Eloisa James has put her Regency romance twist on a handful of fairy tales: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the Princess and the Pea. Her newest novel and our Romance of the Month, The Ugly Duchess, puts a sexy spin on that unattractive duckling (technically—spoilers!—a cygnet) with the story of childhood friends Theodora Saxby and James Ryburn.
Theo and James marry in their teens—Theo for love, but James to save his family’s reputation. When Theo discovers the truth, she tosses James out. Years later, James has become a pirate, and Theo is a successful fashion leader. Describes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, “Time brings wisdom, and James returns to his wife, determined to heal the rifts of the past. Can Theo recognize the boy she loved in the commanding man who has returned? Dare she risk her heart once again?”
Author Eloisa James answered a 7 questions interview, where she shares her choice for Shakespeare’s most romantic line and this explanation for her love of romances:
“The simple answer is that I love a happy ending. But a more complicated answer is that romance has a rhythm and a promise to it that appeals to me. I know the world is a tough and cold place; I’ve lost my mother and I have a child with a chronic illness. But—and this is a big but—I also know that love and joy make all the difference. Romance reminds me that if there’s a pattern to the universe, it’s one shaped around and by love. We can all use that reminder now and then.”
Read on for an excerpt from The Ugly Duchess (more here). Meet Theo and James:
”She loathed her profile almost as much as she loathed the dress. If she didn’t have to worry about people mistaking her for a boy—not that they really did, but they couldn’t stop remarking on the resemblance—at any rate, if she didn’t have to worry about that, she would never again wear pink. Or pearls. There was something dreadfully banal about the way pearls shimmered.
For a moment she distracted herself by mentally ripping her dress apart, stripping it of its ruffles and pearls and tiny sleeves. Given a choice, she would dress in plum-colored corded silk, and sleek her hair away from her face without a single flyaway curl. Her only hair adornment would be an enormous feather—a black one—arching backward so it brushed her shoulder. If her sleeves were elbow-length, she could trim them with a narrow edging of black fur. Or perhaps swansdown, with the same at the neck. Or she could put a feather trim at the neck; the white would look shocking against the plum velvet.
That led to the idea that she could put a ruff at the neck and trim that with a narrow strip of swansdown. It would be even better if the sleeves weren’t opaque fabric, but nearly transparent—like that new Indian silk her friend Lucinda had been wearing the previous night—she would have them quite wide, so they billowed and then gathered tight at the elbow. Or perhaps the wrist would be more dramatic …
She could see herself entering a ballroom in that costume. No one would titter about whether she looked like a girl or a boy. She would pause for a moment on the top of the steps, gathering everyone’s gaze, and then she would snap open her fan … No, fans were tiresomely overdone. She’d have to come up with something new.
The first man who asked her to dance, addressing her as Miss Saxby, would be treated to her slightly weary yet amused smile. “Call me Theo,” she would say, and all the matrons would be so scandalized they would squeak about nothing else the whole night long.
Theo was key: the name played to all those infatuations men formed on each other, the way their closest relationships were with their friends rather than with their wives. She’d seen it with James: when he was thirteen he had positively worshipped the captain of the cricket team at Eton. It stood to reason that if she wore her hair sleeked back, along with a gown that faintly resembled a cricket uniform, all those men who had once adored their captains would be at her feet.
She was so caught up in a vision of herself in a severely tailored jacket resembling the Etonian morning coat that at first she didn’t even hear the pounding on her door. But an insistent “Daisy!” finally broke through her trance, and she pushed herself up from the settee and opened the bedchamber door.
“Oh hello, James,” she said, unable to muster much enthusiasm at the sight of him. The last thing one wants to see when in a melancholic fit is a friend who refuses to attend balls even when he knows perfectly well that all three weeks of her first season had been horrific. He had no idea what it was like. How could he? He was devastatingly handsome, rather charming when he wasn’t being a beast, and a future duke, to boot. This embarrassment of riches really wasn’t fair. “I didn’t realize it was you.”
“How could you not realize it was me?” James demanded, pushing open the door and crowding her backward, now that he knew she was decent. “I’m the only person in the world who calls you Daisy. Let me in, will you?”
Theo sighed and moved back. “Do you suppose you could try harder to call me Theo? I must have asked you a hundred times already. I don’t want to be Theodora, or Dora, or Daisy either.”
James flung himself into a chair and ran a hand through his hair. From the look of it, he’d been in an ill humor all morning, because half his hair was standing straight up. It was lovely hair, heavy and thick. Sometimes it looked black, but when sunlight caught it there were deep mahogany strands too. More reasons to resent James. Her own hair had nothing subtle about it. It was thick, too, but an unfashionable yellowy-brown mixture.
“No,” he said flatly. “You’re Daisy to me, and Daisy suits you.”
“It doesn’t suit me,” she retorted. “Daisies are pretty and fresh, and I’m neither.”
“You are pretty,” he said mechanically, not even bothering to glance at her.
She rolled her eyes, but really, there was no reason to press the point. James never looked at her close enough to notice whether she’d turned out pretty … why should he? Being only two years apart, they’d shared the nursery practically from birth, which meant he had clear memories of her running about in a diaper, being smacked by Nurse Wiggan for being smart.”
Is this one for your romance TBR list? Whether or not it is, I highly recommend you check out James’ answers to our seven questions.
Romance fans: Why are romances your favorite books?