Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1)
By: Julia Quinn
Publisher: HarperCollins


In the midst of her second Season, Daphne - the eldest girl in the Bridgerton family of eight -- has all but given up on the hope of making a love match. Daphne is the girl that everyone likes, that everyone wants to be friends with -- always the chum, the good sport, but never the lover inspiring flowery declarations of passionate intent. But Daphne's closely-held dream of a loving husband and family, her desire to not settle, and her reluctance to compete in the Season's Marriage Market threatens to make her the bane of her loving mother Violet's existence. Violet, after all, must think beyond her eldest daughter's reluctance to make a match to the three girls waiting in the wings to make their own debuts. When Daphne meets the newly-minted and arrived in London Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset, she's alternately maddened by his haughty demeanor and unsettled by his direct, passionate gaze. The infamous rake is her oldest brother Anthony's long-time best friend, the type of man a good society miss avoids at all costs -- until he makes an intriguing offer, one that promises a blessed reprieve from her marriage-minded mama -- but with the unintended side effect of imperiling her heart.

Only one thing could induce Simon to forsake his world travels and return to London -- his estranged father's death. The old duke made Simon's life a torment from childhood, belittling the boy for his stammer, leaving him to be raised by servants and forge a successful path in life through sheer force of will -- the will to prove his hated sire wrong. However, he was not prepared for the attention his new title brought to his personal life as Ambitious Mamas flocked to his side to introduce their debutante daughters. When Simon meets Daphne, he's shocked by how quickly she puts him at ease, intrigue colored with a desire to possess her beauty -- until he learns that she's Anthony's sister, which places her in the Strictly Forbidden category of romantic dalliances. Even so, he cannot resist suggesting an audacious scheme -- he'll pay court to Daphne, ostensibly removing himself from the Marriage Market, and she'll become more desirable than ever by virtue of being associated with London's newest duke. But when the fake courtship gives birth to real attachment, lines are crossed -- could marriage between the girl no one wanted and the duke determined to die alone become a love affair for the social record book?

After several years of two very dear friends telling me I'd love Julia Quinn's Regency romances, I finally decided to give The Duke and I a try, and I'm SO glad I did. The first installment in Quinn's popular Bridgerton series sparkles with wit, warmth, and a genuine emotional and intellectual connection that goes far deeper than any physical attraction that sparks between the duke and Daphne. I've read reviews comparing Quinn to Jane Austen, and while Quinn's sly humor and sharp characterizations were certainly inspired by Austen, I think a more apt comparison would liken Quinn to Georgette Heyer, with a dash of the chick-lit sensibilities found in the likes of Hester Browne's or Jill Mansell's novels. In other words, The Duke and I is a clever, funny, warm-hearted romp through Regency England with a romance that will take your breath away and an unexpectedly deep emotional resonance between its hero and heroine -- this is, refreshingly, the story of a physical, emotional, and intellectual union of complementary equals.

I adored the family dynamic exhibited here -- the Bridgertons are the type of sprawling fictional family I love to read about. The may fight and squabble but they are loyal to a fault (as Simon quickly learns even during the early days of his "faux courtship" with Daphne). Although this is very much Daphne's story, Quinn does an excellent job introducing the siblings that will feature in later installments. From the rakish Colin, newly-returned from Europe, to Anthony the eldest, nearly driving himself batty attempting to navigate the Marriage Mart as a very eligible viscount while sheperding his strong-willed family through society's social whirl, to the precocious ten-year-old Hyacinth, whose outspoken wisdom beyond her years marks her as a force to be reckoned with once she comes of age. And I adore their mother, Violet! At first I feared she was Mrs. Bennet reborn, but her occasional flighty absent-mindedness masks the razor sharp wit and intelligence required to survive as matriarch to the lively Bridgerton children.

Although Daphne and Simon's journey from courtship to marriage covers only the span of a few short weeks, I loved the emphasis Quinn placed on their intellectual and emotional compatibility. Yes, they each are highly appreciative of the other's fine form, what makes their romance make my heart sing is how they are both so utterly disarmed and genuinely comfortable in each other's company. Looks may fade with time, but personality is forever, eh? And while keeping with the fact that since this is a mainstream historical romance there are some spicy scenes, refreshingly those occur after marriage. I was really impressed by how Quinn touched on the intimacies of the marital relationship making each partner vulnerable to the other, and how that trust, if lost (speaking of misunderstanding, not abuse) can create a painful rift. Daphne and Simon's commitment to each other, despite their marriage's rocky start and subsequent misunderstandings, is the hook that got me so emotionally invested in this couple and kept my fingers flying to turn the pages.

Quinn possesses a delightfully breezy writing style that oft-times belies the serious issues of emotional weight that she addresses within the pages of Simon and Daphne's story. The prologue, revealing Simon's tragic childhood, reads with the matter of fact tone of a dark fairy tale, one leaving readers to question the possibility of the tortured heir's future happiness. The warmth and humor with which she imbues this romance makes the heart of The Duke and I all the more compelling and memorable, because Quinn doesn't shy away from the difficult issues that could make or break a marriage. Even if her breezy writing style lends itself to playing a *bit* fast and loose with period mannerisms, that is forgivable since The Duke and I is thoroughly engaging, romance for the heart and the mind at its finest. This is wholly memorable, utterly delightful introduction to the Bridgerton clan -- and with the added mystery of the mysterious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown's true identity, whose quips are peppered throughout the novel -- I cannot WAIT to revisit this family in subsequent novels.

About the book:

Can there be any greater challenge to London's Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke? -- Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1813

Simon Basset, the irresistible Duke of Hastings, has hatched a plan to keep himself free from the town′s marriage-minded society mothers. He pretends to be engaged to the lovely Daphne Bridgerton. After all, it isn′t as if the brooding rogue has any real plans to marry - though there is something about the alluring Miss Bridgerton that sets Simon′s heart beating a bit faster. And as for Daphne, surely the clever debutante will attract some very worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, she soon forgets that their courtship is a complete sham. And now she has to do the impossible and keep herself from losing her heart and soul completely to the handsome hell-raiser who has sworn off marriage forever!

The UK cover - I adore the art!


Kaye Dacus said...

I loved this book. And, so far, the others in this series . . . up to where I've stalled out with When He Was Wicked (#6, I think?). I don't know if it's me being at a very "meh" point with my reading when I first picked it up, or if it's the setup of the story (the hero is the best friend of the heroine's husband---yes, the story starts before her beloved husband passes away). I do want to finish this series, though, because I want to start on the Smythe-Smith (or Smith-Smythe?) books, which is a concurrent-sequel series. (You'll see mentions of the Smythe-Smiths throughout the Bridgerton books.)

Unknown said...

@Kaye - I'm so glad you (and Natalie L., if you're reading this!) kept after me to read this series! Really, really enjoyed it, and I'm glad to know that you've enjoyed the others (well, up to #6 at any rate...are you working on that one now?). I don't think I missed a mention of the Smythe-Smiths in this least I hope not...but I may have been distracted by Simon's smolder. ;)

Kaye Dacus said...

I don't remember which book they're first mentioned in. At one point, in one of them, they go to a concert at which the Misses Smythe-Smith perform???? It's at the Smythe-Smith house, though, whether or not the girls perform.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton is my favorite in the series so far.

Unknown said...

@Kaye - Okay, I know I didn't forget an event of that type, thanks! And good to know your favorite thus far...I think if my memory serves me (from browsing Amazon) that is Colin's story? Loved his intro here. :)

Heidenkind said...

I enjoyed this book. I'm not a huge Julia Quinn fan, but this series is pretty good. This book and The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever are my favorite in the series.

Kaye Dacus said...

@Tasha--I believe The Secret Diaries... is part of a different series. Bevelstoke or something like that, isn't it?

Jack said...

I'm pretty sure I've heard of this author before, though I've never read anything by her. I don't normally like romances, but this one sounds like a fun story. If I find it I think I will at least try it.

Unknown said...

@Tasha - Good to know you like this series too. :)

@Kaye - Yep, just checked on Goodreads and Miranda Cheever is indeed in the Bevelstoke series/collection.

@Jack - Hope you enjoy it!