. But it is a complicated affair to judge this book on its own- I did not think the main couple had the best romance so far (that would be Jem and Harriet from Duchess by Night), but I thought the secondary relationship between Villiers, Elijah and Jemma (is it really secondary at this point – they steal every single book they show up!) is at its strongest in this book and the best scenes so far of the trio are here. Bar none.
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