|More calamitous mix of romance novel clichés than a fairy tale retold, The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James is saved from itself by its author's sense of humor and her supreme knack for creating characters that latch onto a reader's heartstrings.
Olivia Lytton and her twin sister Georgiana have been "duchified" in every sense of the word: raised by their common parents to become duchesses if and when their father's childhood friend the Duke of Candlewick holds to his promise to marry his firstborn son to Mr. Lytton's firstborn daughter. Lytton's firstborn happens to be Olivia, by a few minutes, much to the dismay of everyone involved, except perhaps the groom, whose not quite right in the head.
Olivia, though no dummy, is irreverent at best and flat-out rude at her worst; her sister, on the other hand, is perfectly composed and so perfect that she has been relegated for five years to the dowagers' corner of every ball. When Olivia's betrothed, Rupert, insists upon joining the war effort, his father the duke sends Olivia and Georgiana to visit his friend, the stuffy dowager Duchess of Sconce, who is the authoress of the bane of Olivia's existence, a famous book on ladies' behavior. Much to Georgie's pleasure, the Duke of Sconce is once again in the market for a wife, and Georgie is on his mama's short list.
What follows is a comedy of errors, with Olivia using her wit to drive the Duchess batty while winning over the duke for herself, despite that man's reservations about ever having a wife again. Olivia is not about to repudiate poor Rupert, however, who is too much a laughingstock as it is, which complicates a situation that is already awkward. James has said that The Duke Is Mine has two heroes, and that much is true; I have to admit that of the two men (though Rupert really is more of a man-child), I liked Rupert better. The Duke himself is a bit of a cold fish who suddenly isn't, and for little reason except that he always leaps off into the deep end where emotions are concerned. And apparently without looking back. Olivia, on the other hand, is lively and fun, and so self-effacing it would be a very hard-hearted person indeed who did not support her. Georgiana herself, though she doesn't make a great first impression, ends up as one of the more colorful characters; and even the handful of servants present show an animation most authors don't manage with their heroines.
As mentioned, the plotline kinda stinks and certainly doesn't live up to the two previous books in the series (they are completely stand-alone, just similarly themed, so feel free to read them out of order). As a fan of Eloisa James, I was not in throes of ecstasy this time around; but by the middle of the book, I was grateful that one of my favorite authors has a good enough hand with a personality that she can overcome even her own pratfalls in plot.