What’s the worst thing that can happen to a rich young heiress? Apparently, being born an ugly, rich, young heiress. The Ugly Duchess uses the themes from the classic fable that makes the reader consider
yet again the ideas of true beauty. Theodora Saxby is that “ugly” heiress. To the world Theo has a face that resembles a man but to her mother and closest friend, James Ryburn gorgeous future Duke of Ashbrook, she’s beautiful. Despite her one major flaw, Theo is convinced she has enough personality to get the gentleman she most desires IF she can manage to gain his attention for just a minute or two. With the help of James, whom she considers more of a brother since as the current Duke's Ward they were raised together, she sets her cap for said gentleman. And it might have worked if only James hadn't had plans of his own for Theo.
Needless to say after a particularly steamy kiss which leads to her compromising (publicly if not actually), Theo and James are married. Though love isn't something either of them believed they felt beyond the bounds of friendship, both are surprised to discover they feel anything but familial when their lips touch. All is set to go well in their marriage but for the secret James has kept from Theo -- that he married her because his father lost almost all of his inheritance and embezzled most of Theo's dowry as well. When she discovers this her fragile new self confidence shatters. She orders James out of the house and never to return. Seven years later and on the verge of being declared legally dead, James returns a much changed man.
The meat of the novel is in the seven years they are apart, which for me, was my only complaint. Not that it shouldn't have been written, but perhaps more time should have been spent on their reconciliation than was. Don’t get me wrong, the separate journey’s of the main characters was entertaining and certainly added another layer to this classic story. But once they were reunited it seemed forgiveness was only too fast in coming. Or maybe I just didn't want this book to end! Perhaps a more satisfying third act would have had the main characters fighting the inevitable a bit longer since most of the journey they are living separate lives.
That said, Eloise’s trademark humor is flawlessly delivered throughout. Having laugh-out-loud moments is always a great sign of a well written romance, and this reader had plenty of those. James is a master at word play. She gives her novels a tongue-in-cheek feel and, as a critical reader, in particular with this novel I find this kind of humor intermingled with serious themes of self-worth and self-love to be even more rewarding. I know you will too!