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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Bilson

An American Duchess by Caroline Fyffe

While An American Duchess purports to be a standalone novel, or possibly the first in a new series, it’s actually the second book about the same couple, Emma and Beranger, who apparently met in a previous book by the author about five sisters from Colorado, before Beranger unexpectedly inherited a duchy and has to return to England to claim it.

The frustrating thing about this book is that the author doesn’t seem to be able to decide what it’s about; is it the story of the original couple, trying to fit into English life despite opposition from enemies seen and unseen, or is it a completely different romance about Charlotte, a young woman who works in a bakery, and her budding romance with Tristen Llewelyn, an assistant gamekeeper with a slightly shady past?

Having finished the book, I still don’t know.

Either could have been a good story with enough space devoted to it, but the continuously switching points of view served only to frustrate me, because every time one part of the story got interesting, the point of view would switch to someone from the other couple and I’d lose the thread again.

Every side character in the book read like a caricature, from the mean stepmother (twice) to a mustache-swirling dastardly aristocrat out to steal the heroine’s virtue, except the author couldn’t quite bring herself to write him as actually willing to do anything when push came to shove. And it REALLY frustrates me when American authors try to write romances set in England, particularly with aristocratic characters, and don’t get an actual English proofreader to check their Americanisms and forms of address. ‘Gold coins’ being dropped on the table? Really? This isn’t fantasyland, this is Victorian England, and you can take the time to look up the actual currency if you want to write there, thank you. It’s ‘bakery’, not a ‘bakehouse’ and while the American might possibly get the forms of address wrong, nobody else is EVER going to use the terms ‘Duke’, ‘Duchess’ and especially not ‘Dowager Countess’ as direct forms of address!

If you REALLY want to write in a time period and place you’re not intimately familiar with, either hire an editor who is or do your research. I recommend Susanne Alleyne’s Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders as a good starting point for terms of address and to figure out all the other things you should be considering to avoid annoying readers like myself who despise when authors can’t be bothered to get things right.

Two stars, and you’re only getting that many because there was a really novel method of subtle attack on the hero I hadn’t read before and would never have figured out.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

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