The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George
May 23, 2023 by Berkley
Review by Melanie
The Duchess Takes a Husband, which, I’m guessing is the fourth and final book in The Gilded Age Heiresses series, features the much-anticipated story of Camille, the widowed Duchess of Hereford. The first book in the series, The Heiress Gets a Duke, actually opens with the engagement party of Camille and the Duke of Hereford and it’s made immediately clear that this is nothing more than a transactional marriage where the Duke of Hereford gets much needed cash to support his financially declining dukedom and Camille’s parents, while undoubtedly wealthy but with the stigma attached to the nouveau riche, gets some much needed social capital by way of a newly minted Duchess for a daughter.
Each of the three books preceding it gives us a glimpse of the Duchess of Hereford and while the scenes are brief, it is enough to ascertain that the marriage between the Duke and Duchess of Hereford is toxic and abusive. While Camille’s friends, the Crenshaw sisters, go on to find suitably titled husbands and yet, also manage to marry for love, Camille is left trapped in an unhappy marriage, not of her own choosing.
This book opens with Camille widowed, finally free from the clutches of her marriage and determined to retain her own freedom. While she’s widowed, the memories of her unhappy marriage and her abusive late husband threaten to mire her in the past. Refusing to allow the past to hold her hostage, Camille finds herself drawn to Jacob, who has also been briefly featured in previous books and is the illegitimate second son of an earl and the brother of the hero of the second book in the series, The Devil and the Heiress.
Jacob, co-owner of one of London’s most notorious clubs, is determined that love is not for him. Having seen what it did to his own family, he stays away from forming emotional attachments and prefers to keep his relationships strictly superficial. When Camille decides she wants to embark on a purely physical affair with Jacob to finally lay her past demons to rest and find out how to achieve sexual satisfaction, the two begin an affair that is meant to be only sex but quickly turns to more despite their best intentions. In exchange for Jacob schooling Camille on matters of sex, Camille agrees to pretend to be Jacob’s fiancée for the sake of finalizing a business deal. Fake engagement isn’t necessarily my favorite trope and for much of the book, I kept expecting Camille and Jacob’s jig to be up because it really felt like they had not prepared in any way to conduct themselves as an engaged couple in public.
One of the things that really fascinated me about this book is the way the author approaches the idea of trust and intimacy. While the book is definitely about Camille healing from the trauma of her first marriage and learning to find sexual release, it’s less about sex and more about Camille learning how to trust, first herself and then Jacob. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that the book is definitely a bit of a slow burn as it makes no sense for Camille and Jacob to jump into bed right away (though they do try and in a scene that is as hot as it is vulnerable and emotionally wrought, it’s Jacob who metaphorically and literally reveals himself and his desires). There is healing to be done for Camille before she can finally reach the climax that has so eluded her and it’s interesting but also right that the healing comes not just by way of Jacob’s tutelage but also by way of the suffrage movement Camille finds herself involved in. Her past marriage and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her late husband makes her uniquely qualified to speak on these matters and I think the book does a solid job of showing that while Camille might be searching for sexual healing, it can only truly occur once Camille has started to emotionally heal from her toxic marriage.
I wish the resolution at the end was a little bit more drawn out – it does feel a bit rushed and abrupt. However, there is a delightful epilogue at the end of the book that neatly ties together not just this book but really the whole series. While I’m sad to see this series come to a close, I’m so happy that Camille finally got her long-awaited happy ending and excited to see what this author has in store for us next.
Content Notes: recollection of toxic marriage, verbal abuse, lack of consent in marriage, violence, on-page fighting