Sometimes love is an accident. This time, it’s a strategy.
Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly--so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don't get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention.
But that is precisely what she gets.
Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he's up to, he realizes there is more to than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he's determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match...
And she has done it again! Ms. Milan has become one of my auto-buy historical authors in the past year, but I'm always cautious that she might write a book I dislike or one that just isn't for me. Well, The Duchess War definitely made me feel like a paranoid fangirl. It had absolutely almost everything that I love about historical romance with a twist.
One thing that I have come to expect from a Courtney Milan book is the unconventional characters who are well-developed and realistic without being boring since she is not afraid to provide readers with characters that may not be widely accepted (today and in the past) and seems to enjoy seeing how much she can push the envelope. Almost all the characters in The Duchess War seemed to follow this pattern from the main couple (Robert and Minnie) to the side characters.
Our hero is Robert Blaisdell, a young duke, who is more than what he first appears. Because while Robert may seem like the fairly typical English lord, he is anything but. I can't go too much into the truth about him without spoiling it for future readers, but it is fabulous to discover and very unique for that time period. I love when authors take cliched archetypes and shows how twisted they can be with the right amount of development.
Minnie, the heroine, is similar to Robert in that she is so much more than she appears which, in her case, is a shy wallflower. I have read many romances with wallflowers as heroines and most of them have a reason for their place in society, but I don't think I have ever read a wallflower with as valid a reason to avoid society's attention that Minnie. Her past is a little over-the-top, but I can really appreciate what Milan was doing with her character.
As a couple, Robert and Minnie are very unorthodox. I have seen reviews that comment on the fact that they don't seem to have much of a connection and that it is difficult to see why they feel the way they do about each other. I can see where those reviewers are coming from, but, for me, that was the beauty of this love story. At first glance, they shouldn't work as a couple, but each of them gets something from the other that they desperately need. The romance is very slow-burning and Ms. Milan takes her time getting them together, but it is so worth it by the end and I really admire the writing skills it takes to make something like this happen.
There is a pretty large cast in The Duchess War and I found there to be a nice balance between introducing some key secondary people and keeping the main storyline moving. Ms. Milan takes time to develop her less than important characters and I think that helps make her books stand out. For example, she spends a bit of time on Robert's mother who he feels abandoned him throughout his childhood. What is great about her is that she is not just the neglectful mother. The author obviously took the time to really think about this woman and what her marriage must have been like to cause such a negative relationship with her son. She took what could have been a cliched villain-like character and made her sympathetic and worthy of a second chance.
My personal favorites of the side characters though were the other Brothers Sinister: Robert's half-brother Oliver (a bastard whose mother and stepfather were the focus of The Governess Affair), Sebastian (a science-loving lord), and Violet (the sole female and a very uncoventional countess). Each of them was given a proper introduction which made me excited to read their own stories especially Sebastian.
And, finally, I have to mention the historical setting the Ms. Milan provides her readers. The Brothers Sinister series takes place in Victorian England which is a time of great changes politically, economically, and socially. What is great about this book is the use of the time period to provide background for the characters and give them a purpose. Some of the issues brought up in The Duchess War are radical politics, organized labor, and Darwinism. I will say that sometimes I think the story got a bit bogged down by all the historical context midway through, but it quickly picked up again.
All in all, I found this to be another successful historical romance for Ms. Milan. She is truly a talented writer who knows how to take her characters and give them so much life one would expect them to jump off the page. Plus the development of the romances is done skillfully and realistically in a way that is rare in today's historicals. I really recommend this book to other readers especially if they are willing to give the story the chance to slowly develop into something poignant and beautiful.
0.5. The Governess Affair
1. The Duchess War
1.5. A Kiss for Midwinter
2. The Heiress Effect (Coming 2013)
3. The Countess Conspiracy (Coming 2013)