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Review: American Duchess by Karen Harper

Review: American Duchess by Karen Harper


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…?

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.


I’ve always been fascinated with this period of history, especially learning more about the Vanderbilts. Inspired by Consuelo Vanderbilt, American Duchess had all the elements to sweep me away. I loved the book broken down into parts based on the periods of time in her life. I felt like it guided the book to get to know her better.

I felt the overall story was beautifully written and kept me interested in wanting to know more. Following her journey through her perspective and see her evolve as a person through her life given her circumstances, really piqued my curiosity to learn more about her outside the book. Something that I really loved was the role of the women in this book. It was really interesting seeing the influence of women, especially who had titles and weight behind their names given their place in society.

Despite this being historical fiction and we are getting Consuelo through the eyes of the author, you can really see the love for her and appreciate the thought behind her and the other characters throughout their portrayals in the book. I found several moments interesting of how people can be unlikable until they have a humbling moment in their life that changes them for the good. I found that relevant to my love hate relationship with her mother and her first husband. Some of my favorite moments include with her father, children and her second chance at love with her second husband.

Overall, this was a really good read. This was my first by Karen and I hope to get a chance to read her other books. If you love historical fiction, especially interest of the Vanderbilts, grab a copy and check it out for yourself.

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