Book Review: The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

On a recent trip to Omaha over Thanksgiving, my husband and I discovered the joy of Half Priced Books, and I came home with a stack of romance novels, one of them being The Ugly Duchess, a book that had been on my Goodreads list for years. Instead of saving it for when I got caught up on the rest of my “need to read” list, I threw caution to the wind and went for it. Because sometimes you just need to go off course.

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One-Sentence Synopsis
A young woman, known to be mannish and ugly to the rest of society, is thrilled when her best friend proposes to her, only to find out a few days later that he only married her for her dowry. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Friends First
Theodora, who prefers to be called Theo, knows that everyone calls her ugly, and though it hurts, she knows that eventually she’ll marry and find contentment and independence. Having been raised with her best friend, James, after her father died when she was young, she never expects that he’ll be the one she marries. But when he proposes after a passionate kiss, she accepts right away, realizing that she’s had feelings for him, she’s just never let herself acknowledge them.

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A Little Communication Would Go a Long Way
James realizes that he’s also in love with her. But it was his father (a complete asshat) needing to get ahold of her dowry that forced his hand in the first place. Instead of being honest from the beginning, he says nothing. Had he read a romance novel, he would have understood that keeping those secrets never leads to anything good. And it doesn’t, because when Theo finds out, she flips and kicks him out of the house. Because he knows he messed up, he doesn’t argue. Instead, he runs off and becomes a pirate.

Awesome People Get Hurt Too
I enjoyed this book so much. Though Theo lacks the ability to believe that James really loves her, the story is more than just their love story. It’s about Theo growing up and rising above the opinions and gossip of her peers to be better than them. She comes into her own and ends up running several businesses on her own while James is at sea. When she returns to society, she comes dressed as a swan to turn her nose up at all of the people who once made fun of her. But as strong as she is, she still hurts and she still feels it when people make fun of her, and I loved her for that. Because being a strong woman doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotions like that.

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The Long Road to a Happily Ever After
The story spans several years, most of which Theo and James are apart, and when they come together again, they’ve both changed, which leads to some major conflict. Wrapped in a relationship full of miscommunication and angst is this sweet story of childhood friends who are meant to be together, even if it means compromising who they’ve become to let the other one back into their life.

The Romance Factor
James misses Theo the whole time he’s gone, and even though he tries to embrace the pirate life fully (woman in every port sort of thing), he can’t really do it. Not only that, but while everyone else calls her ugly, he finds her beautiful because he knows who she is, and he never feels ashamed for loving her. 5/5

The Steam Factor
Though not super graphic, the sex in this book was effective at giving off major heat. There was a high level of intensity at the beginning when James and Theo first came together. Later, when they’re getting together again after so many years, there is a lot of buildup and sexual tension, and while Theo tries to avoid passion because she’s made her life so orderly, she fails miserably, which makes for some epic sexy times. 4/5

Final Thoughts
Once I finished this book, I had to go add the rest of the series to my Goodreads list. I loved this take on the classic fairy tale and the fact that the characters weren’t easily given their happily ever after. It’s sensual and sweet and hits all the right spots for me.

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