Much Ado About You (Essex Sisters #1) by Eloisa James
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: December 28, 2004
Pages: 400 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
I'm a huge fan of romantic comedy, and this book is one of the best I've ever read. The basic plot sounds simple, but James's execution is magical: Four sisters, aged 24, 22, 20 and 15, are orphaned when their father, a horse-mad Scottish lord, is flung from one of his horses. Tess, the eldest, has been mother as well as sister to her siblings since their mother died when the youngest was a baby. Tess is greatly worried when she discovers their feckless father has left them to the guardianship of a British duke none of them has ever met. But though 35-year-old Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook, drinks far too much, he is extremely kind, treating the sisters like family. It is obvious to Tess and her two sisters next in line, Annabel and Imogen, that they must marry since they have no money to support themselves and they don't want to take advantage of the duke. But since the only dowry their father left them is one race horse each that cannot be sold, they are afraid only undesirable men as horse-mad as their father will be likely to seek their hands. Fortunately, the sisters are all beautiful, and the duke decides he will have little trouble finding them husbands. In fact, one of his two thirty-something best friends, the Earl of Mayne, immediately volunteers to marry Tess in pursuit of a comfortable marriage of convenience. The only thing standing in the way is the duke's other best friend, the fabulously wealthy and extremely enigmatic Lucius Felton. Before meeting Tess, Lucius had no plans to marry, and he is dismayed to find himself far more interested in Tess than any man who cares about either comfort or convenience ought to be.
The heroine and hero, Tess and Lucius, are a great match. They are both intelligent, with a sense of humor, bone-deep integrity, and an enormous capacity for love and loyalty. Because of internal wounds they each bear, the vulnerability they experience as their relationship develops makes the love scenes not only very sexy (and they are hot!) but extremely touching. There are multiple subcharacters, every one of them adding an important element to the book, but the major ones, the tipsy duke, Rafe, and Tess's sisters, are particularly well done. Tess's relationship with each character is important to her story, and the main subplot of her sister Imogen's desperate love for an engaged man contrasts with Tess's relationship with Lucius in a particularly powerful way. I am looking forward with great anticipation to the upcoming three books about the other sisters. I'm especially hoping Rafe will recover from his alcoholism and become a worthy mate for one of the three sisters, because he's simply adorable.