Romancing Mister Bridgerton
To celebrate the arrival of Netflix’s Bridgerton, AAR is running, in reading order, our reviews of the original nine books in the series.
originally published on June 7, 2002
While reading Romancing Mister Bridgerton was great fun, reviewing it is no picnic. Especially since readers at AAR expect a nicely detailed first-half of the book plot summary with every review.
Well, in this case, I just can’t do it for one very good reason. Beyond the very basics of the plot, supplying any other details could easily give away the one spoiler no one who’s been waiting for this book wants to know: the identity of society chronicler Lady Whistledown. I will say it’s a very satisfying solution. And one that astute readers of the Bridgerton family books may have guessed (I did). I can also safely say that if you’ve enjoyed the previous books in the series, you’re going to be very happy with this one.
Penelope Featherington is madly in love with Colin Bridgerton. Twelve years earlier, she fell fast and hard – the way you can when you’re sixteen, utterly bowled over by the handsome looks, winsome charm, and apparently killer smile of the third Bridgerton son. But, unlike most of those teenage crushes, even after all those years she’s still passionately in love with the oblivious Mr. Bridgerton.
Although Colin Bridgerton thinks the world of Penelope, he sees her, unfortunately, as the shy, awkward, mousy best friend of his sister Eloise. And, even though his mother once embarked on a campaign designed to convince him that Penelope would be the perfect wife – resulting in a heart-shattering experience for both Colin and Penelope – he simply has never once thought of her in a romantic sense.
But upon his return from one of his many travels, Colin suddenly comes to see the now mature Penelope in a new light – as the bright, funny, talented, and, yes, beautiful woman that she is. But, since the course of true love never runs smoothly, matters take a decided detour when Penelope, Eloise, the rest of the Bridgerton clan, and virtually all of the ton get caught up in the search for the identity of the writer who has so wittily chronicled society for the past ten years: the elusive Lady Whistledown.
Julia Quinn is one of those writers who makes it all seem so easy. Her dialogue sings, her characters are devastatingly real, her love scenes sweet and romantic. But writing that reads this effortlessly takes a great deal of effort and a great deal of skill. And while I don’t usually compare one writer to another, in my mind her dialogue sometimes evokes – gasp at the sacrilege! – Georgette Heyer at her best.
She’s also no slouch when it comes to characterization. Penelope is an especially endearing and realistic character – so realistic, I think, that if Penelope isn’t you, she’s probably someone you know very well. Justifiably proud of her talent, abilities, and wit, Penelope’s hard-won confidence in all three is matched only by her complete lack of confidence in social situations. Colin, on the other hand, is one of those people to whom everything comes effortlessly and to whom it has all come to mean almost nothing. Desperate to find a purpose to his life, his dissatisfaction is far more than simply the ennui of an over-privileged rich boy, and is, instead, the epiphany of someone who has coasted for too long and knows it.
Another gift Julia Quinn possesses is an unwillingness to rest on her laurels. In a bold step for a writer with a reputation for sticking to the light side, she has the gumption to go beyond the happy ending. Even braver is her willingness to allow her characters to behave in ways that is sometimes decidedly unsympathetic. The book is all the more real for it.
Also worth mentioning is that even though the book deals in large part with the subject of women and their need for satisfaction outside of marriage and love, the tone always seemed appropriate to me and, if not precisely historically accurate, well in tune with both the characters and the period. Readers who consider themselves sticklers for historical accuracy should be aware, however, that Julia Quinn’s approach is somewhat anachronistic, a criticism that could easily apply to most humorous historicals and, to my mind, doesn’t interfere in any way with the enjoyment of the book.
I did, however, have one big problem. For me, at any rate, the momentum of the story flagged significantly in the last quarter of the book. And, since things were ripping along famously until then, the drop-off was dramatic. What could have been another Quinn DIK instead “settles” at the B+ level.
Still, Julia Quinn is at the top of her game here, and Romancing Mister Bridgerton is a first-rate effort more than deserving of its undoubted commercial success. And I’ll say it once more because I think it’s easy to forget: it takes a very good writer to make it look this easy.