Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James

Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James
Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James
Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James

Like the games of chess that run through this series, the romances are filled with strategy, intrigue and surprise moves.

This series begins with Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, who returns to England from France in the late 1700s (during the Georgian period) to be with her husband, Elijah, from whom she has been estranged for several years. Elijah had what seems like a heart attack while at parliament, and he has asked Jemma to return so they can begin the process of begetting an heir, while he still can. Jemma was a well known social butterfly in Paris and had somewhat a scandalous reputation. Her return to England allows her to renew her friendships with her contemporaries—most of the other duchesses in this series—and due to her love of chess, begin a friendship with the Duke of Villiers, her husband’s ex-best friend.

The series is interspersed with several chess matches as, like chess itself, a game of intrigue, coquettishness and desire is played out between the characters of each novel. Everyone gets their happy ending, of course, but not without several machinations of their own or of others’—just like a chess game.

I will discuss and review each book individually. For the lazy crowd, however, I have prepared a summary of summaries below and I have given an overall recommendation at the end of all the reviews—surely you can scroll down and read the end, yes? If you can’t, just buy the books. If you only buy one, you’ll want the next. Or try the first and see if you don’t get hooked. Such is the nature of an Eloisa James book.

Summary of summaries

Favourite book: Duchess by Night (Book 3, Harriet’s story)
Least favourite book: When the Duke Returns (Book 4, Isidore’s story)
Favourite character: Villiers! He rocks.
Favourite heroine: Villiers’ :-D
Favourite hero: Lord Strange (Book 3)
Favourite secondary characters: Jemma and Tobias
Heroine I most wanted to smack in the head: Poppy, Duchess of Fletcher (Book 2)
Hero I most wanted to smack in the head: Simeon, Duke of Isidore (Book 4)
Character that I wish had ended up with someone else: Isidore
Character most likely to end up in their own series: Well, they all had children. :)

Desperate Duchesses (Roberta and Damon)

Roberta is the daughter of a super eccentric poet/duke who has pretty much ruined any chance of her making a great debut in society and finding a husband. Not one to let this stand in her way, she presents herself at her (very, very) distant cousin Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont’s house and begs her to assist her in presenting herself in society and bagging a duke. Jemma agrees.

I think this book was an excellent start to the series and it did a good job of setting everything up. It also provided the hook that totally sucked me in for the next bits. I am incredibly glad that I read the stories after all the books were released as I might have been frustrated by waiting. I would possibly have been even more frustrated by learning that there were 6 books. (This is a very long series—can we stick to 3 or 4 next time, please? Thank you.)

Roberta is a refreshing heroine. She’s practical, she doesn’t love kids (right away, at least) and she’s not all googly-eyed by the prospect of romance. Damon, the hero, had to work quite a bit to get her, and I liked that. I like that she didn’t make it too easy for him. The interactions between the secondary characters were a great part of what drove this novel as well. They pulled everything together and the witty dialogue, flirting and general squee-ness between all parties made it worthwhile.

I would highly recommend this one.

Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James (UK/Aus edition)Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James (US edition)

AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Intrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Diesel | | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository

An Affair Before Christmas (Poppy and Fletch)

This is one of those books in the series that you read because it’s there, and you need to read it to get to the next bit. To be honest, I don’t remember quite so much about this other than that the heroine annoyed me greatly. She rejected her husband and was frigid and kept wondering why he was rejecting her. She was almost TSTL, but not quite. Her husband felt inadequate because he couldn’t please her in bed (because she was frigid) and it was all just this I-want-to-knock-your-heads-together kind of situation. Of course she learned to get over this at the end, and they were all happy, but I didn’t like this book.

This is one of my least favourites in the series.

An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James (Aus/UK)An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James (US edition)

AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Intrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Diesel | | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository

Duchess by Night (Harriet and Lord Strange)

I did not have high expectations for this book, because Harriet started out a bit of a stuffed shirt kind of a widow who had issues with her husband’s death. Fortunately, by this book she had gotten over them and decided she needed a bit of adventure in her life. And what an adventure she had!

Isidore (see Book 4) wants to entice her husband to come home after years of being apart. She decides the best way to do this is to create a scandal by attending one of Lord Strange’s house parties—known for their scandalous demonstrations and hedonism. Harriet—dressed as a boy—decides to come along for the ride. With Villiers as their chaperone, both ladies set out for a rollicking good time.

James does a great job of retelling the old girl-dressed-as-a-boy schtik and making it fun, charming and re-readable all over again. Harriet comes into her own and learns to grow as herself and not just as the Duchess of Berrow. You can almost feel her glowing. This was lovely, sweet. Harriet’s blossoming relationship with Strange, and the ensemble characters—props to Villiers, Strange’s daughter, and the assorted characters in Strange’s house—made it a great read.

This is my favourite book in the series.

Duchess by Night by Eloisa James (Aus edition)Duchess by Night by Eloisa James (US edition)

AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Intrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Diesel | | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository

When the Duke Returns (Isidore and Simeon)

Isidore was married by proxy as a child to Simeon, the Duke of Cosway. He went off on adventures in foreign lands and has never claimed his bride. Fourteen years later, Isidore is tired of waiting (and being a virgin!), so she devises a plan to get him back by creating enough scandal to prompt his mother to nag him to come back from wherever he is to claim her. It works.

Simeon comes back and turns out to be some yoga-spouting martial arts Zen dude who believes in controlling all passions and not getting angry or inciting any emotion that can cause passion to ignite. Which also, by the way, means no sex. Isidore is furious at her husband’s chastity and his desire to have a biddable wife instead of a confident, self-assured one, and this makes for heated interactions between them.

This should have been an interesting book, but instead I was bored. It took me almost a month to finish this book because I was so annoyed with the hero. Isidore was a great secondary character in the other books. I thought her story would be as vibrant as she was, and was willing to buy into the whole virgin hero plotline but he was just so rigid and, at times, holier than thou that he was another character I wanted to smack. I really, really felt that Isidore deserved better a lot of the time. And even if he was redeemed in the end and they have their happily ever after, I just didn’t buy into him. I felt that he would have been better off wandering the earth exploring and being one with himself, leaving Isidore to someone with a brighter spark.

When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James (UK/Aus edition)When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James (US edition)

AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Intrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Diesel | | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository

This Duchess of Mine (Jemma and Elijah)

I was really looking forward to this book as I loved Jemma as a secondary character. Her own story was just the right mix of drama (Elijah! Are you dying?), wit, and redemption. Jemma and Elija’s second chance romance was deftly written, and I also bought in to Elijah’s background which led to his own issues with Jemma and why she left him. I have to say, though, that you can’t read this book by itself. It has to come with the series, because a lot of the tension and build-up is played out in the previous books. This is a straight up romance, and while it does tell its own story, you don’t quite get the full effect if you haven’t read the previous novels. I quite liked this book and I found that it fulfilled my expectations, given the development of their relationship throughout the series.

This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James

AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Intrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Diesel | | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository

A Duke of Her Own (Villers and I will not spoil this one)

The last book in the series is a fitting ending. Villiers’ heroine is my favorite because she’s unconventional but not overtly so. She’s not a bluestocking—just a miss who wants to get married like everyone else of that time but aware enough of the world not to be a simpering one. She puts Villers in his place, and seems like a fitting match for him. In this series we are introduced to the two women that Villers has to choose from. But whom will he choose? It’s not hard to guess, and despite the many subplots—here and in the rest of the series—James manages to tie everything together quite neatly. Villiers gets the heroine he deserves and finally falls in love.

A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James

AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | FishpondIntrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Diesel | | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository

Yay or nay?

Go out and buy this series! But you have to be willing to invest time, effort and money (or library time!). There are 6 books, which is not easy for any reader to follow through with, though it says a lot about James’s talent that she kept me wanting to see the series through to the end. Even with the 2 books I didn’t like (books 2 and 4), the integrated secondary plots kept me going. The dialogue is fresh and snappy throughout. Overall the series is very well written, and unlike other authors I know *coughJRWard* it does end! Next time, though, I hope it doesn’t take quite as long.

The entire Desperate Duchesses series has been published in mass market paperback format in the US. The UK and Australian versions are still being released. The Australian version is published by Hachette Australia.

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Wandergurl is a sometime traveller who spends her daylight hours making sure that things go the way they're supposed to with minimum bureaucracy (don't ask!). A firm believer that thirty is the new twenty, she will probably never look her age (or act it!). An enthusiastic football supporter (that would be soccer to you) she will get up at odd hours to watch a game, and of course it's not just because the players are hot. She loves history, geography and is pretty good at trivia, thanks to her propensity to remember random bits of celebrity gossip. When not reading or travelling, she can be found indulging in her other passion -- eating -- and can be found at Wake up and smell the coffee.


  1. Laine says:

    Strange how we all have different tastes.  My favourite was An Affair Before Christmas and my least favourite was Duchess By Night.

    I really felt sympathy for Poppy – she had a horrible mother, and I cheered when Fletch got her back for all the horrible things she did.

    I nearly went frantic after number 4 when the geographic restrictions on ebooks hit and I couldn’t buy number 5 for a while.

    I’d recommend this series to historical fans. Interesting that it’s Georgian and not the usual regency.

  2. SarahT says:

    Wonderful summary of the series! My take on the various books is very similar to yours.
    ‘Desperate Duchesses’: An enjoyable tale and a fun start to the series.
    ‘An Affair before Christmas’: The weakest book by far. There were too many secondary characters vying for attention and stealing scenes from the main couple.
    ‘Duchess by Night’: This was so much better than its predecessor. Probably my second favourite in the series.
    ‘When the Duke Returns’: I liked this book overall but I felt it dragged in places. I found the lead up to Jemma and Elijah’s book the most interesting part of it.
    ‘This Duchess of Mine’: I enjoyed the conclusion to Jemma and Elijah’s romance, despite the touch of melodrama at times.
    ‘A Duke of Her Own’: This was hands down my favourite book in the series and one of my favourite romances of 2009. I wasn’t at all convinced by Villiers in the earlier books and I was sure the plot with all the illegitimate children was doomed to fail. But I was wrong! This is a brilliantly witty book and an excellent end to the series.

  3. Kat says:

    I have this series on my TBR pile. I’ve read the first 2, but decided to wait until the entire series was out before reading the rest. Jemma’s love triangle—I can’t handle that kind of suspense!

  4. SonomaLass says:

    I liked these books. A lot. I didn’t even mind the length of the series, although I was glad that Jemma’s story resolved in book 5 rather than 6.  The dress-as-a-boy device is a must-read for me, even though it often disappoints, which made book 3 special for me. Even 2 and 4 were enjoyable reads for me; as usual, James handles the delightful secondary characters (and primary characters returning as secondary) extremely well.

  5. Kat says:

    I finally finished this series. I loved Villiers’s book and I think it’ll make my keeper list.

    SonomaLass — Have you read Lynsay Sands’s The Switch? The premise is dress-as-a-boy and I found it hilarious.

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