I always feel bad when I try to think of my favorite books by Sabrina Jeffries, and I literally can’t remember the title of any of them. Nor do any of her books really sit with me for long after I finish them. I actually really like Jeffries’ books, and she’s always been on pre-order status with me, but looking over her backlist, there’s really nothing that pops out of me.
That being said, I never regret buying her books and Project Duchess is no exception. It suffers a little from the heavy lifting any first book in a series does — it has to not only tell the current story but create the universe. Some books avoid this by simply not introducing all of the characters or elements right away, but as this series is about a family, it would be odd if we didn’t meet the majority of the family.
It’s a relatively rote, by-the-numbers romance. Two leads with trust issues and difficult memories of their childhood. A titled lord who is charmed by the heroine who is more hoyden than lady and doesn’t simper over him. Rambunctious siblings. There’s a murder mystery that looks as though it’s going to stretch across at least two or three of the books.
Fletcher Pryde, Duke of Greycourt, and more commonly known as Grey is the eldest son of a woman who managed to marry three times, all to men who either were dukes at the time or inherited a title. Her last husband was ambassador to Prussia, causing Grey to be separated from his family at the age of ten since his paternal uncle had guardianship over him because, you know, the patriarchy. He grows up, resenting his mother and stepfather for giving him up and there’s a rift in the family.
Beatrice Wolfe is the poor cousin of Grey’s youngest brother, the new Duke of Armitage, Sheridan. Sheridan suspects that his father and the previous duke were murdered and suspects Bea’s brother, Joshua, of the deed. Joshua returned from the war, injured and more worse for the wear. He enlists Grey’s help in getting to the bottom of it. Grey and Bea are thrown together because his mother is trying to distract herself by preparing her daughter, Gwyn, for her debut and wants to launch Bea at the same time.
It’s a solid book, and I’m not mad at any of it. The plot escalates well. There are misunderstandings and stolen kisses. The characters are interesting, but they feel like a hundred other characters I’ve read in a romance novel, as does the plot. You won’t regret spending a few hours with the book, but you probably won’t remember it in a week either.
I think this book primarily suffers because Sabrina Jeffries likes to write tortured heroes without really making them all that tortured. Grey supposedly grew up to resent his family and has avoided them. His younger brother and sister (the second of the three dukes) are twins who have been parted for many years. He literally hasn’t seen his younger siblings since he was ten.
And somewhow…it never reads that way. They’re all snarky with each other and don’t feel like as strangers. The cover copy suggests Bea has a dark secret — which she does — but she doesn’t seem terribly bothered by it. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not mad that she hasn’t let her lecherous uncle’s sexual abuse derail her sense of self, but you don’t get to make tragic backstories the reasons your characters don’t trust each other without…actually using those backstories to motivate their personalities and actions. Grey and Bea were just too light and sweet for the story I was told I was getting.
Grey and Bea’s only true obstacle is Grey — and he gives up the ghost pretty quickly. She wants a good husband to get security, but there’s no real consideration for the consequences of seducing Grey. Would he have married her if Joshua hadn’t caught them in bed? I don’t know.
Like I said, it’s a solid read but these are superficial characters who are not nearly as dark or tortured as the plot summary suggested.
Overall I always feel bad when I try to think of my favorite books by Sabrina Jeffries, and I literally can’t remember the title of any of them. Nor do any of her books really sit with me for ...