American Duchess by Karen Harper

American Duchess by Karen Harper
Published by William Morrow Publishing
Genre: Historical
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Before there was Meghan Markle, there was Consuelo Vanderbilt, the original American Duchess. Perfect for readers of Jennifer Robson and lovers of Downton Abbey.

Karen Harper tells the tale of Consuelo Vanderbilt, her “The Wedding of the Century” to the Duke of Marlborough, and her quest to find meaning behind “the glitter and the gold.”

On a cold November day in 1895, a carriage approaches St Thomas Episcopal Church on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Massive crowds surge forward, awaiting their glimpse of heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. Just 18, the beautiful bride has not only arrived late, but in tears, yet her marriage to the aloof Duke of Marlborough proceeds. Bullied into the wedding by her indomitable mother, Alva, Consuelo loves another. But a deal was made, trading some of the vast Vanderbilt wealth for a title and prestige, and Consuelo, bred to obey, realizes she must make the best of things.

At Blenheim Palace, Consuelo is confronted with an overwhelming list of duties, including producing an “heir and a spare,” but her relationship with the duke quickly disintegrates. Consuelo finds an inner strength, charming everyone from debutantes to diplomats including Winston Churchill, as she fights for women’s suffrage. And when she takes a scandalous leap, can she hope to attain love at last…?
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From the dawning of the opulent Gilded Age, to the battles of the Second World War, American Duchess is a riveting tale of one woman’s quest to attain independence—at any price.

Billed as a novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt, American Duchess is more than a love story, it’s a story of duty, of searching, of destiny. This is a fictionalized account of the life of an actual person. Beginning in 1895, the story follows our main character to New York City to famed Blenheim Castle in Great Britain.

Consuelo agrees to an arranged marriage for the good of her family (or more correctly at the insistence of her mother). However, Consuelo will eventually consider her own good as well as the good (and rights) of women in general.

Parts of this story were wonderful – the emotional struggles of Consuelo at first, and then her struggle on behalf of others. Her goals are easy to understand and follow. Also, her links to some big names of the era add an additional, unexpected level of interest.

Some characters seemed a bit flat. The Duke (her husband) never manages to have a sympathetic moment in a span of years, for example. His life seems dedicated to social climbing. In other cases, Winston Churchill for example, are quite out of character here (Ms. Harper’s Churchill is not the man presented in his biography).

However, the backdrop always seemed completely perfect. This is largely a look at ‘high society’ and gives a wonderful look at the structure of lives, as well as the places the rich and famous live! I loved descriptions of balls, ballrooms, and the clothing and manners of the times. Plans for guests, decorations, the operations of a massive household, all find their way into this story. Ms. Harper gives us a wonderful and imaginative peek into the world of high society.

The pace is never fast, but it is always interesting.

Consuelo’s story is beautifully written and will really enthrall those who are interested in the time period, from turn-of-the century to a bit Into the second World War.


  1. Diane Sallans says

    I’d heard about Consuelo Vanderbilt, and then I visited Blenheim – I’d love to read more about her.

  2. Linda Romer says

    I love Historical Books and the American Duchess sounds great! Thank you for your review.

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