Desert Isle Keeper
The Duke and I (#16 on our Top 100 Romances list)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on August 27, 2006
Now that the tenth and final book has been published in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series – one of my favorite series of connected books of all time – has been published, it seemed like the right time to take a return trip back to where it all it started. The Duke and I always comes to mind when people talk about their favorite books in the series, and my reread of this bright and funny novel reminded me of all the reasons just why that is so.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Julia Quinn makes it look so very easy that hundreds of aspiring authors (and their eventual editors) seek to write in the “style” of Julia Quinn. But there is a big – make that a very big – difference between the artistry of the author and that of her far paler imitators and that’s a point I find myself wanting to make again and again.
This first book in the series is actually the story of the fourth Bridgerton child, Daphne. With three very protective older brothers and surrounded by her loving family, Daphne, quite reasonably for a woman in her place and time, wants a husband she can view with affection and the children that marriage will bring. After two Seasons, however, and a few proposals she simply couldn’t bring herself to accept, Daphne hopes seem to be fading since the men to whom she is attracted seem to view her almost like a – perish the throught! – sister.
To describe Simon, Duke of Basset’s, relationship with his now-dead father as strained might be the understatement of the century. A childhood stutterer viewed as an idiot by his idiotic father and denied any love and attention, Simon returned to England upon the death of his hated father to take over his duties as Duke. For reasons of his own – reasons that actually kind of make sense in this case – Simon is determined never to marry.
As a close friend of Anthony, Benedict, and Colin (Daphne’s older brothers and future heroes all), soon enough – well, after a few misadventures, anyway – Simon and Daphne come to an agreement to pretend to be courting with the twin goals of keeping the matchmaking mamas away from Simon and increase Daphne’s chances of attracting a husband. Daphne reasons, you see, that if she is seen to merit Simon’s stamp of approval, other men might begin to view her more favorably.
Well, their scheme works. Perhaps too well when the Bridgerton brothers become (quite understandably) more than a bit suspicious about Simon’s true intentions towards their sister and matters – hey, this is a romance novel – take a turn neither Daphne nor Simon anticipated.
As the first book in the series, Ms. Quinn does a masterful job of introducing a large and lively cast of characters, including Violet, the Bridgertons’ affectionate mother; Lady Danbury, the resident-grumpy-matron-with-a-heart-of-gold destined to play a key role in several books; and, of course, the infamous Lady Whistledown. Yes, ladies, this is the book in which the anonymous scribbler who so effectively skewers all of society makes her very first appearance – well, through her writings anyway. As Bridgerton readers know, her identity isn’t revealed until Romancing Mr. Bridgerton four books down the line and my lips are officially zipped about it here.
The Duke and I is also vintage Julia Quinn in that her knack for writing some of the liveliest and funniest dialogue in romance is decidedly present and accounted for, as is her skill in creating fully three-dimensional characters. In every Julia Quinn book, I find myself really liking her characters, just as I root for their HEA. This is never more clear than with poor, tortured Simon. The Duke could be that clichéd tortured rich boy character we’ve all come to know so well, but in Ms. Quinn’s skilled hands he goes far beyond the clichés and watching his protective façade crack every so slowly when confronted with Daphne and her loving family is one of the great pleasures of the book.
Now that the series is complete and Ms. Quinn is moving on, readers who’ve enjoyed the Bridgertons might well enjoy just as much as I did a look back to where it all started. As I’m sure ever reader knows, you always take a bit of a risk in revisiting a book you loved in the past. Well, I needn’t have worried since, happily, this old favorite actually more than lived up to my fond memories.