Sunday 19 April 2015

#CBR7 Book 44: "Four Nights with the Duke" by Eloisa James

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Emilia "Mia" Carrington's father created a scandal by openly romancing the Duchess of Pindar, while her husband was locked up in an insane asylum. Her father's affair brought Mia frequently into the company of the Duchess' son, Evander Septimus Brody, who young Mia developed a crush on. One fateful afternoon, having overheard Evander and some of his school friends ridiculing a foolish love poem Mia had written, she furiously declared that she would rather marry any man in the world before she chose him - words that would come back to haunt her.

Thirteen years later, Mia desperately needs a husband, because while she is unwed, she can never be granted guardianship of her young nephew, whose maternal uncle she deeply distrusts. Jilted by her fiancee at the altar, she only has a few weeks left to find someone, and resorts to blackmail to achieve her goal. While she may have sworn to marry anyone in the world rather than Evander Brody, now the Duke of Pindar, she has in her possession documents that accuse his late father of treason, which could lead to him being stripped of his title and most of his lands. She fully intends for their marriage to be in name only, all the needs is a powerful man to act as her husband until her nephew is safe, then she intends to take him far away, to the Continent, where they can live off the money she earns as a successful romance novelist.

Evander always hated his mother's affair with Lord Carrington, and Miss Mia Carrington is an unwelcome reminder of their shared past. From the prim, unfashionable way she dresses, he assumes she's become a missionary and seeks him out to collect donations of some variety. He's flabbergasted when he finds himself blackmailed, but doesn't really see a way out of his predicament, except by agreeing to her terms. Because Mia doesn't tell him the real reason she needs a husband, Evander thinks she's just become some crazy stalker, nursing her infatuation for him since she was a girl. He reluctantly agrees to marry her, but claims he will only sleep with her four nights every year.

When the couple actually find themselves married, Mia is shocked to discover Evander, though reluctant to go through with it in the first place, has no intention of seeking an annulment - he considers the union to be for life. Once he meets Mia's crippled nephew, the two get on like a house on fire, and he starts to realise that he may have misjudged his new bride and her intentions somewhat. He's vastly amused at her attempts to persuade him about their unsuitability and soon becomes determined to win her heart, for real this time.

While Three Weeks with Lady X was one of my favourite romances last year, this book just didn't entirely win me over. There was a lot to like about it, like the heroine being a successful romance novelist who has actually made a decent living from her writing. I also liked that each chapter started with notes or drafts from the novel that Mia is working on, a truly melodramatic tale of woe and dastardliness, or correspondence between her and her publisher. I especially liked the names of some of the other romance authors, clearly Ms. James' homage to her colleagues and friends, Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas. I loved Evander's interactions with Charles Wallace, Mia's nephew, (who despite James' efforts to the contrary remains a bit of a plot moppet) in particular the mocking nicknames he makes up to ensure that the boy will be prepared for the cruelty of his future school mates. I liked that Evander seemed to be a fairly decent and responsible aristocrat, trying to maintain his fortunes by horse breeding. He doesn't want to lose the title because he takes his position seriously.There was a lot that I liked about Mia and Evander, but also quite a lot that annoyed me about this book.

Mia's completely baffling body image issues really got on my nerves. I like that Eloisa James tries to make sure her heroines aren't just the same cookie cutter template, but she could have given Mia a bit more confidence. Just because one mean boy once called her chubby when she was a teenager, does not explain why thirteen years later she still disbelieves everyone's assurances that she's not hideous, even though she's shorter than the beauty ideal at the time. Though she's described by several others as a pocket Venus, she insists on thinking she's some sort of dumpy hag and dresses appallingly.

The frequent call-backs to the one scene where Mia's poem is read and ridiculed by Thorn, Evander and some mouth-breathing bully Evander went to Eton with got repetitive too. Clearly that poem was burned into the memory of everyone involved, because it keeps being brought up and discussed at length during pretty much every confrontation Mia and Evander have and I just got so sick of the whole thing.

The villain of this book turned out to be a bit too melodramatically dastardly. I found the sudden reappearance of Mia's fiancee (having escaped false imprisonment in a high security prison in Scotland in order to get back to Mia) interesting, though, and am looking forward to seeing him as the hero of the next James book. This was not one of her best efforts, but I'm hoping a hero with a prison break past will make the next book more entertaining.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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