I read my first Danielle Steel book in over thirty years a couple of weeks ago, and it was probably the worst book I’ve read in a very long time. But seeing how popular she is, I was determined to try another one and maybe figure out why.
Granted, most of the people I know who read her regularly do so more out of habit than anything else. They often complain, and for the most part, I hear, “all the books are the same.” The most positive reviews I hear are that they are a few hours of escapist entertainment, which I’m fine with. And her readers know exactly what they are getting and are content, if not happy about that. So I asked for some recommendations and The Duchess seemed to be universally liked, if not loved. It is my understanding that this is Steel’s first historical in a while, and since I love historicals, I was hopeful.
I liked it. Didn’t love it, had no trouble putting it down, but I finished it and it was fine. Not great, not terrible, very middle of the road and that’s okay. Not every book has to make me struggle with my best books of the year list. It was entertaining and that is good enough for me to feel like I’ve accomplished something here, mostly that I don’t feel like I have to read her again.
Angélique Latham is the daughter of the Duke of Westerfield. Her mother was his second wife, a noblewoman of French birth making Angelique closely related to both the Kings of England and France. She died in childbirth, and Angélique grew up very close with her father, was definitely his favorite child which did not endear her to her half-brothers. The Duke had two sons with his first wife, and they considered his second wife to be no more than a French whore, and had little use for Angélique. In fact, they hate her.
Shortly before the Duke’s death, he gives Angélique some money and her mother’s jewels. By law, he isn’t even allowed to give her that, he can only bequeath to his sons, in particular, the first son. The British law of entail demands the estate of royalty be passed on to the first son. As soon as the Duke dies, he throws Angélique out, offering her a position as nanny to some friends. Bewildered and thoroughly heartbroken about her father’s death, she acquiesces.
Angélique has never spent any time around children but quickly falls in love with her charges. But slightly more than a year later, she is attacked by one of the guests, who tells the family that she tried to seduce him. They throw her out without a reference, and she has nowhere to go. She hears about a woman who might be able to get her a job but without the reference, she cannot. She does suggest it might be easier in France since she is fluent in the language. Angélique goes to France but meets the same dead end.
While walking back to her hotel, she stumbles upon a young woman lying in a gutter. She has been badly beaten and Angélique takes her back to her hotel to help her. She quickly learns that the woman is a prostitute but she is sweet and grateful, even overwhelmed by Angélique’s help. It starts Angélique to thinking and she comes up with the idea of taking the money her father left her and opening a high class brothel. She will be the madam and not sleep with any of the men, and she succeeds beyond her wildest dreams. The house is the most popular in France, and while there are men who want her, even an American who asks her to be his mistress and eventually his wife, she never accepts any offers.
Two men get into an argument in the house and one shoots and kills the other. Angélique is told to flee the country and she sets sail to America. While on board the ship she meets the love of her life, and they eventually decide to marry.
But heartache is not to be escaped. There is family drama, tragedy and then a final reckoning. This is not a romance but it is women’s fiction, and a bit of a departure from most historicals that it emulates. I enjoyed it after suspending my disbelief several times and that’s the best thing I can say about it.
10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE DUCHESS by Danielle Steel. Delacorte Press (June 27, 2017). ISBN 978-0345531087. 352p.