Virginia Henley, Author
Virginia Henley, Author . Signet $6.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-451-21064-7
Reviewed on: 11/17/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003

The true story of lowborn but beautiful Elizabeth Gunning (1733–1790), who took Georgian England by storm and became a duchess twice, is vividly fictionalized in this unconventional romance from Henley (Ravished , etc.). Born into an impoverished family, Elizabeth and her older sister Maria, both aspiring actresses, apply their talents offstage when their ambitious mother decides they should pose as members of the minor nobility. In London, their bold maneuvering, good fortune and the girls' own magnificence catapults them into society, where they draw the attention of noblemen and even the heir to the throne. The one man who knows Elizabeth's secret is John Campbell, the future Duke of Argyll, whose love for her isn't enough—at least initially—to overcome the difference in their status. She's also coveted, for much darker reasons, by John's enemy, the powerful Duke of Hamilton. The details of the Gunnings' rise will delight; at one point, the fearless Mrs. Gunning hires actors to mob her daughters whenever they appear in public and an actress to play their ladies' maid. Possessing all the sensuality and glitter of a more traditional romance but enriched by the plot's complexity and the heroine's genuine growth, this captivating tale will leave readers amply satisfied. (Dec.)

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