MINI-REVIEW: Sabrina Jeffries’s PROJECT DUCHESS

Project_DuchessI could tell Project Duchess was the start of a new Jeffries series by the plethora of family members who were introduced in the prologue. With that, it’s also fair to say that Jeffries’s romance has family ties as one of its central themes. Because Jeffries’s thematic hand is light and her tone humorous, there be a few dark moments, Project Duchess is a droll, heartwarming series début.

Embedded in the introduction to its many characters (all of whom could potentially serve as heroes and heroines in volumes to come), the prologue sets up the series’ premise. Each potential h/h stems from one Lydia Fletcher, the dowager duchess of not one, not two, but three dukes and all her ducal offspring. When the novel opens, duke#3 has expired and the lone son/child of her first RIP duke, Fletcher Pryde, 5th Duke of Greycourt, 34, with a rake-hell reputation, unjustly so, has been called from his home in London’s Mayfair to his stepfather’s funeral in Armitage Hall, Lincolnshire. Except for one dash to London, the action takes place on this estate. From the get-go, we know that “Grey”, as he’s called, has been estranged from his family, not totally, and not with great enmity, but there is distance and hurt feelings.

When Grey arrives, many of his half-siblings are already there, or pending arrival, and everything is in the chaos of funeral preparations. At the centre of the organizing is one Beatrice Wolfe, related to duke#3, but not to Lydia, or by extension any of her offspring. Which is good. Because Beatrice is Grey’s love interest. Jeffries portrays a quipping, boisterous family wonderfully. Though there is some strain with Grey, there is also no doubt that everyone has nothing but love and liking and a good, healthy dose of teasing and bantering, even in the midst of genuine grief. Grey and Beatrice are thrown together, especially when the weepy Lydia decides to continue working on Beatrice and her daughter’s, Gwyn’s, débuts. As a result, Grey is recruited to help with their dance lessons and one marvelous sexy dance-instruction scene ensues. There’s some mild antagonism between Beatrice and Grey, but overall, it’s obvious they’re compatible and suited.

Complications arise when the 3rd duke’s heir, Sheridan, takes Grey into his confidence that he suspects his father was murdered and suspicion falls on Beatrice’s brooding, PTSD-suffering brother, Joshua. This is where the novel fell apart. Grey, who is supposed to be smart and sophisticated, appears an utter ninny when he skulks around suspecting Joshua and even Beatrice. How ridiculous he appears. Where the humorous ridiculousness of h/h banter totally works to make this a charming read, the whole “who murdered the duke thread?” is meh and unconvincing. I didn’t care for it. Jeffries needed more than Grey’s “I can’t open up to love, I’ll be hurt and vulnerable” and Lydia’s “I”m too poor for a duke to marry me” misgivings. So, there’s the who-killed-Maurice thread to fill up the pages. 

What works are the family dynamics. Okay, they may be somewhat anachronistic (these are not class-based Regency types), but they’re fun and heartwarming. Lydia and her various sons and daughters work things out by being honest with each other. And their teasing and gently poking is all part of the affection. As for the romance, Grey and Beatrice share a friendship and powerful attraction. They have a similar mindset: sharp, honest, and blunt. I liked them a lot, both together and apart. And there aren’t any big misunderstandings or secrets, thanks be to the romance gods: they talk, they recognize the value of openness and honesty and they share a mutual, healthy, and fun lust. Again, even though this felt you could transport the narrative to a contemporary romance and it would read fine, it didn’t diminish the reading pleasure, just the plausibility. A lovely start to a series that looks to continue as it began. With Miss Austen, we deem Jeffries’s Project Duchess offers “real comfort,” Emma.

Sabrina Jeffries’s Project Duchess is published by Zebra Books. It was released on June 25 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Zebra Books, via Netgalley.

4 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Sabrina Jeffries’s PROJECT DUCHESS

  1. I have to say that none of her stuff comes across to me as actual Regency either, so I don’t read it. I read tons of Regencies, including some of the more modern ones, but they HAVE to have a shred of Regency sensibility to hold my interest and respect, since otherwise they can be just violence and semi-porn in costumes, which does nothing for me–other readers may have other opinions, of course.

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    • My favourite Regencies are the old “trad” ones, especially Balogh’s. Jeffries’s one stab at Regency here is the character of Joshua Wolfe, Beatrice’s brother, who is a war vet and suffers from physical and psychological distress as a result. The dance scene is kind of fun, but no, I wouldn’t say there’s much history here. Of course, readers can and do enjoy all manner of romance!

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      • To me, Regency has to have Regency sensibilities at least, otherwise why bother? It would be like saying something is a western or medieval or Christian or Amish setting romance, and yet making it be merely modern in feel and action and attitude while wearing costumes, so actual fans would be disappointed and not find it to genuinely fit the expected sensibility of the genre. Balogh does a good job, including some sensitive material like support for gay male characters during a time when that was a hanging offense, as does Carla Kelly, with her military ptsd and sexism explorations and intercultural awareness with the Spanish and other survivors of war treated so humanely and respectfully by her. I wonder about the new Julia Quinn tv series they are just starting to film for netflix, which has a strong dynastic-family heritage take on it and is based on a series of eight or so books, only the first of which I have read–in the tv series the male lead is a non-white man playing a duke, which is completely fine to me, but then I would fully expect his whole family to also be non-white, since paternity was such a huge issue, especially at the duke level, and often comes up in books like this. If the casting is random as far as being inclusive of different races within a family with no explanation that comes from the book, like someone having married a Jamaican or Spanish or Indian person etc. (which certainly happened), then it’s nice to have inclusivity but is not consistent with the Regency feel. If whole families are black or latino or Indian or whatever, that makes sense and I welcome the inclusive casting, but not to just have a single family member, in a society that valued paternity above almost anything, be markedly different than both parents with no explanation. Many Regency books have had paternity and even the virginity of the woman as THE main issue–I must read a couple hundred of them a year, so am really pretty familiar with the good, the bad, and the bogus of Regencies from Georgette Heyer on up to now. We’ll see what they do in that series–but I digress on the Regency theme! The very short answer is “Hmm, I like it when people in Regencies act like they would according to Regency rules and expectations and if they don’t there needs to be good explanations, and I don’t like it when they don’t and often don’t finish the book”. ahahaha!

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        • I neglected to mention Carla Kelly. You’re right though, she’s another very good one. I didn’t know that Quinn’s Bridgertons were being adapted. Hmmm … I’m not a Quinn fan, but I do like to see romance being adapted beyond the Hallmark Christmas movie. Though I’m a sucker for those too. As for the casting, I’m all for whoever works for the role, that is, auditions well. I go to the Stratford Shakespeare festival and they cast “blind” so to speak and it’s always terrific.

          I have to admit of all the Regencies I’ve read that are post-Balogh-Kelly-generation, the ones I like the best are Theresa Romains. They’re not seeped in historical detail, like Balogh and Kelly, but they do possess, as you said, the sensibility. Even though they’re often feminist in perspective. Not an easy feat, and Romain doesn’t get the recognition she deserves for it.

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