Serena’s Review: “The Duchess War”

Book: “The Duchess War” by Courtney Milan

Publishing Info: Createspace, December 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly-so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention. But that is precisely what she gets. Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match…

Review: There have been a few articles circulating in readers’ circles noting the increased interest in romance as a genre throughout the pandemic. I think the reasons are probably fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t get into them myself. But I’ll definitely note that this point really hit home when fairly spontaneously at our last bookclub, we all seemed to realize we were all reading significantly more in the genre, so much so that we decided to make romance the theme of our entire next round! My reviews here on the blog don’t necessarily reflect this increase, but that’s largely due to the challenges of writing about book in a genre that by necessity are often fairly similar in structure. But I do want to throw reviews out there every once in a while when a particular one stands out. Hence, “The Duchess War.”

Minerva Lane understands the strategy of being a wallflower. Unnoticed, she can quietly observe everyone and make her subtle maneuvers with little attention drawn to herself. And, while her choices are very limited, at least they will be hers. But her carefully laid plans are upended when a Duke arrives on the scene. Minnie quickly realizes that Robert Blaisdell is more than he seems. Unfortunately, he, too, takes notice of her and before she can protest, begins pulling her inevitably out from her quiet corners and back into the center of attention. But will their own smarts be each of their own down falling? Or do they each desperately need the recognition that only the other can give.

When I logged on to Goodreads to mark this book as read, I realized that I must have read the second book in this series sometime in the past. And, judging by my low star rating, I didn’t like it much (honestly, I have zero memory of reading that book, even after looking at the description). Thank goodness I didn’t spot that before picking this one up, as I really enjoyed this historical romance!

There were several things that stood out to me as unique about this romance novel as compared other similar titles. For one thing, while most “historical romances” are set somewhere in the Regency or Victorian period, other than a few mentions of the current monarch or a particular style of dress (empire waste or bustles), there are often few historical markers to be found. It’s all very general, upper-class, social entertainments from end to end. This book, however, dove into some of the political and culture undercurrents moving at the time. In particular, there was a focus on the working conditions for the common man and the uneven wealth distribution at the heart of British society. Yes, it’s still a romance novel at heart so all of this is only lightly touched upon, but the fact that it all plays a rather key role to the story is fairly unique as a whole.

I also really liked our main two characters and their backstories. Their histories were slow to unfold, but once we fully understood the lives they had lead up to this point, it really help ground each character in the decisions they made going forward. I was particularly pleased to see strong aspects of their characters remain true even throughout the typical upheavals found near the end of romance novels. The conflicts that arose came through believable choices that each character would make, and, refreshingly, neither one of them completely loses their head. I was particularly pleased with Minnie, as in many ways she became the force of reason that held these two together in the end.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a perfect blend of wish-fulfillment on the romance side as well as an increased dedication to including interesting elements on the historical side. Fans of historical romances are sure to enjoy this and should definitely add it to their TBR lists!

Rating 8: Romantic and funny, everything I want from a feel-good story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Duchess War” is on this Goodreads list: 1st Book in Historical Romance Series.

Find “The Duchess War” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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