Are book reviews supposed to be short? Well, if they are, indulge me, as I make this book review long. My excuse is that I’m reviewing an entire series of eight novels at one go. I’m telling you about a family that made a match between my heart and the works of an author with whom I became acquainted in 2012. Meet The Bridgertons:
[Despite being common knowledge that romance novels have happy endings, I promise to try my best not to spoil the means of achieving them in the following summarizations]
“D” for Daphne, Daphne Bridgerton. “D” for Duke, The Devastating Duke, that is. The fourth of the Bridgerton siblings eases readers into the transition of going through the love stories of all the members of this large and rambunctious family. Here you have a heroine who is very plausibly a pretty-ish sort of girl who has been overlooked in the marriage market for long enough to make herself slightly nervous about her own desirability. She is intelligent enough not to fall for just about any kind of man and, what would you know, her personality stands in the way! Sad to say, but men usually fail to notice girls with friendly personalities as romantic prospects and relegate them instead to the lesser position of ‘just a friend’. So Daphne’s biggest obstacle in getting married is the fact that her beauty and personality does not render the men of London into stuttering idiots.
Which is why it is lucky that Simon Basset already had a father who made him feel like a stuttering idiot most of his life. Okay, that isn’t a very kind way to put it and neither is Simon an idiot, but he does have a history of stuttering. But if anything, his father’s continued disparage towards his disability during his childhood and adult years (almost until the old crone died, in fact) made him into an overachiever. He has always felt the need to impress people into silent awe while his own self-consciousness about the stutter that made him into the silent brood, which in return, helped his goal to be more attainable. And he has just returned from a six-year overseas tour so conversation could not be wanting. And of course, he is devastatingly handsome and a Duke to boot. Women swoon in his presence and men bow to his awesomeness.
Unfortunately, behind all that arrogance lays a very insecure man whose fear of failure stops him from falling in love with our heroine. He does not want to get married and he certainly does not want children in order to avoid reliving his childhood through his offspring. And then of course, our heroine has her own insecurities to deal with; she doesn’t need his ones added to her heap. But she acquiesce because she falls in love with him and together they journey to overcome their uncertainties to live in the land of the happily ever after.
And amidst all this, there is another affair that has the city in a scandal. The mysterious Lady Whistledown, whose social tabloid is quickly gaining a universal readership among the ton, who in return, openly rebukes the gossip columnist but secretly cannot keep their greedy grabby hands off her weekly editions!
“A” for Anthony, the eldest Bridgerton sibling. Anthony Bridgerton has had the exact opposite childhood from that of Simon Basset’s. His father was his idol and, if anything, his father’s death has stolen from him what was turning out to be the ideal youth for a viscount-apparent with the disposition and means to have as much luxury and debauchery to every young man’s gratification – and left him with an unreasonable fear of his own mortality. Needless to say, it has been very character building for him as well. With the weight of the dynasty and a large family on his shoulder, he has since tried to be the model of propriety and level-headed – well, as much as a considerably unrepentant rake could be allowed. And of course, despite running from the clutches of grasping Mamas with young daughters to dispense, he knows that one day he will need to get married and procreate if only to forward his dynasty. As long as he does not fall in love with the woman he marries.
A man with so much baggage is not what Kate Sheffield needs. Her London season is not turning out as she would like. She has a younger stepsister – though not an evil one – who is prettier than she is to the point where no one even notices her. Kate cannot hate Edwina for her looks but it does make it hard for her not to be slightly self-conscious in public. Thankfully, she is not desperate to get married – why attempt something you are only bound to be overshadowed in, right? Unfortunately, her family is not rich and if one of these sisters does not marry a rich man soon to deliver them from potential poverty then… Well, since Edwina is the pretty one, Kate can at least relax for now.
And Edwina does catch the notice of a titled gentleman who just happened to have declared himself ready to settle down. However, while paying his dues to the pretty sister, his attention becomes inadvertently engaged by the sister with the wry wit. But sensing that Kate could be someone he might fall in love with, Anthony is now more determined than ever to marry Edwina. But a very roundabout courtship and a very compromising event lead ultimately to Anthony succumbing to a marriage with Kate. And now Kate has to live with the idea that her husband is in love with her sister and Anthony is fighting tooth and nail to ignore his growing affection towards Kate.
And amazingly, amongst all the scandals that are riddled through this story, Lady Whistledown divulges very little on the event that resulted in the marriage between Anthony and Kate – other than a reflective piece for wishing them a happy marriage. It appears that while in the profession of making everybody else’s business her business, Lady Whistledown is a softy who refuses to be the means of anyone’s ruination.
Finally, a novel to deliver us from all those heroes who refuse to fall in love or marry! “B” for Benedict Bridgerton is ready to fall in love and marry straight from where our story begins. And how can he not when he has been witness to so many true love marriages within his own family circle? He is just waiting for the right girl. And the right girl comes in the form of a mystery woman at his mother’s birthday bash, a masquerade ball no less, dressed as a princess whom no one has seen before and, after a fleeting and furtive kiss from our hero, no one sees again. But this Cinderella story has a twist…
Sophie Beckett has the misfortune of being the illegitimate child of a reclusive earl. No, that was not her real misfortune because, while her father could not admit to their blood ties or provide the affection she desperately wanted, he had taken her in and brought her up with education and respect as the best could be hoped for under the circumstances – until the evil stepmother and stepsisters arrive. And her father dies, leaving her in the clutches of the said evilness and our princess is relegated to the status of less-than-even-servitude. And then one day, she finds the luck to sneak into a masquerade ball thrown by society’s most popular family and meet her prince (well, a viscount’s brother in any case) and fall in love. And the next day, she is thrown out of her home by the evil stepmother into an unknown world to a bleaker future than the one she has been booted from. Enter twist in tale…
Some years pass and Sophie serves now as maid to a reputable family – with a very disreputable son. And Benedict, who is still unmarried thanks to his failure to locate his mystery love, is a house guest to the disreputable son while the parents are away and saves Sophie from his lascivious intentions to whisks her away. Only to have some very lascivious intentions towards her from time to time. And Sophie, of course aware that Benedict is the very man she has been in love with for the last few years, is too ashamed of her current status to divulge her secret past. Benedict secures her a position as a lady’s maid at his mother’s house but soon begins to find himself unable to resist her charms and becomes attracted towards her. And of course this serves no purpose but to make him guilty from a sense of loyalty to his mystery woman. And all for a woman who he cannot marry to begin with because she is a servant at his mother’s house! And while coming to know that he is beginning to love her is gratifying, Sophie-the-mystery-woman is also jealous of the idea of being replaced in his heart by Sophie-the-lady’s-maid. Really!
And here’s the rip – despite being amidst the twists, once again Lady Whistledown only has the minimalist statements to make about the progress of their relationship. Rather she provides a hilarious relief from the main plot when Benedict and Sophie’s pursuit to ever after happiness gets exhausting.
How can a girl not fall in love with “C” for Colin Bridgerton?! Perhaps the most dashing Bridgerton of all, he is rendered even more charming by his affable and kind personality. Moreover, his slight insecurities about his future due to his position as the third of the four sons in a titled family and a niggling sense of never being taken seriously due to his well-projected jovial façade makes him just the right dash of tragic to warm the heart. And more so, he is secretly a writer with a very sensitive awareness to his surroundings. So again, how can a girl not fall in love with Colin Bridgerton?
Penelope Featherington’s sentiments exactly. She has been in love, overpoweringly so, with Colin since she was but sixteen and he, twenty-one. Unfortunately, Penny has been a wallflower all her life, partly because her mother liked to dress her in bright and unflattering colors that made her a laughing stock among the ton and partly because her slight inclination to chubbiness and inability to display her natural wit when in public. Fortunately, she is now twenty-eight and her mother has decided that she is officially on the shelf and given up on her and Penny snatches the opportunity to style herself as she likes. And successfully, because Colin begins to pay her attention. (It should be noted that between the time Penelope fell in love with Colin and the time when Colin finally begins to be attracted to Penelope, Colin was almost always traveling abroad)
So Colin begins to find Penelope attractive, but Penny is not the sort to jump when her hero tells her how high. She has self-respect, damn it! But he is a rogue, if nothing else, and he manages to seduce her. Not all the way – but far be it that he should use that as an avenue to excuse himself from his sense of honor. No, rather he uses that as an excuse to marry her – to make an honest woman out of her, of course – and promptly fall in love.
But alas! She has a secret that he happens to stumble upon. Torn between admiration and jealousy for her genius and apprehension that she would be ostracized should the secret get out, there relationship becomes peppered with discordance even as love glues them together. And at every turn, there are those who threaten to unravel their mystery.
Of all the Bridgerton novels, this is not my favourite. But of all the Bridgerton novels, the lead characters here seemed to me the most real. I found it refreshing how the heroine can admit to feeling jealous of her best friend’s marriage (she had expected the friend to be her spinster companion) and thereby takes a bold and impulsive step to change the course of her life. I also find it refreshing that the hero can admit to the heroine of his baser needs and having been deprived of those needs for numerous years.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is the story of the fifth (“E” for Eloise) Bridgerton sibling, who at the beginning of the novel finds herself without a partner to accompany her into old age. Though never a determined bachelorette, Eloise had assumed the prospect of getting married a hopeless business, not for the lack of a suitor but for that of a suitable one. She had hoped her best friend, Penelope Featherington, who indeed was unmarried until Book #4 due to a lack of suitors (suitable or otherwise), would be her partner in spinsterhood. And then suddenly, she felt utterly alone in the world.
On the other side of England, Sir Phillip Crane of Romney Hall, Gloucestershire had been very much alone for most of his life, and especially since he had failed to save the wife he had never even wanted to begin with – and was left with twin children that he could not manage to boot. So it was only practical when a series of correspondences with Eloise made him certain that she was just the kind of woman he needed to marry to absolve him of the duties of parenthood so that he could go back to the pursuit that gave most pleasure and relief, botany. After all, Eloise was a twenty-eight years old spinster and therefore must be homely and desperate to get on with a family that he could ready-made provide. Accept she turns out a doe-eyed beauty with a charming and mischievous personality that he cannot resist. And she comes with a band of brothers ready to defend her honour and do away with him for luring her to his country home. To make things worse for our heroine, as if it was not humiliating enough to be proposed to for only taking over the management of her hero’s rascally children, he had to be forced to do so by her brothers! How are they ever to recover their marriage from that?
You can’t love them all – that’s what I came to accept when I finished reading the sixth installation of The Bridgerton series. At first, I almost felt guilty for not enjoying this story as much as I loved reading that of the previous siblings [that was the depth of loyalty I had already developed]. But then I justified that if Francesca Bridgerton chose to be so very different from the rest of her boisterous, meddling, interdependent-on-each-others’-happiness family (traits that made me love the series so much), then who am I to chastise myself for not loving her story equally as I did her brothers’ and sisters’? After all, she wasn’t my daughter, so I didn’t need to have the understanding her mother seemed to possess despite knowing the anomaly in her daughter.
But that wasn’t the only reason why Francesca’s story kept me at odds from the very first chapter. Her romance had a go-about-the-bend quality to it. Because the hero that put her heart through the turmoil which makes romance novels so wonderful was not the one she began her journey with – it was her husband’s cousin and best friend! To her credit and advantage, her husband was four years dead by the time the hero of this novel made her heart go pitter-patter. Our hero wasn’t so lucky.
From many angles, I feel that this is really the story of Michael Sterling rather than Francesca Bridgerton, which I would say was a good thing. From the very first moment he laid his eyes on Francesca, Michael knew his heart would never be again his. It was a devastating realization for a self-proclaimed rake and determined bachelor, but not as much as his next realization, which was that the love of his life is the new bride of his dearest cousin and best friend, the Earl of Kilmartin, one of the oldest nobility of Scotland. Being the family black sheep and mostly dependant on his cousin’s family wealth had never bothered him but this new blow carried a wallop. What more, being such a confidante to his cousin put him in constant proximity to the temptation he could never sate and develop a friendship with her that he prized only as much as he prized that of his cousin’s.
But not long before does he come to terms with the acceptance that he was destined to covet his cousin’s wife, when his cousin dies suddenly and leaves him to look after not only his family affairs but burdens him with his title and wealth to boot. More responsibility and guilt than he could accept, Michael makes a run for it and removes himself to India, the farthest corner from the temptation that had suddenly become attainable.
For four years, Francesca manages the estate by herself, loving it as the only legacy of her deceased husband, having mis-carried his unborn child soon after his death. She had never completely forgiven Michael for deserting when she needed his support most. And took her only four years to decide she is ready to come out of mourning and look to settle down again, if only to have children, the sole future she had to look forward to. Except Michael returns and before she is ready to forgive him, she is confused by other emotions she feels she has no business feeling.
What I loved about the story of the 7th Bridgerton to fall in love is that it was the story of an adventure – and not only the kind that is stumbled upon, but the kind that is pursued. And that is the streak which clearly makes Hyacinth Bridgerton, the eighth and youngest Bridgerton, stand out in a crowd. She is opinionated and challenging with her audience and very much hard to outwit – qualities she is proud to harbour and which make her a pair with Lady Danbury, who is a recurring character in all the Bridgerton novels, aging with wisdom, wielding her cane at anyone who dares speak nonsense, and obviously, our heroine’s idol. Unfortunately, these very grand attributes keep the men at bay, fearing that she would be just too much for their egos to handle. The end result is that when the story begins, Hyacinth is already in her third year on the marriage market and the throng of her admirers is dwindling.
But Lady Danbury has high hopes in her heart for her favourite young lady, especially where her favourite grandson is concerned. Enter Gareth St. Clair, a hero who is not new to town but one that definitely has remained enigma to society. There are only three things the ton is sure about with regards to him: he is the heir of Baron Richard St. Clair, he is hopelessly estranged from his father, and he is a rake if ever the title fit a devilishly handsome man such as he. And no one but Lord St. Clair and he, not even his only living relative his grandmother, is aware that the Baron is not his legitimate father. But being born in wedlock, Lord St. Clair is unable to denounce Gareth as his heir and that makes their relationship all the more strained.
And of course Gareth lives to taunt and torture (mentally) his “father”, whom he has never been able to not refer as his father even in private despite the older man’s continuous disparage. So when fate, and a dash of his grandmother’s meddling, puts Hyacinth repeatedly in his path and Lord St. Clair taunts his bloodline being unfit for a Bridgerton, it is a challenge that he cannot resist. Then there is the discovery of his paternal grandmother’s, whom he had loved as a child, diary, which is written in Italian and Hyacinth offers to help translate, that reveals the potential of diamonds being hidden in his family estate that he just cannot resist pursuing. Worst, it is Hyacinth that plants it in his head that he must burglar it from under his “father’s” nose and insists that she tag along. A series of misadventures and a good lot of misunderstandings has the hero and heroine on the road to love that makes this read highly entertaining. The question is not whether they will fall in love (because of course they will, that is the whole point of a romance novel), but if they will find the hidden diamonds?
Alas! We reach the story of the final sibling to fall in love. For a refreshing change from the usual pace of romance novels, this romantic hero is exactly that – a Romantic. And why not? After witnessing eight successful love stories, including his parents’, one can only be as optimistic about love as Gregory Bridgerton, sibling number seven. So much so that he falls in love twice! Well, the first time he thinks himself in love. Fortunately, that first encounter leads him to acknowledge the best friend, Lady Lucinda Abernathy, of his infatuation.
Unfortunately, Lady Lucinda is otherwise spoken for – or at least she is almost engaged to the heir of the Earl of Davenport. However, by the time our hero gets over his infatuation with the best friend and recognizes Lucy as his true love, she becomes legally bound to marry her previously aspired betrothed, an agreement that she cannot escape without throwing her family into infamy that could strip her beloved brother from his title and privileges. But missing out on the chance to marry for love is not fate our heroine fears. Let’s just say, her intended husband, though a perfectly nice man, does not incline towards her gender and, according to the threats made by her uncle, if the heir cannot perform up to the standard to produce an heir, the Earl will.
Lucy is resigned to her fate however though Gregory is not ready to lose the love he has found so dearly. But the question is, will our hero be able to rescue a damsel that does not want to be rescued?
End Note: Upon first perusal, that is reading the back cover, I expected it to be just another Regency romance. Despite my perpetual obsession with Pride and Prejudice, I am not such a fan where I made this periodical romance genre a favourite to fill in the void that my love for an Austin novel left me with after reading through all her works. But the Bridgertons changed that.