Author: Eloisa James
Series: Fairy Tales #4
Published: August 28, 2012 (Avon)
Rating: Stay Up 'til 2 AM
Format: Digital ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss
Summary: 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. Still, the tabloids give the marriage six months.
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; it's scandalized by their separation. Now James faces the battle of his lifetime, convincing Theo that he loved the duckling who blossomed into the swan.
As The Ugly Duchess was Eloisa James, I had fairly high expectations when I picked it up. But when I actually read it? Two words: Blown. Away. It was not at all what I expected! Seriously. It was going along in a great-but-expected way and then all the sudden, BAM. But it's a good bam. A very, very good bam. Just letting you know that the blurb is, well...pretty much not at all the story. But the story is better than that, and I for one loved being surprised with the twist and subsequent story, so I am going to let you enjoy it firsthand as well.
Back at the beginning, though, the book opened with Theo and James, only 17 and 19, and they actually had a friendship. A real friendship! And neither of them was ~secretly in love~ with the other. Which I love, by the way, but it was nice to not have that aspect for a change. They made me smile; I loved seeing how they interacted. I also really appreciated how their voices were different when they were younger compared to further on in the book.
One reason I love Eloisa James is that she does not idealize marriage. Marriage is work; it is not simply a solution to tie up everything into a pretty, tied-up-with-a-bow Happily Ever After. A ring does not magically solve all problems. But it can work! It can be a beautiful thing as long as the parties are committed to it. I absolutely loved reading James and Theo's journey to a happy marriage and their HEA. It made me smile, laugh, cry, and swoon.
Overall, The Ugly Duchess was one of the best reads of the season, and it is definitely among my top favorite James books. It was an intriguing mix of friends-to-lovers and marriage of convenience. I had never read a book that balanced those elements in that way so well before. I absolutely loved it! James remains one of my favorite historical romance authors. I am SO excited for her next book (Rapunzel story! Cross-dressing hero! Yes, please!).
Random funny sidenote: Verveine was mentioned at one point in the book, and I was momentarily nonplussed. I forgot it was an actual plant and had real uses besides repelling vampires. :D
She did like it, almost all of it, particularly the part where he kissed her so urgently that they were both moaning, because that made her feel like a bit of paper about to go up in flames.