The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

August 24, 2017
One big grovel.

There be spoilers ahead. When last we were with Sarah MacLean and her Scandal and Scoundrels series, Sophie, the youngest Talbot sister, was pushing Serephina's husband into a pond. Serephina is the oldest of the Talbot's. Sophie had a very legitimate reason for shoving Malcolm Bevingstoke into the water: she caught him in flagrante delicto with a woman who was not his wife. Sophie took off on her own adventure and Seraphina just took off. Of course before she did, she lost the child she was carrying. Guilt-ridden, Malcolm has spent 2+ angst-filled years trying to find his wife. Then one day Seraphina shows up demanding a divorce. She wants a new life, one that does not include Malcolm. And, the emotional story of Malcolm and Seraphina begins. Be warned, my Petunias, this is not a carefree laugh riot. In fact, this reminds me a bit of some heavy-duty Mary Balogh books - so be prepared for some soul searching. This is a very emotional ride and I applaud Ms. MacLean for tackling a taboo which is usually avoided in Romanceland - infidelity. There are not many authors who can pull it off (once again Mary Balogh and Eloisa James come to mind). That subject is a bit of a hot button for some romance readers. I've often thought that sometimes authors forget that readers become so entrenched in their books that when someone in the book is emotionally injured, the reader is emotionally injured right along with them. So not only does the character in the book have to forgive the offender, so does the reader. Did Ms. MacLean succeed in creating enough sympathy for Malcolm that we forgive him? She came close and there is one powerful scene in this book which is absolutely gut-wrenching, which I talk about later. This book was hard to review because Ms. MacLean has raised the bar by journeying into territory which most romance authors avoid. Usually, the offending husband/wife dies and the spouse has to deal with leftover feelings, which is made easier by the introduction of a new nicer love interest. But that doesn't happen in this book. In this book the author tries to rehabilitate our hero, and to a lesser extent our heroine. This is a story of rebuilding trust.

The Day of the Duchess is told partly through flashbacks, at least until we get the complete story of how Malcolm and Seraphina's marriage fell apart. When they first meet, Malcolm and Seraphina are instantly attracted to each other, but as the romance continues, they really don't come to know each other. But they cannot stay away from each other. Even though Malcolm intends to marry Seraphina, he doesn’t tell her and she doesn’t guess. Because she does not want to lose him, she sets a trap in which she is caught in a compromising position with him. While he still marries her, he does not forgive her deceit and he makes her life miserable. He becomes one big nasty twit, with his malice culminating in being caught with his pants down. The past relationship, the destruction caused by Malcolm and Seraphina, is very painful to read.

When the book flips into the present time we are faced with a very regretful Malcolm. He wants desperately to be forgiven and be with his wife. But his treatment of her is something she can't forgive. Not only does she have the wound left by his infidelity, she has to struggle with the fact he wasn't there to support her when she miscarried their child. So you see, we have a heroine who has a lot to forgive - there is a lot that we the reader have to forgive. And, here is where it gets a tad bit murky – in the previous book, Malcolm's character may have been written a little bit too irredeemable. It seems to me for Malcolm to be salvaged in this story, the storyline should have been focused mainly on rebuilding the relationship between him and Seraphina. But the author took another route.

Here's the other route. Malcolm comes up with a brilliant idea of how to win his wife back. He'll give her a divorce if she helps him pick out his next wife. So how about a party in the country and let’s invite a number of eligible young ladies. She agrees, but she also brings along all of her sisters - SSSSSSesily, SSSSSSSeline, SSSSSSeleste and SSSSSSSophie. This part of the book was almost a farce. Here is my thought on the mixing of the angst story and the farce story - it didn't necessarily work. The farce would have been great if the whole story had been a farce. Maybe this part of the book was intended as a bright spot in an otherwise intense book. I'm all about books which make me laugh, but this is one time when the laughter was a distraction to some well-written poignancy.

One powerful scene. There is a scene in this story which will steal your breath away. It is one of the most powerfully written few pages I've experienced in a long time. It comes toward the end of the story, but I'm not going to tell you what it is about. If you read the book you will recognize it. There was so much heartrending emotion in this one scene that the hero could have been forgiven - if the author had continue traveling down that road of vivid emotion. And, this scene is what makes this a hard book to review. It was so well-written. This story had so much emotional impact, it didn't need the comedy - the comedy was a distraction.

SSSSSSSS. There is one other scene I want to briefly touch on. The five sisters are all in the same carriage riding home. All five of them. With SSSSSSS - Seleste said this, Sophie said that, Seline said that, Seleste looked there, Sesily smiled, Seleste laughed at something Seline said, Sophie frowned at Sesily, Sistine – oh wait there wasn’t any Sistine. It was all very confusing, I couldn't keep track of who was saying what to who and neither could the author. At one point Sophie is dropped off at her house, says goodbye, see ya; and then there she is on the next page back in the conversation with her sisters. I had to reread that section a number of times to clear my head.

Bottom-line. I do recommend this book. It was a hard story to read and I can only assume it was even harder to write. I congratulate the author on attempting to tackle a Romanceland verboten topic - infidelity. I'm not quite sure she succeeded in redeeming our hero Malcolm but she came awfully close. If she had continued on with that one highly emotional scene toward the end of the book, I think she would have been more successful. But you really should read this story and see what you think. Go ahead, don't be afraid - you can always watch a funny movie afterward.

Time/Place: England 1830s
Sensuality: Hot

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