In brief: Angelique knew that her brother wouldn’t take care of her after her father’s death, but she didn’t expect to go from duke’s daughter to servant. After an unfortunate event, Angelique finds business and life in Paris. But will she always be on the fringe?
The good: It’s got everything you want in a juicy read – scandal, love, loss and gossip.
The not-so-good: Sometimes there were big jumps in the narrative.
Why I chose it: I haven’t read a Danielle Steel novel for years and years. Thanks Pan Macmillan for the copy.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Setting: England, France and America
Rating: 8 out of 10
I don’t think I’ve read a Danielle Steel novel since I was a teenager. My Nan and Mum used to read them on holiday, so I did too. Maybe I was too young or I didn’t pick the right book but I didn’t go back. Fast forward quite some time and Danielle Steel is again appearing on the shelves – or maybe that I just haven’t noticed until now. When I received The Duchess in the mail, I was intrigued by the gorgeous hat on the cover and that it was historical fiction. (I didn’t know Danielle Steel wrote them too). Anyway, I picked it up and enjoyed the experience immensely. It might be set in the 1830s, but there is intrigue, danger and scandal for everyone involved.
The duchess referred to in the title is Angelique, and she’s not a duchess, but the daughter of a duke. Both she and her father know that when he dies, her half-brothers aren’t going to look out for her. The duke gives Angelique a secret stash of money to see her safe, but not even he could have predicted the cruelty that occurs on his death. Angelique is quickly thrust out of her childhood home, not having any rights to inheritance nor protection. She’s forced into service, working for friends of her half-brother. But her employers don’t know the truth (they think Angelique is a poor cousin). Working as a nanny is difficult at first, but Angelique is practical and while not accepting of her situation, willing to do her best. But even that turns ugly and Angelique is left with nothing. She flees to Paris to try one last route of employment, but a chance meeting with a young girl sees her starting her own business. It’s not conventional for a young single girl, but it might just work…
I thought The Duchess was a great light read with its mixture of scandal as well as commentary on how women were treated during this time period. Angelique is entirely dependent on the whims of her family to support her and in her various roles, she must make up fake, ‘respectable’ pasts to be accepted on to the fringes of society. I found the dialogue quite stilted initially, but once Angelique moved into service I either got used to it or it improved. The plot also seemed a bit uneven with a bit too much time spent on Angelique’s life as a nanny but very little on a later romance. (I did wonder at this point whether there was going to be a sequel as I really didn’t think it could be wrapped up in the remaining pages. I was wrong and it’s actually a very just, sweet ending). But overall I enjoyed it. The scandals and unfair situations were breathtaking and Angelique’s responses to them were clever and original.
Would I read another Danielle Steel? You bet. I can see why my Nan loved them and why my mother is asking if I’ve finished with The Duchess yet. They are great escapist novels, perfect for holidays or those weeks where everything is so busy you just want to escape from the real world for half an hour. I liked how the plot was unique, not fitting the standard fare of ‘penniless girl finds love and another protector’. Danielle Steel isn’t afraid of putting her characters in a difficult place, physically and emotionally. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to search the family bookshelves…