About the Book
- Julia Quinn
Friends, lovers, earls and countesses, welcome back to Part Deux of FYA’s Grown-Up Guide to Romance Novels. We’re exploring even more bodies of work from some of our favorite romance auth—*record scratch, freeze frame* Wait a second. Back up. I should rephrase this intro. Because this post is what happens when a romance series that, for all intents and purposes, LOOKS like something we would love and is incredibly popular with the general romance-reading world, just doesn’t vibe for your friendly neighborhood FYA romance readers.
We really went into this week expecting to enjoy these books as much as we’ve enjoyed the other books and authors we’ve highlighted in our Grown-Up Guide. But that wasn’t in the stars for us…so here’s what we really thought.
The Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn
What To Expect: XOXO, It’s Lady Whistledown; The Marriage Mart; Abusive Men, White Rich People Problems
The Viscount and Viscountess Bridgertons got busy. All in all, the family had eight children, each one named in alphabetical order from oldest to youngest for ease of readability. Viscountess Bridgerton is determined to marry them ALL off, and lucky for her, each one happens to be completely gorgeous and rich. Most of the chapters begin with the wry observations of a mysterious Lady Whistledown in the form of a weekly gossip rag that the ton eats up like it’s prescription pills and they’re high-schoolers from the UES. Much of it involves the Bridgertons’ escapades.
Shonda Rimes is turning these books into a TV mini-series sometime in 2020, so we at FYA decided we simply MUST test out this popular series to see what the fuss is about. (Note: Some of us ended up really regretting this, but we can totally see why this series is destined for the small screen. If you were a fan of Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf’s relationship dynamic, you will probably love these books.)
From Fancy Dress To Fabio:
Most of these novels were published in the early 2000s, but these covers look like they’re from a genre of classy romances that your grandma reads. You won’t find any heaving bosoms here; it’s all pastel washes of color over staid images of shoes, houses, and pastures.
The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1)
Daphne, the oldest Bridgerton daughter, has been out in society for two years without making a brilliant match, much to her mother’s despair. She’s had a little interest, but woe is her, most dudes just want to be her friend. Or maybe are scared off by her three terrible older brothers? The new Duke of Hastings, her oldest brother’s best friend, is back from traveling (and avoiding his father – we’ll get to that later) and since he’s sworn to never marry, he and Daphne hatch a plan to pretend to be courting to get attention off of him and onto her. It’s kind of convoluted. In a shocking twist you’ll never see coming, they begin to fall for each other.
The Leading Lady:
Daphne’s great—witty, clever, someone I’d want to be friends with—until she’s *extremely* not. The girl’s got real “I have three older brothers” energy. She isn’t willing to settle for any of her previous underwhelming suitors, and doesn’t take any of Simon’s egocentric malarky. HOWEVER. About three-quarters of the way through the book, she does something so egregious I could no longer support her as a character, or find any more enjoyment in the romance between her and Simon. I don’t want to spoil anything, but her treatment of Simon (certainly no angel himself) during a key scene really colored my perception of the rest of this book.
The Leading Man:
Oh, Simon. You’d be sooo much hotter if you weren’t riddled with daddy issues. To be fair, Simon’s father was a complete and total monster, and he was definitely right to spend his adulthood avoiding the man. But to take his quest for vengeance so far beyond the grave is nonsensical. It’s such a shame that therapy wasn’t in vogue yet in Regency England.
Risque Ranking: 3 + -10 = -7
Whew boy, where even to begin??? In the first half of the book, Daphne and Simon’s faux-courtship has all the makings of your usual swoony albeit tame Regency romance. And then, it all goes to hell. I’m not sure how to talk about it without spoiling it, but I’ll just say that consent goes both ways, even for married couples, and I’m not entirely sure how anyone could read this and still think it sexy.
Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
Daphne shivered with desire. His breath touched only her ear, but her skin prickled across her entire body.
“I could do nothing,” he continued, edging one strap of her chemise off her shoulder, “except imagine.”
“You thought about me?” Daphne whispered, her body thrilling at the notion. “You thought about this?”
His hand at her hip grew tight. “Every night. Every moment before I fell asleep, until my skin burned and my body begged for release.”
Daphne felt her legs wobble, but he held her up.
“And then when I was asleep…” He moved to her neck, his hot breath as much of a kiss as the touch of his lips. “That’s when I was truly naughty.”
Was It Good For You?
Rosemary: I enjoyed this book until about halfway through, and then I wanted to throw it against the wall. I will turn a blind eye to a lot of old-school romance tropes that would never fly in today’s world, because the times, they do be changing! But holy hell, Daphne makes a ~choice~ so unforgiveable that it tainted everything that came before and ESPECIALLY everything that came after it. Plus, this book isn’t *that* old-school to begin with. It was published in 2000!
Kandis: This book reads like a classic ‘80’s romance, which would explain why it’s kind of tame and then HOLY CRAP, PROBLEMATIC. I know a lot of my fellow FYA members love them some Bridgertons, but this one really didn’t do much for me. I was on board for a fake courtship, and I’m even down for a troubled hero, but both of these characters went too far in certain directions for me to stay on board. And that’s not even considering her awful brothers.
Kate: Mmm…not really. Know what’s sexy? Respecting boundaries! Communication! Both things that are few and far between in this book. I’m aware that historical romance novels are never going to read like contemporary ones, and that some allowances have to be made for “era appropriateness.” I’m even willing to overlook a ton of grievances for the sake of all that pent-up passion and anticipation…when it’s there. But the payoff wasn’t worth the build-up here. Just not my cup of tea.
The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons #2)
The mysterious and mostly absent Anthony Bridgerton is London’s most eligible bachelor, and now that he’s back in town, Lady Whistledown has the ton all in a tizzy about whether he’s decided to settle down. Anthony has, in fact, decided to marry–and he’s even chosen a wife that he feels fairly confident will be an easy match, one he won’t have to worry about forming an attachment to. But first, he must receive the blessing of his intended’s older sister, Kate, who turns out to be quite a handful. In an attempt to prove himself worthy of her younger sister, Anthony and Kate *oops* fall in love with each other.
The Leading Lady: Beguiling Big Sister
Kate Sheffield is sassy and smart, and I like that she was pretty no bullshit with Anthony. That said, I found her constantly crying that she was ~so unlovable~ a little tiresome. Kate’s got some issues and past trauma regarding her mother’s death that are triggered by thunderstorms. It gave her a bit of dimension, but otherwise, she wasn’t the most memorable romance heroine I’ve ever read.
The Leading Man: Barbaric Bachelor
Anthony Bridgerton may be London’s most eligible bachelor, but he’s also sort of a dick. I’m all for a hero who likes to battle wits with a lady, and back-and-forth banter is one of my favorite tropes. But there were times when Anthony was so physically rough with Kate that it felt almost abusive. Like Kate, Anthony has his own trauma: his father died young so Anthony is convinced that he, too, will die young, and doesn’t want to form any attachments (i.e. fall in love) because he’s so convinced of this. It was kinda wild, tbh, and not super believable. I warmed to Anthony a bit over the course of the book, but my first impression left a foul taste in my mouth.
Risque Ranking: 4
The heat level is pretty low here. Quinn follows the formula of building tension between two enemies until something happens that forces them to marry, and only THEN do they get it on. And this usually works for me really well! But the issue I had with The Viscount Who Loved Me was that I wasn’t feeling that building tension, so the inevitable consummation was pretty anticlimactic.
Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
“This is madness,” he whispered against her ear. But he made no move to let her go.
Her reply was an incoherent, confused moan, and her body became slightly more pliant in his arms, allowing him to mold her even closer to his form. He knew he should stop, knew he damned well shouldn’t have started, but his blood was racing with need, and she felt so…so…
He groaned, his lips leaving hers to taste the slightly salty skin of her neck. There was something about her that suited him like no woman ever had before, as if his body had discovered something his mind utterly refused to consider.
Something about her was . . . right.
She felt right. She smelled right. She tasted right. And he knew that if he stripped off all of her clothes and took her there on the carpet on the floor of his study, she would fit underneath him, fit around him— just right.
Was It Good For You?
Rosemary: It was…fine? Nothing unforgiveable like the first book. It’s rare that I don’t enjoy a Regency romance, and this one certainly had its moments, but overall, it just didn’t stand out for me. The characters were not as witty or memorable as I’d have liked, and their chemistry with one another was fine but not great. The sexy bits didn’t have the heat that similar novels offer. The plot was no different than lots of other Regency romances but not quite as well executed.
Kate: Not bad, but not my favorite. I liked Kate, and Anthony was charming enough when he wanted to be. I do find it a little silly when characters try to pretend they don’t have any chemistry. Especially when they shun all contact with any other romantic interests, and it’s extremely obvious to everyone around them that they want to be together. Let’s just say, it’s not my favorite trope. I’d have preferred they acknowledge their shared attraction from the beginning, and for them to be kept apart by other various ~reasons.~ I will say, “baring a woman’s breast to suck out the bee venom and save her life” is my favorite excuse for two Regency era persons to be wed in quite a while.
Kandis: I’ll be honest, I purposely didn’t get this far because Anthony was so awful in The Duke and I that I couldn’t see myself caring if he got laid or met his match or fell off a cliff.
An Offer From A Gentleman (Bridgertons #3)
Lowly kitchen wench/lady’s maid Sophie Beckett crashes the Bridgertons’ masquerade ball and catches Benedict Bridgerton’s eye in an instant. They share a steamy moment on the private balcony, but Sophie runs off when the clock strikes midnight.
Two years later, Sophie and Benedict have another chance encounter—sans masks—and Sophie is a little miffed that Benedict has no idea who she is. Benedict HAS been dreaming of that woman in silver constantly, but he believes she is a woman of the ton. Since she’s a mere house servant and he’s a rich mister, Sophie begins to think that keeping her identity a secret is probably for the best.
The Leading Lady: Literal Bastard
Poor Sophie—the author calls her “an earl’s by-blow” SO often it can almost become a drinking game. Sophie is your classic Cinderella figure, the smart and kind counterpart to the jerky step-sisters. Did I picture every character in this book as a character from Ever After, right down to the nicer but ineffectual younger step-sister? Why, yes, yes I did. What I appreciated about Sophie was the fact that she stood strong in the face of Benedict’s whining for her to be his mistress. She promised herself she would never let a child grow up as a bastard like she did. Good for you for sticking to your beliefs, Sophie. (Mostly, at least. More on that in a moment.)
The Leading Man: Figurative Bastard
And then we’ve got…Benedict. I liked him well enough—the marriageable second son from a rich family who are always featured in the gossip rag—until he turned into an absolute TURD NUGGET. Once he realized he “loved” servant Sophie but, GASP, she refused to be his mistress, that trollop, he becomes completely insufferable. He pouts, he whines, he physically trips Sophie to keep her from walking away from him, he badgers her into working for his mother and then constantly hounds her to sleep with him when he visits. He cannot fathom one IOTA the reasons why Sophie wouldn’t WANT to be a mistress, since God knows he can’t marry a SERVANT, amirite?
Risque Ranking: 0
In light of Benedict’s assholish ways, I got really mad at Sophie when she has sex with him in his sitting room before they’ve resolved ANY of their issues. In Benedict’s line of thinking this means, oh, she’ll totally be my mistress now that we’ve banged, but Sophie still denies him, flat out telling him she could never watch him have a wife and kids and be second best, and he STILL gets mad at her. I mean, just READ this:
“I can’t,” she said, and the pain in her voice nearly unmanned him.
“Nonsense,” he said. “You can do anything you choose. You just don’t want to.”
“Don’t make this harder than it already is,” she whispered.
When she said that, something snapped inside of him. He felt it palpably, a strange popping sensation that released a rush of blood, feeding the frustrated anger that had been simmering inside of him for days. “You think it’s not hard?” he asked. “You think it’s not hard?”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her body against his, so she could see for herself just how hard he was. “I burn for you,” he said, his lips touching her ear. “Every night, I lie in bed, thinking of you, wondering why the hell you’re here with my mother, of all people, and not with me.”
“I didn’t want—”
“You don’t know what you want,” he cut in. It was a cruel statement, condescending in the extreme, but he was beyond caring. She’d wounded him in a way he hadn’t even known was possible, with a power he’d never dreamed she possessed. She’d chosen a life of drudgery over a life with him, and now he was doomed to see her almost every day, to see her and taste her and smell her just enough to keep his desire sharp and strong.
I wish upon you, Benedict, ED during a time when there’s no Viagra.
Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
He’s even bossy and insistent when they’re making love:
“‘Don’t think,’ he murmured. “Just lie back and let me pleasure you.”
She looked dubious, but when he moved his mouth to her other breast and renewed his sensual onslaught, her eyes grew dazed, her lips parted, and her head lolled back against the cushions.”
Was It Good For You?
Stephanie: As I am the one who ranted above, I will say that’s a no. Sophie deserved better. Violet Bridgerton (Benedict’s mom) is the only redeemable Bridgerton here. She has actual empathy.
Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons #4)
Shy wallflower Penelope Featherington fell in love with the affably charming Colin Bridgerton exactly twelve years ago when her bonnet caused him to fall off his horse. Now Colin, a thirty-three-year-old layabout, is back from an all-expenses-paid-by-his-family vacation in Cyprus, and Penelope, a twenty-eight-year-old spinster, is suddenly, inexplicably, looking less like a wallflower and more like an actual human woman with independent thought and wit. How is Colin the only person just now seeing this?!
The Leading Lady: Willful Wallflower
Penelope is kind of retiring and a doormat to her fussy mom and silly sisters. I did relate to her ability to get very tongue-tied around people, as small talk or idle chit chat has never been my strong suit. She’s clever and needs a little push (in the form of acerbic Lady Danbury) to become who she really should be. Like Sophie, I liked that Penelope (mostly) didn’t apologize for who she was and what she believed in. Plus she’s a big reader and writer, so I’m sure we would’ve gotten along.
The Leading Man: Angry Asshole
But then…Colin. He tried REAL hard to beat Benedict out of his top spot for my least favorite Bridgerton. Colin has the ennui of the upper-class: he’s, gasp, BORED. He has no purpose but to be charming, and he’s jealous of people like Penelope who have purpose. Like Benedict, he seems fine for the first half of the book, but as soon as he begins to care about Penelope the dick comes out (and not in a fun way).
He follows Penelope (because she dares to travel somewhere unchaperoned, and doesn’t she know she’ll be raped and murdered along the way?!!) and gets angrier and angrier as he spies on her, grabs a letter she’s hidden for someone else, rips it open to read what’s inside despite her begging him not to, and then yells at her about it. And, like, I’m supposed to swoon?
I. Don’t. THINK. So.
So Colin learns a secret of Penelope’s and, for the rest of the book, he’s an utter asshat to her about it because he’s jealous. It’s abusive behavior that is not romantic in the slightest.
Risque Ranking: 0
Nothing about Penelope and Colin’s making out was remotely sexy, especially since it all takes place after he becomes a bitter, angry little man. You know, for some reason, I just don’t find it a turn-on when someone calls me a “fool woman” in all seriousness. Half the time even Penelope is like, “I’ve loved this dude for twelve years, but I don’t think I like him very much right now.” Uh, people feel compelled to say that about blood relatives they have no choice but to deal with, Pen. You are not yet married to this insecure, needy prick. Leave now!
Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
“‘Colin,’ she gasped, looking down at where he was gripping her.
But he couldn’t let go. He knew he was hurting her, he knew it wasn’t a terribly nice thing that he was hurting her, but he was so damned furious at that moment, and it was either squeeze her arm for all he was worth or lose his temper in front of five hundred of their nearest and dearest acquaintances.
All in all, he thought he was making the right choice.”
Whoops, I was supposed to pick a sexy quote. Sorry. Couldn’t find one.
Was It Good For You?
Stephanie: Um. No. This is one of those rare cases where I hope they DO make drastic changes to the books for the TV show and manage to improve upon certain characters’ flaws.
There are 4 more books in this series, though we were only able to get through the first half. Check them out here!
Have you read this series? Do you feel, um, differently that we did? Let us know in the comments!
FTC Full Disclosure: We did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the lame cranberry ones) for writing these reviews. The Bridgerton series is available now.