Julia Quinn is an excellent gateway author for people curious about historical romance. I raced through her catalogue (as did my mother) at the beginning of my obsession, when I was greedy and the entire genre lay before me like a shameful buffet. I came back to her now because even lesser Quinn is better than most everything else, and I just can’t face any more bad romance (although I’m not ready to change what I’m reading). Last year, I didn’t bother to read this last book in Quinn’s justly popular Bridgerton family series because the reviews were comparatively lacklustre, but reading one of her new-to-me books after so much tripe was a treat.
Gregory Bridgerton has watched all seven of his siblings make happy marriages. He longs for true love and will settle for nothing less. Pole-axed when he lays eyes on the beautiful Hermione Watson, he decides that this must be it. Hermione’s best friend, Lucy, is accustomed to witnessing these reactions, but decides to help Gregory because he is the lesser of two evils, the other one being Hermione’s unacceptable secret love for her father’s secretary, and because he is the best of the long line of besotted fools. Gregory gets distracted by Lucy.
Delightfully wry and fun, you will find yourself laughing out loud at Julia Quinn’s books. She is a deft writer, witty and charming. The prose is clever and feels effortless, and she limits herself to the love story which greatly appeals to the purist in me. Quinn does longing and banter extremely well, as well as that fluttery feeling of incipient affection. Her characters are extremely likeable and the family dynamics are particularly entertaining. The only challenge is that it seems to be hard for her to shift gears when the going needs to get tough. Everything glides along beautifully, but when the action in On the Way to the Wedding gets ratcheted up, it’s too sudden a tonal shift and jarred with the carefully crafted buoyancy of the rest of the story, but that’s a quibble, not a condemnation. However imperfect, Julia Quinn is still one of the best writers in the genre.
The other reason I stopped reading Quinn is because, frankly, she has peaked. She did so spectacularly and has five terrific books out of eight in the Bridgerton series, but her more recent works offer diminishing returns and lack the spark of her earlier novels. I would go so far as to say that at least one of the Bridgerton books is a classic, I just can’t decide which:
The Duke and I – Julia Quinn Daphne/Simon – Very good, the ending had a bit too much sturm and drang for me.
The Viscount Who Loved Me – Anthony/Kate – Fun, but I wasn’t big on Anthony. I have only so much patience with officiousness. Kate is fabulous. They are a well-matched couple. Great sparring.
An Offer from a Gentleman – Benedict/Sophy – A Cinderella story, my first Quinn, absolutely delightful .
Romancing Mr. Bridgerton – Colin/Penelope – Might be a classic of the wallflower winning variety. Colin is the good-lookingest and charmingest of the four brothers. You can’t help but root for Penelope.
To Sir Phillip, With Love – Eloise/Phillip – It moves a bit too quickly, but Eloise is fun. Not up to the same standards as the rest, but has some nice moments.
When He Was Wicked – Francesca/Michael – I can’t fault Quinn for trying something different, but that doesn’t mean I want to read it. An unsuccessful attempt at a change in tone. I hated it.
It’s in His Kiss – Hyacinth/Gareth – Sweet and charming, might be a classic of the breezy and winning variety. Hyacinth is a force of nature.
On the Way to the Wedding – Gregory/Lucy – Please see above.
Quinn’s current Smythe-Smith books are based around a running joke in the Bridgerton novels about awful music recitals. The series is really just getting going and I have read everything in it so far, and will probably continue to do so, but they are actually too light for me. Honestly, sometimes it feels like Quinn is tired of writing these books but has contractual obligations. Even so, the newer books are a safe choice and guaranteed to be entertaining, if not memorable.