I’ve just finished reading PLEASURE FOR PLEASURE, the final book in Eloisa James‘ Essex Sisters series. I actually read the first three books (MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU, KISS ME, ANNABEL, and THE TAMING OF THE DUKE) in early January, but didn’t want to blog about them until I had completed the whole series.
Eloisa James is a new-to-me author. I’m not quite sure why, as she has quite an extensive backlist. I suppose I’d always seen her typical Avon covers in the bookstore and dismissed her as just one of the many historical romance authors out there… I’m very happy to admit I was wrong!
This is probably a testimony to the power of covers – the first book, MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU, appears to have been picked up by a UK publisher, who gave it a great cover (left) that stood out on the shelf (the book’s also larger than mass-market paperback, which helped). I picked it up out of curiosity and started reading the first chapter… by page ten, I was enthralled, and promptly bought books two and three, without even reading their back-cover blurbs!
Ms James’ inspiration for this series was LITTLE WOMEN, i.e. she wanted to write about the bond between sisters. The four Essex sisters have just been orphaned, and have come to London to make their debut under the auspices of their new guardian, the Duke of Holbrook. So a completely standard series set-up. However, Ms James manages to make these stories utterly hers, with some unique twists. Just when you think you know where the plot’s going, it takes a completely different direction.
So, for instance, I thought that Tess, the eldest sister, would end up with the Duke, especially as they begin bickering in the opening chapters (hey, can you blame me?). But no, Ms James avoids that tried-and-tested storyline, having Tess and the Duke build a proper brother-sister relationship instead, which is just as satisfying. Ms James then kills off a secondary(-ish) character and introduces alcoholism (later on in the series). Eeeeep. Not your standard historical romance then. But it completely works, and I loved these books.
Just a warning – I’m going to talk about who ended up with who in each book, so if you prefer to have that come as a surprise, you may want to stop reading (having said that, my sister figured out the upcoming pairings by the middle of the first book). And I don’t really summarise the story, I just ummm… write about what struck me about each book.
Right, with those caveats, moving on.
The first book MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU is Tess and Lucius’s story. Tess is looking determinedly for a husband, while also trying to help with her younger sisters’ varied problems (ranging from grief over their father’s death to unrequited love). Lucius doesn’t want to get married, but doesn’t really want to see Tess marry anyone else… It sounds like it should be a run-of-the-mill story, but it’s not.
During the final pages, there was one revelation that made me go “Aaaahhh…”. I don’t know, part of me thought it should have come earlier, but then again, perhaps it wouldn’t have had the impact it had. Once I went back and re-read the first scene – it made such perfect sense. The one thing I didn’t quite like about this book was that it was a bit too much of an ensemble story. I just wanted to read about Tess and Lucius, dammit. Having said that, I felt Ms James made each character an individual, rather than just one of the cast, and this book set up the rest of the series really well.
The next story KISS ME, ANNABEL is err… obviously Annabel’s. Annabel’s trying to hook a rich English husband, but ends up being caught in a compromising situation and forced to marry an impoverished Scottish nobleman – the exact type of person she most definitely does not want to marry.
I really liked Annabel. I liked the fact she was completely honest about wanting to marry for money, because she knew what it was like being poor. She’s just being practical! Yet when she had to, she just mucked in and got on with it. There are hints of Shakepeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” here (in fact, there are allusions to Shakespeare throughout this series, quite obviously).
The third book is Imogen’s story, THE TAMING OF THE DUKE. Imogen’s been trying to deal with her loss over the past couple of books (or 1 1/4 books to be more precise), and isn’t doing too well. Rafe, in the meantime, has been spending a bit too much time with only alcohol for company. And a long-lost brother turns up, just to add to the fun, and to set the scene for a mistaken identity plot.
I thought Ms James did an excellent job of redeeming the self-absorbed (admittedly, with good reason) Imogen in this book, and showing her softer, more vulnerable side. I liked how Imogen and Rafe tried to resolve each other’s troubles despite not being to handle their own problems. And I loved the tavern scene when Imogen gets all tipsy and lets her hair down.
Oh, this is also the book that caused a bit of an uproar online, with a controversy about the mistaken identity plotline. Ms James’ response was to post a “spoiler trail” on her website (which is great, btw), explaining just how and when Imogen knew Rafe was Rafe. I read the book all the way through, then went onto her website for the spoiler trail. And yes, I missed all the clues. But as I kept on saying to myself “She knows, she knows” all the way through, the ending wasn’t a huge surprise. Heh. I can see that if I had been reading the book without having heard anything beforehand, I would have been a bit taken aback by the ending. Oh, and you’ll have to read the extra chapter Ms James posted on her website as well – that wraps everything up nicely.
And finally, Josie’s story, PLEASURE FOR PLEASURE. Josie, the youngest sister, is having a bit of a nightmare Season. Mayne (who appears in the first three books) tries to help Josie, who he considers to be like a sister to him (or so he believes, obviously). It’s not all that straightforward, though, as Mayne is madly in love with his beautiful French fiancee…
I liked this book the best and thought that it was a great way to end the series. I loved all the scenes between Mayne and Josie, and felt that they had real chemistry. One negative comment I read regarding this book was that Mayne appeared to be in love with his French fiancee all the way through the book, before suddenly switching his focus to Josie. I don’t agree – I thought Mayne was more in love with the idea of “being in love” when he was with Sophie, and I think the scene where he fell for Josie (without realising it, of course) came really early in the book. And I thought it was amusing how Ms James dealt with his fiancee – it was certainly a more unique twist than simply marrying her off to a secondary character. I did think Darlington was redeemed a bit too quickly but I could sort of see where he was coming from.
I’ve to admit that I never would have bought these books based on online reviews, and that would have been my loss. I think a lot of the negative remarks stem from the fact the twists are not at all well-telegraphed – I would agree that I would probably enjoy the books more had they been well… a bit more obvious. As it is, at times, it appears as though the characters know more than the reader does.
Having said that, for me, it’s a solid A for this series and Eloisa James has just made the jump to my auto-buy list.