Thursday 12 April 2018

#CBR10 Book 25: "The Day of the Duchess" by Sarah Maclean

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Three years ago, Seraphina "Sera" Bevingstoke, Duchess of Haven, miscarried her daughter (seriously this is NOT a spoiler, it happens in like the second or third chapter) and was persuaded by the Dowager Duchess of Haven that maybe it was best if she just disappeared. With financial help from her antagonistic mother-in-law, Sera flees her disaster of a marriage and goes to America, where she finds a business partner and something she enjoys doing enough to dull the pain in her heart. But to fully be the person she needs to become, she requires a divorce. So she walks into the House of Lords and demands one.

Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, has been searching the globe for his lost wife for the past three years. He certainly wasn't expecting her to just wander into Parliament and petition them for a divorce. He has absolutely no intention of granting Sera one, he still loves her and wants a chance to make amends for the utter disaster he turned their marriage into before she left. He claims he will let Sera have her divorce if she spends the summer with him, helping him find her successor. He was not expecting Sera to bring her four opinionated sisters with her.

The start of their marriage was an utter travesty - can Malcolm convince Sera that he truly does love her and is able to make her happy for the rest of their lives together?

I mostly really liked the books in Sarah Maclean's Love by Numbers and The Rules of Scoundrels and considered her an auto-buy author at one point. Sadly, with her newest trilogy of romances, Scandal & Scoundrel, I was initially quite entertained by the first book in the series, but the more I thought about it afterwards, the more problems I found with it. The second book was perfectly ok (but I know barely remember any details about it) and then there is this - a book I have kept putting off for more than six months after its publication, because I sure as heck wasn't going to read it while I was pregnant. I considered not reading it at all, but was also curious about it, as Sarah Maclean has been very open about how she had to rewrite most of it after the 2016 Presidential election results. In addition, I've also read everything else Ms. Maclean has written, including her really not very good at all YA romance The Season, so the completist in me really felt I had to read this eventually. Regretfully, it did not do much to entertain me.

Malcolm and Sera are pretty much love at first sight. He's a sought-after duke, whose parents had an unhappy marriage because his mother pretty much trapped his father and she's the eldest daughter of a man who won his earldom in a card game and a ruthlessly ambitious woman determined to make great matches for all of her daughters. Because of this, when Sera's mother persuades her that the only way to make sure their flirting ends in marriage is by entrapment as well, Malcolm's tentative romantic feelings towards Sera turns to hate, as he feels betrayed and hurt. They have to get married, but he has no wish to see her and they are separated for months.

The next time they see each other is when Sera's younger sister pushes Malcolm into an ornamental pond after she and Sera find him breaking his marriage vows with another woman (he claims this was a horrible moment of weakness, wanting to hurt and forget her). By now, it's obvious that Sera is pregnant. Tragically, she miscarries their daughter and is told by the doctor that she is barren. Malcolm's mother, who never wanted her son married to a vulgar social climber anyways is on hand to persuade Sera to leave for good.

Sera flees to America, where she befriends the owner of a tavern. She's always enjoyed singing and starts rebuilding her life as a singer. Now, three years later, the two of them own a series of taverns in the US and Sera has bought one in Covent Garden. But while she's still the Duchess of Haven she can't really own anything in her own right. She needs a divorce so she can become the owner of the tavern in truth.

Malcolm is full of regret for the many stupid and vicious things he said and did to hurt his wife and has had three years to really wallow in guilt. Because of the charade he has devised to make his wife love him again, he's stuck in the countryside with four eligible ladies and their families, all hoping to make a promising match, no matter how unorthodox the matchmaking is. Sera brings all four of her headstrong and scandalous sisters along as a buffer and has no intention of being seduced back, even if she's still strongly attracted to her husband.

The main problem with this book is that I didn't care at all about Sera or Malcolm. As the mother of a two month old boy, I naturally felt awful reading about Sera's miscarriage (which was why I also avoided this book while still pregnant), but I was wholly indifferent to their inevitable happy ending. Early on in their relationship, stupid decisions were made on both sides. Even with the extensive rewrite that Maclean did, Malcolm isn't exactly a prince of a man. He treats Sera dreadfully during the first few months of their marriage (not that they spend much time together - but flaunting his infidelity in public sort of does a lot of damage in a short space of time) and it's no wonder that she doesn't believe that he loves her or wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Especially since they both believe she is barren (SPOILER - of course she isn't. By the epilogue, it turns out that not only can she have children, they have a whole bunch). Barrenness isn't exactly an attractive trait in a duchess.

Malcolm takes most of the book to actually listen to Sera and start to respect her wishes. I will say that the grand gesture he makes towards the end of the book was good enough that I knocked my rating of this book up from 2 to 2.5 stars, but even then, the best thing about this book was one of the supporting characters, who is going to be the heroine in Maclean's upcoming Wicked and the Wallflower. I just hope desperately that Maclean's writing improves with that series, because this one ended on a total dud.

Judging a book by its cover: Another romance cover where the cover model is wearing nothing but a dress, mostly undone down the back. No chemise, corset or any type of undergarment, and the skirt appears to have yards and yards of fabric. I don't particularly like those covers at the best of times, but here it also appears as if one of the model's arms are on backward. I honestly don't entirely understand how the anatomy of this woman works. It gives me a headache.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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