Title: Secrets of a Duchess
Author: Kaitlin O'Riley
Genre: Victorian Romance
My rating (Max 10): 9.85
Ms. O'Riley's debut novel, Secrets of a Duchess, is a beautifully written Victorian romance with rich characterizations and an unusual story line.
Caroline and Emma Armstrong are orphaned with the death of their father and saved from penury by a titled grandmother they never knew. The Dowager Countess of Glenwood takes her granddaughters under her wing, teaches them how to be "ladies", and gives them a Season with hopes of marrying them off. Emma is outgoing, sweet, and pretty and has no trouble attracting beaux. Caroline is beautiful, intelligent, has a winning personality, but she doesn't want to get married and therefore "disguises" herself as a bluestocking.
At the Season's first significant ball, the Maxwell's, Caroline escapes the ballroom to the seclusion of a balcony. There, dressed in white and swathed in moonlight, giving her an ethereal glow, while she tries to figure out how not to attract a husband, she meets Alex Woodward, the Duke of Woodborough, who also doesn't want to get married. Alex is on the balcony hiding from the Maxwell's spoiled daughter, Madeline, who is determined to marry him.
Alex and Caroline have a friendly conversation during which they share their secrets about not wishing to marry and seal their new friendship with a kiss. The kiss ignites a longing in Caroline which she fights and a love in Alex which he embraces.
Alex makes certain the Maxwells know he will not marry their spoiled daughter, Madeline, then
goes in pursuit of Caroline who had instantly won his heart. Alex was determined to marry for love and regardless of her determination not to wed, he was determined to marry Caroline whom he loved and was certain he could make love him.
At the next major ball, the Talbots', Alex waltzed with Caroline twice, becoming the talk of the evening because the duke never danced with anyone once, let alone twice. That established the relationship between Caroline and Alex as far as the ton went. It was at this ball that the question which drove the rest of the narrative was revealed: Caroline Armstrong was hiding something significant enough to prevent her from marrying. From this point, the narrative drops hint after hint about the secret, until the reader is certain she knows what it is. Ms O'Riley, however, does a great job of throwing in a few plot twists to ultimately surprise the reader.
Ms. O'Riley's slow, steady development of the relationship between the hero and heroine, the conflict between Alex, Caroline, and Madeline, and the crescendo of Caroline's secrets drive the narrative and keep the reader interested and speculating about what is to come.
The secondary characters are nicely developed, their physical descriptions detailed enough to give the reader a good mind's-eye image. Physical locations are described thoroughly enough to summon a picture in the reader's imagination, but not so detailed as to be tedious.
The dénouement was nicely woven together, no deus ex machina was utilized to smooth the weave. Instead, the reader was treated to a suspenceful, twisted ending well worth the wait.
Secrets of a Duchess was an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it as one of those must read books that introduces the reader to an author who gives a fresh twist to Victorian Romance.
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