Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

We’re totally not going to talk about how awful the Tonys were … June 14, 2010

If I started talking about last night – aka Tony Night – I would fly into a tangent that would never end. To sum it up: Worst. Tonys. Ever.

But moving on – Eloisa James’ Duchess By Night.

The one with just the girl on the cover.

The girl that’s a blonde.

La de da de da …

la de da de da ...

I read Duchess by Night just this afternoon (since last night I was occupied … but we aren’t talking about that) and decided, what the heck, I’d read it in a day. And I will say that, by far, I think this is the best one of the bunch. Not for snark or anything like that – it was actually not too bad of a book.

It, of course, followed the usual structure and there are a lot of things I want to talk about – gender, specifically – but just in terms of storytelling, James surprised me. I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘surprised’ as if I expect these books to always be lazily written – but James really does surpass her predecessors in this blog by miles.

So – why?

First of all, there was no real secondary plot that pretended to be the plot. There was no random chapters or random breakaways to remind you: oh yeah and this is what’s happening here – don’t forget about that because it’s the reason ‘a’ and ‘b’ meet. If there was a secondary plot, I suppose you could say it belonged to the character Isidore, but it was so simple that it only served as set up and not really consequential to the rest of the story.

Secondly, you actually gave a damn about the secondary characters. Now, while I had a hard time with the male protagonist’s daughter Euegina (think Little Father Time but crazy happy and obsessed with math), I liked hearing from the other characters. They weren’t fodder. In fact, I found myself liking the character Villiers (the friend of the female protagonist – Harriet). One of my marginal notes reads “He’s too good for her.” I liked his dry wit – and his lack of over sentimentality (is that proper grammar? Whatever – I’m still reeling from … you know).

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this book gave me a lot to think about. Not just about structure or hair color – no, I felt almost like this book had a little more depth. It played with gender and gender roles – and, this taking place in the 1780s, you can tell that the author was invested in the period (down to the books her characters were reading). The period wasn’t just this backdrop to throw two attractive people against – it was interactive. And the secondary characters added to that. Also, I know I’ve spoken about the idea of position and rank in these novels and this text is no different – in fact, that is the main point the novel revolves around: gender and rank.

But I have to say – the male protagonist’s name – Justinian Strange? Yeah … no. And his nick name?

Jem (I kid you not)

Obviously – ‘Jem’ was a bit of a downside. And obviously no novel is perfect – this novel had it’s flaws. But I couldn’t deny that it was well written.

The narrative was steady – it moved nicely in and out of third person limited and free indirect discourse without the use of annoying italics at the start of paragraphs. There were rarely anachronisms in the narrative either – once and a while something would seem out of place, but otherwise it was consistent. It was something I appreciated. It didn’t seem self-indulgent as some of these novels *coughIfHesWildcough* have seemed *coughVikinginLovecough*.

It’s also important to note that this novel is also in a series like A Highlander’s Homecoming and If He’s Wild. There are more “duchess” books by James and – as with the other series novels, you get a preview of the next book at the end. And, surprisingly, I would be almost interested in reading it.

Shock. Awe. I know.

I’m going to make a note of it though, honestly. Why? Because I really haven’t explored the idea of the ‘series’ yet beyond canon. And why not explore it with a writer I happen to like? Plus, what James sort of craftily did was interweave the next story with this one – but very subtly (saving that for the sexy sex post). Also something I appreciated.

Oh sorry ... rage left over from last night ...

Anyway – I think this James’ novel will be interesting to take apart compared with the others because I think it’s one that brings to the front a lot that I have spent too much time on like gender itself (which is actually surprising) and I think I want to look more at independence in terms of power and rank – how that’s all connected.

See what a week off does?

It really refreshes the whole brain.

So – Yay! I’m back! And it’s time for …


(you’re a soulless person if you didn’t find that episode moving … just saying … (obviously this pertains to the PALATE CLEANSER)).


James, Eloisa. Duchess By Night. New York: Avon Books, 2008.


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