Plot (from avonromance.com)
How can she dare to imagine he loves her . . . when all London calls her The Ugly Duchess? Theodora Saxby is the last woman anyone expects the gorgeous James Ryburn, heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, to marry. But after a romantic proposal before the prince himself, even practical Theo finds herself convinced of her soon-to-be duke’s passion. Still, the tabloids give the marriage six months. Theo would have given it a lifetime . . . until she discovers that James desired not her heart, and certainly not her countenance, but her dowry. Society was shocked by their wedding . . . and is scandalized by their separation. Now James faces the battle of his life, convincing Theo that he loves the duckling who blossomed into the swan. And Theo will quickly find that, for a man with the soul of a pirate, All’s Fair in Love-and War.
Things I Loved
The last entry in the Fairy Tales series is a retelling of The Ugly Duckling. As far as you can retell that particular fairy tale (in that the moral is more important that the details of the plot).
I love that Theo is legitimately unattractive (none of this “oh, let’s just put glasses on Taylor Swift to signify unattractive and/or nerdy!” crap). And I love that she doesn’t try to be something that she’s not. Her eventual popularity comes from her exquisite taste and sense of style, not her appearance.
I also love that James thinks Theo’s gorgeous all along. He really does love her, but his father runs out of money and makes James propose marriage to the wealthy Theo to solve the family’s financial troubles. James lets his father think that he doesn’t love Theo, which backfires when said father catches them in flagrante delicto in the drawing room. The newspapers call her “the ugly duchess” as a pun on “the ugly duckling,” which makes it worse.
A broken-hearted Theo sends James away, giving him one ship that he can use to make his living as a merchant. On his first voyage, however, James runs into his cousin Griffin, who’s become a pirate. The two noblemen join forces and James becomes a pirate too–well, privateer, really.
Meanwhile Theo rises to social prominence. After James has been gone seven years, she tries to declare him legally dead. James returns in the nick of time and they have to save their marriage while being stalked by the equivalent of paparazzi. James wants to make another go of it but Theo’s heart has basically shriveled up and died. So, you know, problems.
Definitely my least favorite of the series. The relationship between Theo and James just didn’t work for me at all. It’s was too disjointed. They get together, break up, years pass, then they get together again. There wasn’t enough build up between the two of them to make the ending satisfying.
Also, I’m usually okay with insecure heroines but Theo’s whole “I never want to see you again so please leave England forever” reaction to James’s betrayal was completely over the top. While I could understand her hurt, it bugged me that she was so self-involved that she didn’t bother to suss out what was really going on with James.
2 out of 4 chili peppers (1 being a step above a sex-free gentle romance, 4 being an all-sex-and-no-plot romance). Proceed with caution if you’re more Georgette Heyer than Ellora’s Cave.