James and Theo (aka Daisy to James) have known each other since they were children, placing each other firmly in the role of brother and sister. Both have been discovering deeper feelings, but at 17 and 19 years old, they aren't mature enough to understand the difference between. Instead of their relationship being allowed to naturally grow, James' father embezzles funds from Daisy's dowry and the issue becomes forced. Now to save his father James must marry her, a fate he doesn't regret, he only regrets not being able to be honest about it. Society digs it's claws into Daisy by deciding that James is only after her dowry and dubs Daisy "The Ugly Duchess."
The truth comes out, as it will, in a most inopportune time. Daisy feels betrayed by the one person that she has always trusted. She kicks James and his father out of the house and out of her life. For the next seven years she focuses everything she is on making the estate self-sustaining and profitable. Society has never treated her well, but she knows she needs their goodwill for her business to prosper. So she ventures back out into the fashionable world, but she does it on her own terms, wearing clothes she wants to wear. This time, instead of being seen as an ugly anything, she takes the world by storm. She becomes the epitome of fashion that everyone else can only aspire to.
James is heartbroken that he hurt Daisy. When she kicks him out, he honestly doesn't care where he goes, so he takes off for the ocean. Nine months into his voyage he is besieged by a pirate, a pirate who also happens to be his cousin. With nothing to stop him, he signs in under his cousin's command and they start attacking pirate ships, earning endorsement from Spain to continue as privateers. After two years, James is starting to see his mistakes. He's wondering if he should head home and try to woo Daisy back. When he receives the news that his father has passed, the guilt of not being there weighs on him. Instead of going home and taking his rightful place in the aristocracy, James decides to let the world think he has died.
James and Daisy spend seven years apart, growing as adults and individuals, though neither has ever forgotten the other. James has an epiphany that makes him realize how stupid he was to leave behind the woman he loved and he returns to England to convince Daisy to be with him forever.
The Ugly Duchess was an interesting story. James and Daisy were very young when the story began, and had already built the foundation for love. Despite not knowing the characters tremendously well when they got married, I believed that they were in love but, they needed to spend some time apart and mature. Thank goodness they did, for I was not interested in the couple as they were when the book began.
To society, Daisy was "ugly," but to James she was always gorgeous. Even though the story is modeled after The Ugly Duckling fairy tale, the point was not that she became beautiful, or that James could see past her faults, it was simply that, to James, Daisy didn't have any. And that made it perfect.
While there are several plot devices that usually make me not like a book, here they were all done in a way that I enjoyed them. The two characters were way too young to deal with the issues that they had to face. So while they were deeply in love with each other, I could understand the lack of communication that caused the separation. After James decided not to return home, he slept with other women. This would usually anger me, but Ms. James was able to write it in a way that made it acceptable.
Once again, Ms. James gave me a delightful read. I absolutely say: pick this one up!