Thursday, April 06, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: The Taming of the Duke by Eloisa James

Imogen spent years determined to capture the heart of Draven Maitland and marry him, despite the fact that he was affianced. In Much Ado About You, the first book in the Four Sisters Regency series by Eloisa James (which focuses on Tess, the oldest Essex sister), Imogen succeeds in her heart’s desire and spends two weeks married before Draven is killed in a riding accident. Now the third book in this series - The Taming of the Duke – focuses on Imogen, who is determined to enter the delicious world open to respectable widows, that of taking a lover. She has decided that Gabe, brother of her guardian Rafe, fits the bill nicely however Rafe and Gabe have other plans for the adventurous widow.

James’ series feature innovative plots, vibrant dialogue and an authenticity that comes from immersing herself in studies of the relevant time period. As a scholar of Shakespeare, the nod she gives his plays when choosing her titles is intentional. The Taming of the Duke takes the basic plot of The Taming of the Shrew and turns it on its head. Raphael, Duke of Holbrook, is an unlikely hero, mired as he is in an alcoholic stupour caused by guilt and pain. Readers gain an understanding of Rafe’s history in the first two novels in this series but it is only in this third offering that he develops into a possible hero – needing to overcome his addiction to alcohol rather than the vitriolic temperament overcome by Katherine in Shakespeare’s offering. Gaining mastery of his alcoholism wouldn’t have been easy, as in the 1800s alcoholism was a moral failing rather than an illness. That James is able to pull this all together into a delightful novel shows just how skilled a pen she wields.

Romance novels comprise 53.3% of all mass market paperback novels and 34.6% of all popular fiction, with an astonishing 51.1 million readers in the US alone. (2002 statistics, compiled by Romance Writers of America) One of the fastest growing sub-genres of romance is the inspirational romance, which adds a spiritual obstacle that must be overcome, strong family values, duty, honour, chastity and integrity to the traditional romance template. James, ever the scholar, chooses to show how religion was part of the daily life of men and women in the 1800s rather than limiting herself by writing within the chaste boundaries of this popular category.

Mary Bly, using the pen name Eloisa James, has been living a double life for many years. Only recently did Bly, a professor of English literature who teaches at Fordham University in New York City, “come out of the closet” to her academic colleagues. The Taming of the Duke is her 10th novel.

See the review as it is posted at Front Street Reviews: The Taming of the Duke

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