April 20, 2015
In Four Nights with the Duke, Eloisa James proves that not only can she quote Shakespeare,
she also can spout dirty words. That is what we have in this story: a hero, Vander, who has a potty mouth, and a heroine, Mia, who has an inferiority complex - big time. When I pick up a book by Ms. James, I can pretty much be sure I will receive a lesson in Shakespeare, but I can also be sure that somewhere in that book there is going to be some kind of bullying and some kind of insecurities. And, there was in this story - some of it worked and some of the issues didn't work. Four Nights with the Duke is also part of a series within a series - it is tied to the Desperate Duchesses.
I was perplexed by this book. One moment I was enjoying a character, laughing at some funny lines and the next moment I was trying to reach through the pages and throttle someone, mostly Vander. Here's what I loved. I loved the little epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Usually, I skip over those but in this case they caught my attention and I thought they were rather amusing. You see, our heroine is a romance writer and at the beginning of each chapter is her working and reworking of her novels. They were pretty funny and I believe pretty close to some of the struggles that authors go through when writing. There were two secondary characters that were just delightful: Chuffy, the alcoholic uncle to our hero, and Charles Wallace, the young nephew of Mia. When those two were present in the narrative, regardless of who they were interacting with, the story just hummed. Where the book lost some of its glimmer for me was when Vander and Mia were connecting or not connecting.
Let's look at Mia. Mia has issues with her body, big issues. She sees herself as fat, but she is actually what my mother would have called voluptuous. Regardless of the skinny perception of beauty today, let me tell you that most men still like women with big bazookas. There isn't anything that will make a man's head whip around faster than a woman with giant mammilla’s. And, I think that every woman evvvveeeeer has to know those are what most men stare at when they are talking to a woman. So, for Mia to call her bosom ugly cabbages was baffling. Sure, she might have had some juvenile boys laughing at her when she was young. However, her perception of herself when she grew up should have changed. Since she was portrayed as an author, I can only think that her perception of things around would have been a little bit more enlightened. She should have had a stronger sense of how people reacted to her and she should have seen herself as she really was. A shapely petite woman with big assets. So, she was a little off - strong then weak then strong then weak.
I know, I know, there are women who are insecure - there are people who are insecure, but in Mia's case it was over the top (no pun intended) and it went on for way tooo long. And, it wasn't consistent with some of her other actions. She was secure in her writing, in her ability to raise her nephew and even in her blackmail attempt of Vander. I just grew tired of her belittling herself
Then we have Vander. Where do I begin? There were times when I liked him, but there were more times when I found his behavior atrocious. First of all he has a big potty mouth. He loves to talk dirty into our virtuous heroine’s ear. And, he has one of the biggest overactive Mr. Toads of the year. Nothing seems to deter the Toad-man from popping up, even for a woman who is blackmailing you into marriage. Nope-nope-nope. Why, what does Vander do when he's being blackmailed into marrying someone that he doesn't necessarily want? He rips the flap of his pants open and exposes his erector-set to Mia - that will show her. And, that was in the second chapter. Plus all the foul words that were coming out of his mouth - it was just bizarre. All the time he spouting his distaste of Mia, he's sporting a prodigiously enormous stiff Mr. Toad. In fact, he has one almost all the time in this book. He's crude, he's hateful, he's insulting, and he treats Mia abominably but alllll the time he wants drill her. It's a continuous drill, be mean, drill, be mean. The only time we get any relief from this guy is when he's talking to Chuffy or being nice to Charles Wallace. It is only with these two secondary characters that we ever get to see this bonehead hero have any humanity.
So the bottom line for me on this book: it's a toss-up. There were some fine moments between the characters in the book. The prose was excellent. Mia was humorous and strong when she was in her author mode. I could even understand some of her insecurity, at least for part of the time. However, her insecurity went on too long and wasn't always understandable. But the real irritant for me was Vander. When he was in his "hero" mode he was a real whanker and for the most part I found his actions toward Mia inexcusable.
Time/Place: 1790s England