Randall de Sève's The Duchess of Whimsy
illustrated by Peter de Sève
Book review by Sherri Trudgian
Love at first bite!
The Duchess of Whimsy proves the old adage that opposites attract. The collaboration of husband-wife team Randall (Toy Boat) and Peter de Sève (artist for The New Yorker) has produced a spectacular new fairy tale. True love does come to our hero and heroine but only after much striving on his part and humbling on hers.
The reader is invited to an “extravagant soirée” for “uncommon conversation” by The Duchess of Whimsy. Only the most unusual guests in their “elaborate attire” accompanied by their “peculiar pets” will be there. The Earl of Norm, who the Duchess considers simply “too ordinary” for her taste, will also be there. Why? The King needs a political treaty with the Earl and has pressured his daughter to extend him an invitation.
The Earl of Norm is an average sort of fellow, undistinguished, non-flamboyant and owns an ordinary dog. His conversations consist of mundane things like the weather and condition of the roads. None of which could possibly attract The Duchess of Whimsy.
The Earl, however, is smitten with the Duchess. He loves her “lively stories”, her “wild apparel”, and her “joie de vivre”. She sparkles. She is everything he is not.
The Earl of Norm tries to woo the Duchess by stepping outside of his comfort zone. He hopes to catch the attention of the Duchess by bringing a giraffe to her soirée. Unfortunately he is unable to control his new pet. The giraffe drags the Earl along as he chases and then eats the fruit off a guest’s hat. The Earl then dons a bright brocade cape covered with peacock feathers. The cape is much too long and causes him to trip. Instead of his simple attire, he looks simply ridiculous. Finally, he compounds his humiliation by comparing the Duchess to a squid, platypus and penguin in a love sonnet he composed.
Three strikes you’re out! In spite of the Earl’s efforts to please the Duchess, she still considers him “too ordinary.”
The crisis point of this story occurs when the cook falls ill. The dilemma is solved by the guests of the Duchess. Each one graciously offers to cook a specialty dish. The exotic dishes take much too long to prepare. The Marquise of Charisma is dragged through the forest by a pig sniffing out truffles for her canapés. The Shah of Huzzah has to search for quail eggs for his watercress salad. The Duke of Dreams needs a galaxy of spun sugar stars to top his velvet midnight cake.
After all his futile efforts, the Earl of Norm has no desire to cook. Instead, he whips up a simple “grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk”.
The Duchess is not a patient person. She doesn’t care to wait and starts to focus on the Earl’s sandwich.
“How could something so ordinary look so good?” The Earl who is not only polite but very generous offers her a bite. She studies the “golden, crusty bread” and the “glistening, melted cheese” then takes a bite.
“It was delicious. It was delectable. It was Divine!!”
Since the other guests are busy preparing their dishes, the Duchess has no one to talk to except the Earl.
She learns that the Earl can tell a good joke and rescued his dog from a traveling circus.
He learns that she likes quiet walks and sitting by the frog pond at twilight.
Through their conversation true love begins to blossom. They find each other to be “simply extraordinary”.
Book review - The Duchess of Whimsy
Peter de Sève’s illustrations take this story from the simple to the spectacular. His combination of eccentric people and exotic animals will make the reader smile. The Duchess herself exudes whimsy. She is captured on the front cover in a formal ball gown riding atop some sort of unicycle contraption. Her eyes are smiling and the plumes in her hair wave in the breeze as two fairies carry her train.
Who else but a whimsical Duchess would paint her toes the colors of the rainbow using an artist’s brush and palette?
Whimsy can also be seen in the length of the King’s train which requires upward of twenty footmen to carry it.
The Earl, as a lovesick youth, moons over the Duchess. He has a huge grin plastered across his face as he leans towards her, hands clasped over his heart.
The Duchess of Whimsy (An Absolutely Delicious Fairy Tale) is a wonderful tale. It captures the imagination of both adults and children. The story and the illustrations are equally pleasing. There are several lessons to be gleaned from this tale. Number one: Be yourself. Number two: People are all different. Get to know them. You just might be surprised!
Read more of Sherri's book reviews.
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