Duchess by Night is dedicated to Georgette Heyer, and it becomes apparently fairly quickly
as to why. Those who have read Heyer's The Masqueraders will be familiar with the central theme of this book, that of a woman disguised as a man and finding herself befriending a man who eventually sees through her disguise.
The disguised woman here is the Duchess of Berrow, a widow of 27 whose life has become rather boring and staid. When her friend Isidora wants to create a mini-scandal, she decides to attend a house party at the home of Lord Justinian Strange and asks Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, to go with her. They are also accompanied by the Duke of Villiers, a man
whom Harriet has hated but who begins to be revealed as someone rather more likeable than she's thought.
Of course, Harriet can't attend the house party as herself; her reputation would be ruined. Isidora and the Duke of Villiers together help her to dress as a young man, and she is introduced as Mr. Cope, a relation of Villiers'. As Harriet settles into her new role, she begins to find the freedom that men have - not only in terms of less restrictive clothing and the ability to say what they mean without excessive politeness, but also in discovering enjoyment in galloping horses, learning to fence, and more. But can she keep her identity secret
- and can her growing friendship with Lord Strange survive her eventual unmasking?
What is particularly satisfying about Duchess by Night is its focus on Harriet and Strange and the gradual way in which they get to know each other. Most of the book is narrated from Harriet's point of view, but we get occasional insights into Jem's thoughts, which are rather perturbed at his apparent attraction to another man. We learn more about both characters and how events in their past have shaped their lives today.
This romance actually runs fairly smoothly without lots of awkward misunderstandings to irritate the reader, although the story does have a slight blip to this effect at the end.
Author Eloisa James employs an excellent writing style with fast pacing and also some depth to the characterization. The dialogue occasionally let this reader down, as people speak in modern American rather than Georgian English, but overall it's a very enjoyable story and one that is apparently part of a series about Duchesses. On the strength of this story, I will be eagerly looking out for the next one.