Desert Isle Keeper
What Happens in London (#47 on our Top 100 Romances List)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on June 20, 2009
I know this will come as a shock to some people, but I’ve never been a big fan of Julia Quinn. It’s not that I dislike her books; it’s just that I’ve never loved any of them as others seem to. However, I could see a lot of wit and intelligence in her writing, so I’ve always been open to giving her another try. Since I’ve never read a non-Bridgerton book by her, I jumped on the chance to review What Happens In London and I’m so glad I did. I finally feel about this book what many others have come to feel over her other titles – warm and fuzzy would describe it well.
Olivia Bevelstoke, as the incredibly beautiful daughter of an earl, is a definite catch and has been proposed to many times in the three years she’s been out. But she’s never found the right guy. Now that her best friend is married and producing offspring, life has become a little dull. She still has plenty of friends and participates in many social functions, but she’s still looking for something to spark her interest. When her friends mention that her new neighbor, Sir Harry Valentine, murdered his fiancé, Olivia’s curiosity is piqued and she takes it upon herself to spy on the man. It’s not difficult to do; from her bedroom window on the second story, she can easily see into his office, where he appears to spend most of his time.
Growing up with a drunkard of a father has greatly affected Harry’s path in life. Despite his love of learning and desire to attend university, he flees his home as soon as an opportunity presents itself. This comes in the form of a military career when his cousin, Sebastian, to whom he is very close, buys a commission after they graduate from school. Now that the war with Napoleon is over, Harry is back in England working for the War Office. He is fluent in Russian, which is somewhat rare in England, so his translating skills are requested often. He spends day after day doing what he loves best, working with words and solving language puzzles. But lately he hasn’t been able to do much work, because his nosy neighbor has been staring at him incessantly.
When Harry and Olivia finally meet at a social function, Harry believes she is very cold. She often has a remote look on her face and he can barely coax any words from her. What he doesn’t realize is that Olivia is mortified. The last time she was spying on him, their eyes locked and she immediately dropped out of sight. So, she knows that he knows she was looking at him. And he knows that she knows he knows, because she pulled her curtains and hasn’t looked out for days. Despite the obvious tension, Harry can’t help but needle her with hints of her daily activities. By the end of the evening, each thinks very ill of the other person and decides avoidance is the proper course of action. But then Harry is assigned to watch Olivia, because a Russian prince suspected of having ties to Napoleon has taken an interest in her. What follows is the charming development of their relationship as they discover just how much fun they have in each other’s company.
What really worked in this book was the dialogue. There was such wit and humor that I couldn’t help but enjoy the characters and their repartee. It was so funny, in fact, that at times I was laughing out loud, earning myself some odd looks. The relationship was very well-developed; there was no rushing to get them married or into bed, just a natural progression from pseudo-enemies to friends to lovers. Some of their conversations take place between their windows, which added a Romeo and Juliet quality, though I never heard those lovebirds exchange sarcasm like these two do. It just made me happy to read the conversations between these two characters. There were also some hilarious moments involving the intrepid Miss Butterworth.
I only had a couple quibbles. Harry’s past and his problems with his family are really intriguing. His younger brother, Edward, lives with him and is heading down the same path as their father, drinking much of his day away. While some time was spent on this, I didn’t feel there was enough. There didn’t seem to be any kind of a resolution or tying up that particular storyline. The ending also sort of fell apart. Everything was progressing nice and slow, with a quiet, more pensive tone, when suddenly action breaks loose involving the Russian prince that includes kidnapping, guns, and shooting. It was completely out of place and didn’t match the rest of the story, so I really could have done without that added bit of drama.
The one word I would use to describe What Happens In London is charming. I was thoroughly charmed by the characters, the prose, and the relationship development. The writing style was smart and clever and I was easily drawn into the story. This author has now won me to her side. This is her first book that I would wholeheartedly recommend, as well as the first one that will go on my keeper shelf, and I’m eager to investigate more of her post-Bridgerton novels.