Yeah, this pretty much seals it. I’m a big fan of Courtney Milan. I read The Governess Affair a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. Then I met Courtney in Atlanta during RWA nationals and found her to be a really nice, brilliantly intelligent person. So naturally I had her sign a copy of The Duchess War for me, and I actually paid for it too! It was the first of the 30+ books I got in Atlanta that I rushed to read.
Yep. I liked it! Very much. I love how deep and dimensional Courtney’s characters are. Not only does she write in a non-standard historical time period (the 1860s), she writes characters who are not your standard upper class, wealthy, titled romance novel fare. Sure, the hero, Robert, is a duke, but he is a very unconventional duke. The heroine, Minnie, is firmly middle class with some decidedly unusual secrets in her past. They are a perfect match, but of course the path to love does not run straight.
There were a couple of things that made me wince or cluck my tongue a little bit. No book is perfect, and ultimately that is what makes them so useful as well as enjoyable. And because my book reports here on the blog are meant to be discussions of what I learned from each of the books I’ve been reading as opposed to just a review, here are a few of the issues I stumbled across in The Duchess War.
So there I was, reading along, thoroughly enjoying myself with Robert and Minnie and the vibrant and delightful secondary characters. I had made it about two-thirds of the way through the book, things were twisting and turning to an exciting degree. Then, whoomp! The plot disappeared. Yes, for about two chapters—two chapters that involved a wedding and sexy times—I lost the plot.
Granted, this could have been my fault. I was dragged away from reading for a couple of days and a little bit sleepy when I dove back into the book. I might just have lost the thread do to my own external circumstances. But what I took from that lesson was that, as a writer, I need to be very careful to make sure that every scene and every action within the scene keeps the overall plot of the book in mind.
I think it’s easy for romance writers to slip away from the plot when it comes time to write love scenes. On the one hand, love scenes are integral to the plot. If you approach romance from the sexy angle that I do, when the hero and heroine are finally in bed together, all of the deepest emotional aspects of the character’s development come to the forefront. The central focus of romance is the relationship, after all, and sex is often the most heightened emotional point in the characters’ relationship. But if that becomes separate from the external plot, from everything else that’s happening in the novel, then it becomes something of a side vignette. That or a dip into erotica.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that’s the case here, it could have just been me. But I’m not ruling out that there may have been a side trip there as well. When we came back to the plot, I sort of felt like it had shifted subtly. It wasn’t so much about figuring out who wrote the radical handbills and therefore a hide-and-seek with the heroine’s past identity anymore. Now it was about stopping the wrong person from going to jail for someone else’s crimes. Yes, it was all part of the same overarching story, but it took me a minute to shift gears. In other words, it wasn’t as smooth of a transition from plot point to plot point as it could have been.
However, one of the reasons I continued to smile so hard at the way things unfolded—smoothly or not—is because it all read like exactly the same sort of thing I tend to do. Both the mistakes and the solutions. I kind of feel like those are the same problems that I run into. At the moment I think Courtney is much better at solving her plot problems than I am, but I’m getting there. She’s a genius, however.
Also, I would just like to point out, with all the love in my heart and with an understanding bourn of feeling the same sort of pain: I found a lot of typos and copyediting mistakes in the paperback version I read. But I will forgive each and every one of them with no impunity whatsoever. In fact, if Courtney makes teensy errors now and then, then it’s okay if I’m not perfect too! I love that!
So yes, I liked The Duchess War. Next up, I’m taking a short detour from reading through all of the books I got in Atlanta to read a craft book. It’s one of the classic writing craft books at that!