Since she was twelve, Minnie has been taught to be quiet, to stay in the shadows, to not call attention to herself -- to be as small and as insignificant as possible. As Wilhelmina Pursling, Minnie is plain, quiet, biddable -- but Minnie is, in reality, Minerva Lane, a woman possessed of a remarkable talent and of a horrible, indelible scandalous reputation.
There is nothing typical about Minnie. Her scars aren't hidden from the world but out there. On her face. It is a constant and permanent reminder to herself and to everyone who knows of her former life and she and her aunts have struggled hard to erase as much of her past as they could -- downgrading Minerva Lane to a Minnie.
Minnie. Mini -- to be so small, to make small, to reduce -- to be the least. Minnie has almost forgotten who she was. Of her brilliant talent and of the bright future she was deprived because of her father. But, upon encountering Robert for the first time, I think, deep down, Minnie recognized a kindred soul -- another being so caught up in hiding himself -- that she was able to find the courage to let out all the good she has kept hidden from the world.
De Minimis. At first glance, any regular fellow would instantly make the connection between Minnie and the pamphlets. De Minnie Mis. (And a regular fellow did make this connection. Read p. 15)
De Minimis. An insignificant thing. A small risk. But there is nothing insignificant or small or harmless about the real author of the seditious pamphlets being distributed around Leicester Square.
All his life, Robert Blaisdell has wanted to step out of the shadow of his father's cruelty -- instead of concerning himself with the idle, indulgent things that dukes typically think about, he is busy doing the opposite: he has set out the right the wrongs done by his father, the former duke -- and he is starting out at Leicester Square.
Robert has lived with the legacy his father has left him -- the former duke's selfish abuse of Oliver's mother (read: The Governess Affair), the terrible work conditions at Graydon Mills, etc. Robert is young and most people would think that what he is doing is bourn of youthful exuberance and naivete -- but Robert is determined and relentless.
Robert is a duke -- the highest title in the peerage -- but Robert would like nothing better than to cast off his title. The gifts of his heritage weigh down heavily on him and he considers the wealth, the position, etc. as a burden. He hates being referred to as "His Grace" because he doesn't feel that he is one. A grace. A blessing. A virtue. Instead, Robert feels that his presence is a blight -- but he is trying to make amends.
I think this was the perfect book to start the year with -- it's a sort of reset after a year of reading over 130 historical romance novels.
What Courtney Milan has done is to challenge our perception of heroes and heroines. Of dukes and duchesses and of the working man. And she has done so in a most sublime and wondrous way.
Robert challenges Minnie but, instead of cowering, Minnie stands unafraid.
"You have all those things," she said. "But then, I have one thing you do not."
He leaned in, not wanting to miss a word.
"I," she said, "have a sense of tactics."
"You haven't done anything," he said.
Her expression didn't change.
"I'm winning," he announced. "You can't bore me into a surrender."
"That's the beauty of strategy. Everything I do contains a double threat. If you don't back down from spoken words, you reveal your character. Everything you say, everything you do, every charming smile and sweet protestation -- the most you can hope for is to change the manner of my victory. The fact of it, though, is a foregone conclusion."
- pp. 45-46
Minnie challenges Robert but, instead of retreating behind his title and his wealth and his power, he lays himself bare -- exposing everything to a most ordinary woman. (Read p. 97-98)
They bring out the best in each other. They bring out the worst in each other. They bring out the truth in each other.
Family. Love. Identity. Belonging. Fiction. Reality. Dreams. Connections. Scars.
These were the words I wrote down right after I finished reading The Duchess War. Courtney Milan touches on so many different themes but, rather than encumbering the story, the author has found a way to weave them all together into a spellbinding, breathtaking (and very cohesive) love story.
How can two so imperfect people from such disparate backgrounds be so perfect for each other? Read this story, find out how and be captivated. ^_^
Final note: This line left me breathless:
Take your time," he said, stepping closer to her and leaning in. "And in the end, Minnie, take me."
- p. 148