The Duchess War
by Courtney Milan
Book 1 of Brothers Sinister
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...
Let me tell everyone about the many ways in which I absolutely loved this book! And also, we will even disregard all the little quibbles I felt about this book, because in light of how much I absolutely loved The Duchess War and all of the characters presented in it, flaws mean nothing.
And then let me follow up with a few quotes to underscore the many reasons why I loved this book!
As a fair warning: This post is not really a review. This post is really a big squee, once again, highlighting all the reasons why I loved this book... interspersed with some passages and quotes from the book I found extremely lovely!
My love for this book probably started with this particular passage:
He tried to be honest with himself. He had to be, as so few others were. His friend, Sebastian, could charm the bloomers off even the most upright dragons of the ton--and had, on occasion. His brother had a razor-sharp wit on the one hand, and a way of making others comfortable on the other. Oliver could make ladies laugh.
For himself... He could rarely think of how to respond when immersed in that heady back-and-forth. Sometimes he thought of clever things to say... hours later. Usually, he committed the worst sin possible: He said what he was really thinking. That was why he came out with gems like, I like your tits. Not one of this finest moments, that.
And then, soon after, as I continued reading this book, and began getting to know the characters, I found myself falling for everything about this book.
Then little gems like this would appear:
"This is true," Sebastian said. "The Countess of Cambury is like a deep, dark hole--secrets go in, but none of them ever come out."
"Sebastian," Violet replied, calmly looping the yarn about one of her needles, "it is neither proper nor respectful to let a woman know that you think of her as nothing more than a hole."
I snorted quite loudly at this one and drew attention. XD
"Now what will we do for women?"
"Really," Roberts said a little more forcefully. "I know I've not yet said my wedding vows, but I must insist that..."
But they weren't paying him any attention. "I know just the thing," Oliver said, brightening. "Mary Wollstonecraft. I have a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Women in my room--I'll be sure to bring that."
"Excellent," Sebastian said, rubbing his hands together. "And there's this letter I received by this curious woman from the United States--one Antoinette Brown. She wrote the most extraordinary things about evolution and women's rights. I'll bring that."
"I have a pamphlet by Emily Davies."
Robert's lips twisted upward despite himself.
"I was thinking I could bring a copy of Thomas Payne," Oliver said, "But that would make our numbers uneven."
"Violet," Sebastian said, with a wave of his hand. "She can be surprisingly handy in an argument."
"Ah, I suppose she'll do in a pinch." Oliver stood, and set his hand on Robert's shoulder. "Let nobody say that the Brothers Sinister have no idea how to be depraved."
"There shall be brandy!" Sebastian stood. "And we shall even drink it, although Robert will stop after two glasses because he always does."
"There will be food!" Oliver declaimed, mirroring Sebastian's stance. "And we shan't drink that, because then we would choke."
I can't express how much I love Robert's friends as well as his relationship with them. The character interactions in his book are divine! The dialogue is witty and wonderfully timed. The banter is excellent, the character growth is superb! And I'm running out of positive adjectives to help make this review anymore meaningless than it really is right now... O.o
I loved how Minnie and Robert battled each other verbally with their wits. I loved how Minnie was depicted in such a positive, confident light in spite of her situation. She's the strong, independent, intelligent female heroine I absolutely love to follow, with a sense of imperfection, just enough to make you love her and want to follow her plight and feel for her and with her.
But what came as more of a surprise to me was how much I loved Robert for his non-standard character as a duke. He was never arrogant, and had a great sense of loyalty for those he cared about. But what stood out the most for me in Robert was his strong sense of humility, rarely seen in these types of characters--and Minnie describes it quite well at the beginning of the book, likening him to someone who knows how much power he holds, but feeling embarrassed to be the one in a position of status and power over others.
When Minnie first describes this, I didn't really understand what she meant. However, the more you get to know Robert as the story progresses, you start to understand him. And I slowly fell for the self-aware, humble duke presented in this book. The fact that he doesn't apologize for his origins, but uses his power to try to help make the world a better place... He's an idealistic prince sitting in his ivory tower, and even with his built-in humility, I love that he still finds more to learn about from Minnie.
And vice versa, I love that Minnie finds her own self-revelations through him.
As I'm writing these words, comes to mind another idealistic prince sitting in his ivory tower, who is humble in his own way, but not too prideful to use what his birthright has given him for the sake of others, especially his friends. Another fictional character I found myself falling irresistibly in love with, for another book that I loved so much I couldn't figure out how to review properly without the obligatory fangirl squeals.
There are so many reasons for me to love this book. The story line itself wasn't really all that unique in itself, but the parallels that present themselves between Minnie and Robert are outlined very well. The conflicts might have been a bit over-dramatic, but everything falls together in the end and wrap up in a well-rounded way.
Finally, I love all the positive relationships presented in this book. Robert and his friends; Minnie and Lydia. Oliver Marshall, who has every right to despise and hate Robert and the entire duke's family for what befell his mother (detailed in the prequel novella)--his relationship as Robert's half-brother was much sunnier than I'd expected, and I really love that.
I also loved that Lydia's reasons for being angry at Minnie had nothing to do with lies or betrayals or station, but that she felt more upset that Minnie didn't trust her enough to confide in her--it does sometimes come as a shock to a best friend when you find out that said best friends knows all of your own deepest secrets, but she never trusted you enough to tell you hers. And I'm glad that the two loved each other enough to get past that, though, of course.
Finally, while it DID get slightly frustrating to watch Robert and Minnie dance around their feelings, both sexual and emotional, for so long, it was a rather refreshing to watch them work out their problems in a logical fashion like mature adults.
Or sort of, but you can't deny that Robert's the more endearing for everything he does and says in his clueless fashion.
"Oh," he said quietly. He seemed to take a few moments to absorb that before he opened the primer again. "A is for 'All the ways I love you.' There are more than twenty-six, but as this is the alphabet we have, I'm going to have to restrict myself. At least for now."
"B is for 'But I am going to make mistakes.' Something I am sure does not come as a surprise to you. "C is for Confession. I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to be a husband. I don't know how to be a father. All I learned from my father is how not to do it--and that is rarely any guide. But... D is for Determination... E is for Eternity, because that's how long it will take before I give up again. F--that's for Forgiveness, because I think I'll need a great deal of that, before I start to get things right."
"G is for... G is for... G is for 'Good heaves, I should have written these down.' I've forgotten."
He frowned in perplexity. "Really. I have no idea what comes next. I puzzled them all out in my head, and they were going to be utterly brilliant, and when I was finished, you were going to leap in my arms and everything would be better."
Truthfully, I'm more surprised at how much I loved this book considering just how mediocre I had found the prequel novella The Governess Affair. Currently, I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that this wasn't just a fluke and that the following books in this series will be just as enjoyable.