I love Julia Quinn books. One of my favorites is easily one of the top romances I’ve read (That’d be The Duke and I, which if I go near it, it sucks me in and I reread the whole goddam thing no matter how much I have to do). Quinn is one of my favorites.
Side story: Quinn is also one of the very first romance authors I ever interacted with personally. Way, way back in the day, like, six or seven years ago, I emailed her via her website to ask what had happened to the dog in the opening scenes of Minx, as the heroine saves a young boy who ran out into the street after his puppy, and the puppy’s safety isn’t mentioned again. This is classic Sarah – I could blithely read through any number of historical anachronisms, but a MISSING DOG?! OMG. I emailed the author. And she totally wrote back to me. I was squeeing. Ask Hubby -he was laughing at me.
I realize that the following is a ridiculous concept to anyone who really, really digs Quinn – but suppose you saved up The Lost Duke of Wyndham since its release date back in May, so you could read it back to back with Mr. Cavendish, I Presume?. Or, you saved Wyndham so you could read Cavendish first? Or you’ve read both and wonder if your sequence would have been improved had you read the latter first? Jane and I are here to answer all these questions you probably didn’t bother to ask yourself.
Both books contain the same story from two different pairs of perspective. Thomas, the Duke of Wyndam, is betrothed to Amelia, though he shows little interest in actually getting to know her. His grandmother, the Dowager, lives with him, along with her companion, a young woman named Grace. Grace and Thomas have a quiet but unlikely friendship of sorts, and the less said about the Dowager, the better. Then, surprise, some dude name Jack shows up, and suddenly the question of who is the Duke of Wyndham and who will marry whom consumes the family – not to mention the question of how awful can one dowager be? (The answer: holy shit.) The books examine the same sequence of events from varying perspectives (what I called the Twin of Ice/Twin of Fire treatment), allowing readers to experience two sets of heroes, two sets of heroines, and two pairs of protagonists struggling to figure out who and what they are while battling honor, history, and attraction.
More succinctly, as Jane put it: two men. One dukedom. Two girls in need of marrying. One awful grandmama.
Quinn provided us with both books, and asked me to read Wyndham first, and asked Jane to read Cavendish first. What follows is our conversation once we finished both. BEWARE YE WHO TRAVEL HERE—SPOILERS AHOY!
Jane: I read Cavendish first, just for the fun of it and ultimately liked Cavendish better because I thought Amelia was slightly more interesting and thought Thomas’ dilemma better written (having a dukedom potentially torn from you had to be really horrible).
Jack’s life in Wyndham seems fairly satisfactory and even his past drama wasn’t wrought enough in the beginning to make me really root for him. I thought Grace was toothless.
There’s a definite difficulty level in writing two stories that overlap the same time period and include the same scenes. I thought that while this was innovative, reading the stories back to back showed some problems such as the repetition of significant chunks of dialogue. I would have liked to seen a lot less of the overlapping dialogue and other ways of retelling the same story whether it was using some other characters or what not.
Sarah: Ultimately I liked Wyndham better, but I thought the inner monologue of Jack the more interesting of the two men. That said, his attempts to subvert tension with unflappable humor and Thomas’ dilemma of having his dukedom ripped from him and his question as to what that leaves him with, and who ultimately he is, were equally fascinating. Grace was often toothless, but also as much a victim of circumstance as Jack, so their ability to relate to one another I found enticing to read about. And when Grace stood up for herself, such as the rare private moments where she teased Thomas, or made rather cutting jokes with her friends, her character was sparkling good fun.
What bothered me, as a result, was Thomas’ sudden realization of the degree to which Grace’s life sucks, because no one has put a limit on Evil Granny’s behavior. While he was the duke, he could have done more – he admits it and he is ashamed of himself, but by the time the story rolls around, years of the status quo have made his admission a bit too small. Thomas holds Grace’s happiness in his hands to a much greater degree than he seems to realize – even as he treats her with extreme censure for not telling him about Jack’s existence.
I didn’t think the repeated dialogue was a problem, though. For one thing, the books aren’t going to be released simultaneously, so certain points that hinge the narratives together, like all parties present at the same scene, told from two different – or four different – perspectives didn’t bother me. But what I did want was more of the newer parts of the story when I read Cavendish after Wyndham. Granted I was reading them back to back as you were, so I knew what was happening and thus I wanted more of the newer perspective of Amelia or Thomas immediately following or during a matching scene that occurred in both books. So I found the ending of Cavendish very delicious, and was so curious what happened with Amelia and Thomas. The additional scenes in Cavendish revealed a very satisfying happy ending, which was doubly satisfying due to the fact that it was new, whereas the story told twice and read one after another was not as new by the time I was done. Wyndham‘s jump-forward into the merry rosy future bothered me because after all that neat-o innovation with romance storytelling, it was a very pedantic extra reinforcement of the happy ending.
Jane: I thought Jack being the happy go lucky guy with the smooth tongue was a great contrast with Thomas, but I felt that it wasn’t a contrast that was sharp enough unless you read both books. I totally agree with Jack and Grace being victims of their circumstances, but the romance between the two of them (and between Thomas and Amelia) was tepid.
I see your point about Thomas and I bet my preference is due to reading his book first and thus “bonding” with him in some sense. I thought the evil granny was wayyyyy more evil in book 1 than book 2. In fact, the only evil-ness that I saw were the two scenes bossing Grace around. I was really shocked when I read Wyndham as to how truly mean and degrading she was and did not understand AT ALL why Thomas hadn’t put his foot down. I wished his evolution from being a self absorbed prig would have been more gradual.
I actually never totally bought into Thomas’ love for Amelia and I wondered if Amelia’s feelings weren’t just an extended crush on someone she thought she should have a crush on. These women lacked grativas for me.
The stories were very centered on Thomas and Jack and I think it would have benefited both stories to see a slower and deeper evolution of their co dependency. I thought a co-dukeship would have been wonderful and I agree with you that the baby filled epilogue (that had no real purpose) was missing the point.
Sarah: Grace and Jack had a very limited time of exposure to one another, contrasted with a lifetime of forced encounters for Thomas and Amelia, who knew of each other their whole lives. I had to make a bit of a jump mentally to buy their whirlwind of a “OMG I want to be with you for EVAH” but because I liked Grace (and totally and deeply empathized with her being in an unpleasant position out of necessity and lack of acceptable alternatives) and I liked Jack, I was willing to do it. But then I question lately how much I as a reader overwrite – or underwrite – a romance I am rooting for, adding details and accessories to the relationship that the writer may not specifically include. I bet a whole shiny button that I have that tendency, but I don’t think I did it here. With four perspectives on the same story, there was plenty to chew on.
I am tickled that we have the same experience – I like Wyndham better than Cavendish because I read it first. However, I wasn’t feeling Wyndham‘s angst as much as Cavendish’s.
Jane: But then I question lately how much I as a reader overwrite – or underwrite – a romance I am rooting for, adding details and accessories to the relationship that the writer may not specifically include.
I totally do that, particularly when I am recommending a book that I think others won’t like. I work extra hard to find reasons to support it. But I think it’s somewhat of response to generating a defense. I.e., how are you to justify liking a book if you can’t provide examples. Is there something wrong with inference? And perhaps that is the difference between liking and not liking a book.
Or it could be that our personal “bonds” with the characters turn those inferences positively or negatively. Both these books are adequate and they get props for being overlapping, but both books suffered in detail so I would give them the same grade – C+ or B-
Sarah: As far as inference and supporting characters we like with details in our minds not written in the text, I am rather indulgent about it and thus second guess myself constantly on that basis. For example, as pertains to these books, I’ve worked in jobs that were in companies so small they fell below any regulation of labor or employee conduct, and that lack of oversight left me and other coworkers unprotected and subject to ridiculous expectations and abuse from management – often literally. That experience made me relate to Grace and access those feelings of being so very stuck and trying to make the best of it, and thus I rooted doubly hard for her, especially the upstairs/downstairs self-doubt that in the end Amelia told her was silly. And it was, really. I love how there’s this expectation of horrific holy shit stormfire gossip if a gently bred lady of no title marries a great big title, and that’s reason enough to stand in one’s own way toward happiness, but courtesans! Marrying their protectors! Oh, it’s So Romantic and utterly no one would ever snub their children, of course not! What?! The?! Fuck?!!.
What I liked about Grace’s predicament in Wyndham was that she was perfectly acceptable in her conduct and her family history except that she’d been working as a lady’s companion. Her knowledge of the “below stairs” culture and the working life suddenly made her “unacceptable” for some very flimsy reasons. I could easily support and believe their happy ending was possible with minimal exclusion from society – whereas other books that feature reformed hos marrying titled dudes left me thinking, “No way, dude.”
The other thing I liked about Grace was her restraint and her poise. I’ve been in Grace’s shoes in the distant past, and found myself managing my temper and never standing up for myself until it was time to declare that enough was long past enough. So because I read into Grace’s experience my own experience, I liked her a whole pile of Swarovski-crystal-encrusted a lot.
But if I think back on her dispassionately, I loved her more when she was with Thomas, and how she gently needled him, and I wish their friendship would have been more developed – because it’s a brave thing to have the hero befriend another woman who doesn’t turn out to be a villainess, but merely someone who’s in love with someone else. That’s a rather courageous decision to create in terms of heroine and heroine’s new friend creation (and leaves me wondering what will happen to Elizabeth). So big ups to Quinn on that score.
Gradewise, the combined books merit a B-. Wyndham I give a B, and Cavendish I’d give a C, so the average for both would be B-.