Sarah MacLean’s The Day of the Duchess tells a story that has flitted around the edges of previous works, and though it’s predictable, that’s the point.
Most modern historical romance novels end with the couple just married or planning on it, having overcome whatever difficulties they’ve had in their relationship thus far. Sarah MacLean’s The Day of the Duchess starts on a very different note: the Duke and Duchess of Haven are already the Duke and Duchess of Haven.
They actually married three years ago in the book’s timeline. In fact, the first scene shows Seraphina walking into Parliament and asking for a divorce.
So yes, MacLean has put together a story about getting back together more than getting together. It’s not a matter of not loving each other or being attracted so much as overcoming communication problems. Although the concept itself is quite refreshing, MacLean stuffs a lot of tragedy into the backstory.
And, since the book also has plenty of flashbacks, we get to see this all happen. The majority of said flashbacks center around the things that led to Sera and Malcolm’s marriage basically collapsing before it even had a chance to begin. As a result, the book feels a bit more dragged down in terms of tone, and it feels like there’s not a lot of room for the relationship to develop. Instead, Mal especially notes that he and Sera just fit together, which helps a bit but not enough.
Fortunately, Mal also acknowledges how ridiculous his plan to win his wife back is. He ends up calling out marriageable young ladies to his country estate. Then, he asks Sera to help him pick one in exchange for the divorce. So yes, they basically play out a not-uncommon romance novel plot … in reverse? Backwards? Diagonally? Either way, it strains belief even in terms of the usual romance novel plot, which is saying something. MacLean toys with having her characters acknowledge it. However, it doesn’t feel like the reader is in on any sort of joke so much as in on an apology of sorts. Something like, “Yes, we know, this is silly, just read and you’ll get to the parts you’re probably here for.”
And eventually, you do get to the parts that some people show up for. Yes, the love scenes are appropriately fluttery and romantic. MacLean even pulls in Greek mythological symbolism (and repeats it several times between first bringing it up and then ending the book, just to make sure we get it).
The mythological references help deepen Mal’s character. Sera, meanwhile, gets to want to own a tavern and enjoys singing. As a result, the both of them have other traits that help make them engaging as protagonists.
Of course, you can also probably see the final events of the novel coming from a mile away. However, using unpredictable to describe a romance novel is a bit like describing potato chips as sweet. It’s not what you’re really there for in the first place.
Yours truly couldn’t help but also enjoy what looks like set-up for a next novel in the series between one of Sera’s sisters and a certain gentleman. The two of them have some serious chemistry. Sometimes, I even found their interludes more interesting than Mal and Sera’s plot. They’re the stars of this story, so that’s a bit of a problem.
The Day of the Duchess probably has the most continuity of MacLean’s works, in that having some familiarity with books like The Rogue Not Taken will help color in the details of Sera’s family issues.
Ultimately, if you like MacLean, you’ll probably like this one, but if you’ve found issues with her work before, The Day of the Duchess likely won’t change your mind.