TBR Challenge – “The Taming of the Duke” By Eloisa James

18 Mar


Info: TBR Challenge 2009
Theme for the month: historical novel
In my TBR pile since:: December 2007

Genre: Romance / Historical
Published: Avon, 2006

Series: “Essex Sisters” series, # 3

Availability: still available

Monthly theme?: yes

Why I bought this novel: I liked the two previous novels in this series.

The back blurb:
“Imogen, Lady Maitland, has decided to dance on the wild side. After all, she’s in the delicious position of being able to take a lover. A discreet male who knows just when to leave in the morning.
But Lady Maitland is still under the watchful eye of her former guardian, the wildly untamed Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook. He believes she is still in need of a ‘watchdog.’ She laughs at the idea that someone so insufferably lazy and devoted to drink can demand that she behave with propriety.
It’s Rafe’s long-lost brother, a man who looks precisely like the duke but with none of his degenerate edge, who interests Imogen. To Imogen, he’s the shadow duke…the man who really should hold the title. But when Imogen agrees to accompany Gabe to a masquerade…whose masked eyes watch her with that intense look of desire? Who exactly is she dancing with? The duke or the shadow duke? Rafe…or Gabe?

The Taming of the Duke didn’t seem like a good choice to read for this challenge. It’s the third book in a series about four sisters, and I read the second one nearly two years ago. My memory of what had happened was more than hazy. What I remembered was that the four Essex sisters were wards of Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook, and that Imogen was a headstrong woman, recently widowed. Oh, and that two of her sisters were already married (which is what was to be expected, The Taming of the Duke being the third book in the series).

But astonishingly, I didn’t feel all that lost, even though James has a propensity to have quite a few POV characters, to follow multiple story lines, and to write more ensemble-like stories rather than straightforward romances with a strong focus on the hero and the heroine.

In this novel, we get two romances and some hints of what is to come for the fourth sister, Josie. The story takes place at Rafe’s house where a play is put on to help the career of an actress Rafe’s recently turned up (illegitimate) half-brother feels kind of responsible for. So allusions to Shakespeare (and other dramatists) are strong, maybe even more than in the other novels I’ve read by James so far. False first impressions, mistaken identities, and going after the wrong partner abound, and all revolves around the question “who with whom?”


Having lost her husband of two weeks a year ago, Imogen now seems better able to deal with her grieve and loss. When last year, she’d thought to have an affair out of “rage, humiliation, and guilt” after the death of her husband, she now wants something for herself. She sets her sights on Gabe, the illegitimate half-brother of Rafe, because he is perfectly acceptable to have an affair with and totally unacceptable to marry due to his illegitimacy.

Generous, greathearted drunkard Rafe doesn’t want to see his half-brother Gabe in Imogen’s clutches. He saw how she went after her husband, who at that time was the fiancé of Gillian Pythian-Adams, and he doesn’t want Gabe falling prey to that because Gabe recently had an unpleasant experience with the mother of his child Mary. (Mary’s mother refused to marry Gabe when it was clear a child was on the way because her career as an actress was more important to her.) Rafe also considers himself still somewhat of a guardian to Imogen.

Gabe is a professor at Cambridge and knows his place in the world, what he can achieve and what he can’t achieve because he was born illegitimate. So he knows, for example, that Imogen is interested in having an affair with him and he knows the reason why she’s interested: he is safe. Because of his knowledge about the barriers he can’t overcome, he

accustomed himself to making instantaneous decisions. If there was something–or someone–he desired, he decided whether it was possible. If it was not possible, he didn’t spare it another thought. If it was possible, he fought for it tooth and nail, as long as he judged it an intelligent goal. (126/127)

Then he claps eyes on Gillian Pythian-Adams.

Gillian doesn’t have the best opinion of men. All men are fools and she doesn’t believe love is for her. In fact, she was quite happy that her fiancé eloped with Imogen. But she is resigned that she should better marry and now thinks Rafe is a likely candidate for a husband.

with whom?

So Imogen wants to have an affair with Gabe, Gabe knows this and although he finds her attractive, Imogen doesn’t compare to Gillian in his eyes who is as unattainable as a wife for him as is Imogen. But because he doesn’t want to disappoint Imogen, who feels jilted by men he thinks, he persuades Rafe to take his place and go with Imogen to a concert he promised to attend with Imogen in disguise. Rafe realizes there he wants Imogen for himself while she thinks she’s with Gabe.

Gillian thinks Gabe the epitome of a rake. He’s recently widowed with a child, seems to think about having an affair with Imogen, and on top of that, the production of the play at Rafe’s house seems to be for the sake of Gabe’s paramour (who gets to play the leading role). His kiss is a total surprise to her while Gabe forgets his philosophy of never going after something that’s impossible for him to obtain.

So there’s confusion despite Imogen’s and Gillian’s conversation about Rafe and Gabe where they make their intentions clear: Imogen wants Gabe for an affair, Gillian wants Rafe for marriage. At least, that’s what they think.

Good and less good

I like James’s writing style and she often comes up with interesting and “edgy” characters, so I didn’t mind the scenes and chapters told from a POV character that had nearly nothing to do with the actual story much. And overall, I enjoyed reading this novel a lot.

That is, nearly up until the end. Then the pacing faltered a bit, IMO, because there was a lot to deal with – Imogen’s and Rafe’s romance, Rafe masquerading as his brother, Gillian’s and Gabe’s romance, the play – compared to the more leisurely pace before.

For example, there are hints that Imogen knows she’s actually with Rafe and not with Gabe but they are subtle and the revelation that Rafe pretended to be Gabe is rather short. The mirroring and contrasting of the roles the characters play on stage compared to what they are like off stage was dense and fast and so probably missed some of the effect it could have had (or I just couldn’t keep up).

But I think the reason I was enjoying myself a bit less during the last chapters was that the prickly awareness and conversations and arguments Imogen and Rafe shared then gave way to Imogen being with Rafe disguised as Gabe, and I really enjoyed reading Imogen’s and Rafe’s interactions, who I think rather interesting characters. I especially liked Rafe with his laid-back manner who also learns about taking responsibility. My favorite scene with these two is probably the one in the meadow.

Imogen and Rafe are right for each other and that is something that’s clear throughout the novel in the way Imogen cares about Rafe’s drinking (especially compared to how Gillian thinks she would handle it), for example, or how they actually have quite a few things in common and how they understand each other. Gillian and Rafe might have had a good marriage, but chances are good that Imogen and Rafe will have a happy marriage.

Verdict: Why did I away with the – and the +? This is perfect example for a novel where I can’t make up my mind between calling it a good (4/5) or a decent (3,5/5) book.


2 Responses to “TBR Challenge – “The Taming of the Duke” By Eloisa James”

  1. Jace Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 10:34 am #

    Hey Taja … another great, thoughtful review. 🙂 I’ve never read Eloisa James before and this storyline seems too convoluted for me right now – I also don’t like Regency stories. I’m glad this was a decent-to-good read for you.

  2. Taja Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 2:58 pm #

    Thank you, Jace!

    Yes, this story is a bit like a whirlwind – in a fast and fun way – with the disguises and going after the “wrong” partner. Definitely shades of (Shakespeare’s) comedies, but that isn’t all surprising given Eloisa James’s profession, I think. 🙂 I’ll read the last one in the series for sure.

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