Stuck in Manila for a week more and with most of my friends at work, I turned to Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses series loaned to me by my best friend. I finished this six-book series in three days (the first three on the first day) so I guess you could call me a 'desperate reader' at that time!
Set in the Georgian period, the series revolves around a group of young duchesses and their many romantic/marital woes. On the surface, there is not much here to distinguish it from the rest of the bodice-rippers in the market. The women are often adventurous beauties, the men are often cold rakehells, the consummation is always the stuff of legend. Although Ms James' books are stand-alones, they are still better enjoyed when read in the proper order. But tying them together, in a device I've rarely seen employed in a historical romance series, is a long drawn out chess match between the Duchess and Duke of Beaumont and the Duke of Villiers. Some of the characters' stories (especially that of the Beaumonts) are shared with us in bits and pieces before an entire book is dedicated to them (This Duchess of Mine).
It might be a stretch to imagine four, young, and extremely beautiful duchesses who happen to be friends and are unhappy with their current romantic lot (Ms James takes her cue from Desperate Housewives), but there is still much to enjoy in this series. It's a great guilty pleasure read, with its crop of intriguing characters, the genuine friendship between the duchesses, and the marital chess match. What I also admire about Ms James' heroines is that they actually do have other interests aside from fashion, gossip, and men: Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont, loves chess; Poppy, Duchess of Fletcher, is a budding naturalist; Henrietta, Duchess of Berrow, sits as a de facto judge at their local court. I find that these add a rather nice dimension to what would normally be a paper-thin character. These make me see these women as believably intelligent, instead of having to merely read them described as such. I certainly didn't feel that those afternoons curled up in bed and reading these wildly romantic romps were quite a waste.
The Desperate Duchesses series, in order:
An Affair Before Christmas
Duchess by Night
When the Duke Returns
This Duchess of Mine
A Duke of My Own