Review

Review: Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James (2019)

The Wildes of Lindow Castle, Book 4

Heat Factor: There is an involved encounter after promises and declarations are made

Character Chemistry: Bickering besties

Plot: Not a great trope, further reading works us out of some of the trope traps

Overall: A fun read, but not inspiring the post-read glow of older EJ novels

Ah, the Wildes. This fourth book in Eloisa James’s latest series is the first about a daughter of the Wilde family. If you are unfamiliar with the Wildes, we are dealing with the numerous offspring of the Duke of Lindow. And also some offspring not his own that have been adopted by him. The Duke has had three wives, so we’re looking at adult sons of marriageable age at the same time the Duke’s third wife is delivering a baby in the first book of the series. Also, all of the Duke’s biological children are named for warriors. 

Enter Lady Boadicea Wilde. She grew up isolated at the Wilde estate, dreaming of having friends she could play with and talk to. Then, when she actually went to school, she found she’d been tarred with her mother’s brush. The second duchess, after all, ran off with a Prussian, and Boadicea’s little sister looks rather like said Prussian. Traits are inherited, and Boadicea (she prefers Betsy, as one would with a name like Boadicea) knows this because her older brother told her the very same thing about his horses. She has therefore spent her life being the epitome of virtuous womanhood. It hasn’t been particularly difficult. In her first season, she’s declined scads of proposals, and now she intends to cap it off by declining a (future) duke. That’ll show them. (Whoever “them” happens to be.)

Enter Lord Jeremy Roden. This man is struggling. He was the sole survivor of his platoon after a horrific battle in Massachusetts colony, and he has serious survivors guilt and maybe also some PTSD. He’s been hiding out in Lindow castle for a few months after having a breakdown during some fireworks in London, spending his nights drinking under the billiards table and being a pest to Betsy. Definitely the type of man to make her question whether or not she might actually be her mother’s daughter.

Enter Lord Greywick. As the heir to a duke, he is looking for the perfect bride. And he’s a little uptight, but a kind man. Understanding. Definitely not the type of man to engender running-off-with-the-Prussian feelings in Betsy. Or, IMO, exactly the sort of man to engender running-off-with-the-Prussian feelings, because can you imagine being stuck in a boring, passionless marriage?

The good news: Betsy knows that she prefers a rascal to a paragon. Until her feelings for Jeremy make her second guess herself, she has no intention of marrying someone she has no interest in. 

The bad news: Betsy is completely irrational where her mother is concerned. One girl at school turned her nose up at Betsy, and now Betsy is rewriting her life because of that, even when she can see that her other siblings are not scorned or ostracized. Further, she knows her brothers are in love with their wives. Does she think that all the sex is happening in Lindow because women aren’t having fun in the sack? But once she realizes she has these dangerous stirrings of passion where Jeremy is concerned, she starts to rewrite her plans, considering the very man whom she was fully prepared to reject as too dull at the beginning of the story. 

Off the bat, I was not super excited. Oh great. Woman makes stupid choices because she has a warped sense of self that makes no sense at all. Man is broken by terrible experiences in war, needs repairing. Naturally, Woman and Man refuse to talk about these feelings, so they’re effectively navigating their relationship blind. 

So, when Jeremy enjoys kissing Betsy and makes a suggestive comment to her about it, she clams up, afraid of being thought a loose woman, and determines to marry Greywick because he doesn’t make her feel passion. For his part, Jeremy has spent months antagonizing Betsy because he’s terribly interested in her but he can’t pull himself out of his wallowing for a hot second to think he might like to court her, nevermind his worthiness to do so. Whatever worthy looks like. Can we please just not?

I kept reading because Jeremy and Betsy end up being good friends to one another. They have heartfelt conversations, even though neither fully admits to his/her gravest concerns. But they have great empathy for one another, which is not demonstrated by other relationships in the story. This helps make theirs seem all the stronger as the story progresses. Jeremy understands that Betsy is not really the woman she presents to the world, and he loves the real her. Betsy understands that Jeremy is holding on to grief and responsibility, and instead of trying to reassure him, she shows she understands why he’s feeling that way and lets him own his feelings. 

Given that Greywick is a legitimately good guy, and considering that early signs point to an enemies-to-lovers relationship, James needs to make a case that Betsy and Jeremy are MFEO. Per my comments in the paragraph above, she generally succeeds. They overcome a number of emotional hurdles to get to each other. This being so, I wonder why there’s a whole subplot tacked on at the end that is just unnecessary. But there is, so make of it what you will.


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