The Confessions of a Duchess
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I must admit I had high hopes for Confessions of a Duchess by Nicola Cornick, but unfortunately those hopes were dashed upon the rocks of mediocrity.

The book opens in the fictional English town of Fortune’s Folly, in the year 1809. When Sir Montague Fortune, the local Lord of the Manor, is rejected by his intended, he invokes the ancient “Dames’ Tax” where every unmarried woman in town must marry or else surrender half their wealth to the Lord of the Manor—namely, the greedy Sir Monty himself. Fortune’s Folly quickly becomes a meat market overrun by fortune-hunting men seeking a wealthy heiress to marry. Among them is Dexter Anstruther, who has come to town to solve a murder mystery (Anstruther is an early-nineteenth-century version of an FBI agent) as well as find an heiress of his own.

While in Fortune’s Folly, Anstruther meets Laura Cole, the Dowager Duchess of Cole. The two had a torrid one night stand four years earlier (while Laura was still married), from which neither fully recovered. Dexter and Laura work together to solve the murder as well as try and repair their broken relationship.

I thought the premise of the Dames’ Tax was very interesting, and it was even more interesting when the ladies of Fortune’s Folly decide to fight back (they begin to invoke their own archaic tax laws against the men in town). Unfortunately, Cornick never follows through with the “battle of the sexes” angle.

I had hoped the ladies would show some feminist strength—grrrl power!—but their fight quickly de-evolves into gossip and mooning over all the men. Even Laura herself is set up as some sort of feminist icon, having run around years before as the infamous highwaywoman “Glory” (this is when she and Dexter first met, as he was assigned to the Glory case). In the end, she and Dexter marry, but not for the reasons you might think—it’s hardly romantic.

Throughout the novel, Cornick leads us to believe that someone—perhaps the murderer—is after Laura. I had hoped this would inject some much-needed tension and action into the book, but even that doesn’t pan out. Cornick seems to have a problem following through with her plot points. She spends too much time on the minutiae of nineteenth century fashion and etiquette.

There is one area where Cornick should have injected some detail: the ever-important love scenes. They were so vague and chatty (Lord, these people talked just so much) that at one point I didn’t even realize Laura and Dexter had done the deed!

Confessions of a Duchess is a part of Cornick’s Brides of Fortune series, but thanks to Cornick’s stuffy dialogue and her inability to fully flesh out a plot, I think I’ll skip the other installments. She can keep her Confessions to herself.

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