Hi everyone! This is Julia of The Broke and the Bookish, formerly blogging on my own at The Competitive Bibliomaniac.
I read mostly historical romance, but can often be found reviewing paranormal romance, young adult books (mostly distopian/fantasy), fantasy/sci-fi, classics, and the occasional non-fiction book about languages.
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This was originally published on GR in December 2012, but as I am slowly moving over my library, I went to dig this up for the Buddy Read that is going on this weekend in the historical romance group. I dont think I'll have time to reread it this weekend, but here are my thoughts :)
Coming off high praise from me regarding The Governess Affair, I was really looking forward to this story. Ms. Milan's book's have up until this point been very hit or miss for me, so I was ecstatic to find another hit.
First let's look at the story. Set many years after the novella, we meet our first hero from the trio of boys, The Duke's son and heir, Robert. I honestly don't remember his title because he is mentioned so much more as Robert. Anyway, Robert comes to a factory town out in the country and meets Minnie, a dreadfully shy appearing woman, when she dives behind a divan to avoid being caught by people following her into the library. I say they meet at this time, but he was really behind a curtain. Anyway, the two don't really hit it off at that point and it isn't until later when Robert offers Minnie a proposition to keep a secret of his that they start hitting it off as a couple.
The plot is actually one surrounding quite a few story lines. First is with a revolutionary writing handbills to incite the workers for fair treatment. This is causing the towns masters to get in a bit of a tizzy. They start looking into Minnie's background, which is bad news, because shes got some secrets yo (which by the way, I didn't think were that bad but apparently were Serious Business in Victorian England).
This plot summary is seriously only scratching about the first 25% of the book. One thing I liked, personally, that some others may not, is the sense that there is more to this story then the tale of their romance. The main focus is on them as characters and how their romance fits into that. That is what drives the plot. And since they are both such interesting characters, lets talk about that.
Minnie and Robert are like so three dimensional as characters that I want to call them four dimensional. Let's look at Minnie first. She is a country girl, from the upper middle class I'd say, being raised by two great aunts. She has a tendency for crippling shyness at any gathering of more then a few people, but then when you have her alone she shows you her remarkable intellect. Minnie was great, especially in the first two-thirds of the book. I'd say there was a little bit of her disappearing toward the end that I mostly blame on Robert's character and only place a little of that blame on Milan.
Speaking of Robert, we have a duke that does not want to be a duke or at least be thought of as only that. He has had a tumultuous upbringing that has really affected his daily life and thus how he comports himself. Out of our two leads, he has more to grow over the course of the novel. I quite liked him and his story line.
The secondary characters included people whom I can only assume are going to be featured in the next two books in the series, and if that is true I am ecstatic. There was a scene on a train between Minnie, Robert, Sebastian (Robert's cousin) and The Countess whom is a childhood friend of the guys. It devolves quickly into childhood friend banter that made me laugh quite a bit.
One thing I have seen across people who both liked and disliked this book is the love of the romance. And it is a good one. I highly believe everything about it. Robert and Minnie's chemistry practically jumps off the page and slaps you in the face. I particularly enjoyed Robert's proclivity to saying stupid things when around her and then fully admitting to the fact that he gets, for lack of a better phrase, stupid around her. There was some comedy gold in that.
Also, I have to bring up the sexy times. I thought that the way the tension building was handled in The Duchess War was awesome. My favorite thing about romance is the tension build for the reader along with the characters. Having them keep their hands off one another while still building the tension for the reader is a pretty talented feat to pull off. Then their eventual lurve making I thought was hilarious and hot at the same time. Sexy times spoiler:[spoiler]They are both virgins so the sex the first time is pretty rough, so if you are into the virgin thing, I thought it was done remarkably well and believably.[/spoiler]
Overall the book hooked me in. I was up until 5am finishing this baby, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there were some points toward the end that I thought dragged a bit. Maybe it was because I thought the romance was done and there was still 25% left in my book, but I was wondering where this was going. She used that quarter to wrap up some story lines and did it in a non-rushy way, which was actually quite refreshing.
I didn't notice this, but apparently there may be some issue with British vs American English being bounced around. But I can't vouch for that myself, as I am the worst person at catching those things.
Overall, this book rocked my socks. The characters, all of them, were interesting and people whom I can actually picture, well, alive. Minnie and Robert had believable back stories and issues stemming from those back stories and the magical power of love did not "cure" them of their past. If you want to read a book that is not set in the throws of the ton staring interesting characters with a unique story, pick this one up. But a word of warning, if you don't like angst in your romance, you won't like this.