For fully two-thirds of this book, I was pretty sure I was going to give
it an enthusiastic recommendation. After all, it has a unique heroine,
a gallant hero, an unusual setting, and an interesting premise. Whatís
not to like? Unfortunately, at the very moment that things should have
gotten good, things went wrong. Hence the three heart rating.
Letís start with the setting. The story begins in Naples in 1798. The
British Mediterranean fleet, recently victorious at the Battle of
Aboukir Bay, has come to the harbor to refit and to prop up the
government of the kingdomís incompetent ruler. It was, of course, in
Naples that Nelson met and fell in love with the wife of the British
ambassador, Emma Hamilton.
The hero is Captain Lord Edward Ramsden. The fourth son of a duke, Lord
Edward had been sent into the navy at the age of nine by his cruel and
uncaring father. He had risen in the ranks and is now the captain of a
ship of the line and one of the heroes of the recent battle. Seeking
diversion, he and his lieutenant go one afternoon to the gallery/shop of
Francesca Robin, daughter of a noted artist and his Italian model. Her
late father, an Englishman, had attracted visitors to his shop to view a
series of pornographic paintings that Lt. Nye very much wishes to see.
Francesca is beautiful and exotic. She is also herself a talented
artist. Obviously, she is not quite respectable. For some reason she
cannot explain, when she meets Lord Edward, sparks fly between the two,
both literally and figuratively. But nothing would have come of their
relationship were it not for the advancing French. Because she is
half-English, Francesca will be in danger when the enemy takes Naples.
She seeks refuge with the English fleet, but the admiral refuses to take
a single woman on board one of his ships. To his own surprise, Lord
Edward finds himself offering to marry this most unsuitable but most
Francesca accepts his offer; she has little choice. But she doesnít
want a real marriage. She had promised her father that she would devote
herself to her art. So, despite the attraction the two feel for each
other, there is no passionate wedding night. However, the more he gets
to know Francesca, the more determined Edward is to win her.
Then, to his dismay, Edward is ordered to give up his ship and return to
London. While neither he nor Francesca know why, the reader can surmise
from the title of the book that he has unexpectedly inherited the title.
A reviewer has the responsibility not to reveal too much of a novelís
plot but it is very difficult for me to explain my less than
enthusiastic response to The Very Daring Duchess without
including some spoilers. So this is your spoiler warning.
Everything is fine with the story until the two arrive in London.
During their voyage they become even closer, both emotionally and
physically. They have clearly fallen in love. But when they arrive in
England, Francesca decides to simply disappear. She does have a place
to go; her uncle gladly takes her in. She doesnít want Edward to find
her, so what does she do? She reestablishes her gallery in London and
advertises for customers. Does she really think that Edward - now the
Duke of Harborough - will not look for her? Even if he has concluded
that she is not a suitable duchess, he would have to do something about
the fact that they are married! This whole part of the book made no
sense at all.
Perhaps a bit less problematic is the blackmail plot that the author
inserts into the story, but even the outcome of this aspect of the plot
is less than satisfactory.
As I stated above, The Very Daring Duchess began very promisingly
but its ending disappointed. Thus, I can rate it as only an acceptable