Narrated by Gideon Emery
It has been a long time since I’ve read or listened to a Danielle Steel story. The blurb of The Duchess intrigued me though, so I thought I’d go back to try the latest from an author that used to be a mainstay on my library shelves. Interestingly, The Duchess turned out to be more historical fiction than romance, though it does have romance elements. Moreover, the plot of this story set in London, Paris, and New York in the early 19th century, seemed somewhat predictable but nonetheless enjoyable particularly given the family saga and injustice rectified angle of the listen. And if the story is not enough to get you to listen, new-to-me narrator Gideon Emery was simply magnificent and I will certainly be looking for more of his narrations in the future!
Angelique Latham’s ultimate future was in question from the minute she was born. Born the daughter of the Duke of Westerfield in Hertfordshire by his second wife (a French woman with French nobility blood), she was left motherless at birth, and never secured the love of her half-brothers, who hated her mother and by extension her. So, it is no surprise that when her father passes away and the dukedom goes to her older brother, she is left with no benefactors and doomed to find her own way in the world.
Fortunately, her father had the foresight to see the true nature of his children, and he loved Angelique so much (the daughter who stood by his side until his death when she was only 18) that he set her up with 25,000 pounds that he kept hidden from his sons. Her father’s bed was not even cold when her brother swoops in to claim his birthright and forces Angelique to go work as a nanny, claiming she wouldn’t want to be “a burden” on him and his family. Too embarrassed to share his despicable nature with Angelique’s employers, her brother tells them she is a distant cousin, not his sister (a fact which makes this cruel act even more egregious).
Angelique, however, makes do with what life has handed her and carves out a somewhat happy existence with her new charges (6 children in all, with only her as nanny), even if her employers are callous and indifferent, even when it comes to their own children. When, two years later, a man changes her fate yet again (by accusing her of something she didn’t do), she is quickly fired and left homeless again.
With no recommendation, no one will hire her in London, so she makes her way to Paris. Again, even though she is fluent in French, no one will take a chance on her without a recommendation, so she is left adrift until she stumbles upon a woman of the night who has been badly beaten. Showing the compassion no one has showed her, she takes the woman in and as she helps slowly nurture her back to health, Angelique comes upon a plan to change both her and other downtrodden women’s plights. With her new friend’s help, she will open up a bordello unlike that that ever existed before: one that caters solely to the upper class and provides that upmost discreetness, while at the same time treating the women who work there fairly and ensuring their health and safety. Meanwhile Angelique will function as the madame who entertains the men with conversation and manages the establishment’s affairs – she vows to never “go upstairs” with the men.
It is in this venture that Angelique becomes known as “The Duchess” for her high-class manner and second to none conversation skills, not to mention management of Le Boudoir. The establishment features the most exotic and beautiful women who men come from all over the world to visit. She quickly attains many admirers (including men of supreme political influence), all of whom aspire to make her theirs (especially given that she refuses to take any of them “upstairs”). But even with many good choices among the men, Angelique refuses to compromise her virtue or settle for anything less than love. Could there possibly be a HEA in the cards for Angelique now that she is viewed in society’s eyes as a “ruined” woman?
Gideon Emery blew me away with his talented narration of The Duchess! Not being a romance narrator, I had never listened to him before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I’m glad that didn’t influence my decision to listen because Mr. Emery’s performance was full of the characteristics that I look for in a good narration: emotion, differentiation of voices, good pacing, and clear enunciation.
Perhaps what I loved the most about Mr. Emery’s narration was his supreme ability to delivery completely different and totally character appropriate voices. From female to male, young to old, upper class to lower class, and even switching seamlessly between British-accented English and American English, Mr. Emery sounded exactly like the characters that Ms. Steel penned.
Showing us the brutal injustice of the entailed feudal land system, particularly as it related to women who by law could not inherit, The Duchess provides a powerful and moving story that kept me engaged the entire way. I enjoyed watching Angelique mature into her own force and eventually vindicate the injustices she was forced to endure through no fault of her own. I also liked that this story proves that even an “unconventional” woman who refuses to follow society’s rules was ultimately able to secure obtaining her own true love in the end. Plus, Gideon Emery’s masterful narration makes this a title best enjoyed in audio format!
TITLE: The Duchess
AUTHOR: Danielle Steel
NARRATED BY: Gideon Emery
GENRE: Historical Fiction with romantic elements
STEAM FACTOR: 2
REVIEWER: BJBuy The Duchess by Danielle Steel on Amazon