This isn’t my first foray into reading Justiss, but it will be my last. What a slog of a read The Bluestocking Duchess was. But the promise of a premise can deceive, true of Justiss’s late-Georgian? early Victorian? 1834-set romance. The blurb will show how potentially attractive The Bluestocking Duchess appeared:
Her good friend…
Is suddenly a duke’s heir!
Miss Jocelyn Sudderfeld is working at Edge Hall, indulging her love of translating ancient texts with her librarian father—and evading the need to marry! She’s always enjoyed a teasing friendship with estate manager Mr. Alex Cheverton. Until he unexpectedly becomes the duke’s heir. Now his first duty is to marry a suitable debutante, not consort with an earnest bluestocking like her… So where does that leave their friendship?
I do enjoy a friends-to-lovers romance and a translating heroine sounded fresh and compelling. With the exception of a few scenes in the British Museum, this romance never came alive, the hero and heroine moving across the narrative board like wooden chess pieces.
My antipathy for The Bluestocking Duchess makes me sound churlish, so I’ll try to articulate how pretty much everything about this romance left me cold. It was cold, maybe that’s why? To start, the prose was strangely flat and yet ornate, in the not-good sense of unnecessarily wordy. I give you this clunky example: “Only when the shrieking of a brain warning of danger finally penetrated through the delirium of desire and delight, was he finally able to break away from her.” Gosh, the hero’s brain “shrieks” as he pulls away from the heroine. Alex is ever mustn’t, shouldn’t, oughn’t as regards any affection, like, or desire for Jocelyn (a truly awful heroine name, btw). She returns the dislike. To add *eye rolls* to boredom, they’re awful to each other. What might have been banter turns to mean-spirited convos. When Jocelyn plays the piano, Alex declares it ” ‘was quite pleasant to listen to. I didn’t have to grit my teeth over wrong or discordant notes once’ “. Not to worry, though, Jocelyn gives as good as she gets. When Alex’s new-found ducal inheritance is realized, these two should have been happy to part company.
The novel shifts from Sussex to London where Alex enters ducal training and Jocelyn arrives soon after to join an aunt who seeks to find her a suitable husband. I think Justiss had a feminist point to make when Jocelyn insists on staying single, rather the companion of a querulous old lady than shackled by marriage and unable to continue translating her beloved Euripides. It appears, however, Justiss doesn’t adhere to the wise Woolfian notion of a woman needing money and a room of her own to write. Marry and farewell to Euripides, or live in genteel poverty at the beck and call of an employer and bid adieu to Euripides. Seems to me Jocelyn’s problem isn’t marriage or spinsterhood, it’s lack of income and a room of her own.
On the most important level, The Bluestocking Duchess fails to be much of a romance. Alex and Jocelyn trade barbs and occasional kisses. They may share some physical attraction, but don’t have any affection for each other. When they realize they’re in love, they do so in their heads, on their own, vowing and swearing up and down “I’m in love!”. Their revelations don’t have a foundation in anything occurring between them, however. Their “grand passion” is devoid of tenderness, liking, affection, or compatibility. I wish I could have liked Justiss’s romance, but it left me cold and indifferent, like her protagonists. Sadly, Miss Austen agrees, The Bluestocking Duchess was “downright labour,” Emma.
Julia Justiss’s The Bluestocking Duchess is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on February 23rd and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley, from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley, for the purpose of writing this review.