Book Review

The Viscount Who Loved Me, by Julia Quinn


Title: The Viscount Who Loved Me
Author: Julia Quinn
Publication Info: Avon 2000
ISBN: 0-380-81557-5
Genre: Regency

Among the keepers I couldn’t part with when it was time to Thin the Collection of Dusty Romances Prior to Moving were most of my Julia Quinn novels, and many of the Nora Roberts’. I did toss half the Roberts because I never go back and reread them. In fact, I suspect that much of the reason I kept them in the first place is that I often buy Robert’s books (because you know she needs the royalties, NOT) and I feel so bad about spending $7.00 or more on a freaking paperback that I figure I ought to keep it – almost like wearing a shirt you paid too much for as often as you can to “get your money’s worth.” There are a few Roberts novels I go back and reread.

But the Julia Quinns? I reread them all the freaking time. They’re the romance equivalent of chocolate chip cookies, chicken soup, macaroni and cheese, cupcakes – comfort foods of which I haven’t met a single example that I would turn down. Quinn’s books, particularly the early Bridgertons, are light, funny, friendly books, with interesting characters facing unique situations, and story lines that come close to falling onto established cliches then yank backwards into originality. Quinn seems to sit with a deck of “character cliche” cards and plays with scenes so she can turn each one on its ear. She’s even delved in other novels into rewriting fairy tale stories in Regency settings, and used little-seen plot devices, like impoverished noblemen looking to marry American heiresses. Quinn novels for me are like comforting stories I’ve read a million times and liked, but I go in knowing that the comforting elements will be redealt into original patterns that I haven’t seen before.  So pass me a Bridgerton cupcake, and let’s look at the last one I reread.

The Viscount Who Loved Me is the story of Anthony Bridgerton, the Viscount of the title, and Kate Sheffield. It’s the second in the Bridgerton series, after The Duke and I, which is probably my favorite Quinn and is the story of Anthony’s younger sister Daphne. Daphne, being a girl, would marry before her older brothers, if one follows the standard age timeline of the Regency period, where debs marry titled gentlemen 10 or so years their senior, so it makes perfect sense that Daphne is first, then Anthony.

Anthony assumed the title upon the sudden death of his father, whom he adored. The Bridgertons enjoyed an abnormal-for-the-time family relationship, with all the children in the household seen, heard, and spoken with by their parents at all times. The Bridgerton children don’t hide in the nursery until they come of age; they are part of the family from the beginning, and as the eldest, Anthony enjoyed a marvelous relationship with his mother, and his father.

When a bee sting kills his father instantly, Anthony, 18 years of age at the time, is left devestated and utterly convinced that he cannot ever think to surpass his father in any way, including age. He assumes the mantle of responsibility with appropriate gravity and seriousness, and sets to helping his mother raise his seven brothers and sisters. Understandably, Anthony matures into a very serious, emotionally quiet man, and after seeing his sister Daphne married off, decides it is time he found a wife, sired an heir, and ensured the inheritance of the title before his demise, which he remains convinced will be at his 38th year.

His requirements are simple: must be attractive, relatively intelligent (can’t have stupid heirs, after all), and not anyone with whom he has the remotest chance of falling in love with. Oh, the mighty, how they fall.

Upon querying his younger brothers, Colin and Benedict (have I mentioned, as a reviewer of this series ought, that the Bridgertons are named in alphabetical order? Indeed, they are!), who the “diamond of the season” is that year, he decides to marry said diamond, a lovely young woman named Edwina Sheffield.

The problem is, of course, Edwina’s stepsister, Kate. Edwina announced that she would not marry without her sister’s approval, and so all the foppish dunderheads of the ton, including Baron Dunderhead himself (I’m kidding) waltz poor Kate around the dance floor, hoping to make a fair enough impression to be allowed to continue courting Edwina.

This is the point at which I find one of the many reasons I love Quinn’s books: unique twists on common situations. Consider Edwina and Kate.

Edwina is gorgeous. Perfect in every flawless way, a vision to behold, in fact. She’s also kind, clever, smart, and adores her sister. Kate you might expect to be jealous, bitter, and spiteful towards her beautiful younger stepsister. In fact, Kate had to delay her own coming-out because her family could only afford one season for the both of them. So Kate is edging towards spinsterhood while Edwina came out in her prime. It would be passing easy for an author to make Edwina stupid or spiteful or self-centered and nasty. But she’s not. It would be equally easy for Kate to be mean, petulant, and suffering from deep and unmanageable self-esteem issues because of her incredibly good looking stepsister, with whom she must attend functions and alongside whom she must seek a husband. But she is not.

In fact, Kate and Edwina are genuinely friends as well as sisters. Just as the Bridgertons are a delight to read about for their close family relationships, Kate and Edwina aren’t annoyingly frought with sibling rivalry. It’s true that Kate cannot stand empty headed compliments comparing her with her sister, it’s not just because they hurt her feelings and cause her to become a green-eyed monster of fury and plots for revenge. It’s because she knows the person offering the compliment is so full of shit his eyes are brown. Kate is attractive, but Edwina is stunning, and she knows it. Foppish liars are stupid and not to be tolerated.

After Anthony sets his future on the shoulders of Edwina, hilarity ensues. Forced to interact with Kate more and more frequently, he realizes he is attracted to her, even as she gets under his skin in ways he would rather not think about. In turn, Anthony bugs the hell out of Kate, particularly as he begins his address of her sister by doing the one thing she cannot respect: comparing her to her sister.

The relationship between Kate and Anthony during their courtship is satisfying for so many reasons. First, the sparks, oh, how they fly. One of the reasons I like Quinn’s writing is that her character development rests mainly on dialogue, which I love, and so the conversations between Kate and Anthony reveal each individual, their relationship, and, as witnessed by the reader, their increasing feelings for one another. It’s not just “I hate you!” “No, I Hate YOU!” though there is some fighting involved. The bickering between them isn’t stupid; often it’s part of the larger sibling banter that involves his family, especially when one or more brothers are at a ball with them, and it slides back and forth between meaningful conversation that reveals much, and snide comments that spark equal replies in the other.

Further, there’s no lightning bold of “Holy Crap I’m in Luuuuuurve ™!” Anthony might wander around a bit too much cursing about his growing feelings for Kate, but he also is forced to acknowledge them, which I appreciate as a reader. The development of his feelings is a gradual increase that the reader can see, and the same is true for Kate, though her feelings also conflict with her regard for her sister, whom she knows is the real object of Anthony’s attention. Being jealous of her sister is a feeling that doesn’t sit well with Kate, though one wonders that she hasn’t deep down had more practice.

So if I’m so high over the moon about Julia Quinn novels, and I keep and reread them all the time, what are the flaws of this book, and why did I give it only a B+?

Candy and I once discussed our grading rubric, and what the lowest cutoff point grade would be for a “keeper” book. We both agreed that it was probably B+ and above. This book, while I love to reread it, suffers from some flaws that make it delicious for the first half and “ok, time to finish this book” for the second. And that’s what keeps it from getting in to the A-territory.

As I mentioned previously in another brief rumination, the hero and heroine get married just past the middle of the book. And this is a serious let-down for me. For one thing, the conflict between the hero and heroine is largely resolved by marriage – you know they aren’t going to split up, and though you know they will ultimately end up together when you start reading the book, to have them get married in the middle, without some major force of division overhanging them, just pushes the happily ever after too far forward for my tastes.

Further, I knew what the forces acting against the hero and heroine were, and they were largely personal demons that each has to face. I knew they’d face their problems and I knew they’d grow as characters, but to have one half of the expected conclusion neatly sewn up halfway through makes the rest of the book, for me, a bit of a drag. I know what’s going to happen. It’s a romance: there will be a happily ever after. That’s why I like them so much. I know there’s a happy ending. So if you locate the happy ending somewhere that isn’t an ending, it cheats me, because I know what to expect and know that no major forces of division will really and truly come between the heroine and the hero before the end of the book. Sure, she might get really pissed off and leave for a time, but without that ironclad security of marriage in the Regency time period, coupled with a lot of hot, sweaty coupling, a LOT more can happen between the couple to make their happily ever after seem more tentative.

Further, their personal demons served as part of the reason they were brought together, as it was something they had in common. But the problem with personal demons on the part of both hero and heroine is that they are personal – it’s not like she can crawl inside his knotty little brain and straighten that mess out. It’s not a question of behavior or overcoming a trauma to Looove and Trust again. The nature of their personal problems goes a bit deeper, but it’s a place of depth that exists in the character’s minds. So can one really help the other, aside from holding a hand and biting lips in an empathic fashion? Not so much.

The resolution of the novel was the problem for me: they got married, were forced into close quarters and had lots of sex, yet had to remain separate protagonists when it came to facing their own demons. They each earned their own happily ever after, but did they earn one together? I can’t really answer, because the sum of their relationship with one another was tabulated for them by the circumstances under which they married.

However, I do like Kate and I like Anthony, and while the denouement and resolution of the book is a let-down, the scenes with Kate and Anthony, and with Anthony’s family, are marvelous and wonderful and make me, the reader, a happy happy re-reader. It’s not so much that I have to read the entire story over and over again, though once I start a re-read I usually end up reading the whole story. It’s more the scenes and smiles I miss from particular segments of the story that I want to revisit, particularly the characters who I liked a great deal, like Daphne, her husband Simon, and Anthony’s other brothers and sisters. I like to visit this book frequently for the specific parts I remember fondly. So back on the keeper shelf it goes.

Comments are Closed

  1. Nicole says:

    Julia Quinn’s early books are some of my favorites.  Brighter Than the Sun is one of my favorites.  I’ve reread it so many times.  I just love when she gets to tell that nasty woman that she’s leaving the house and marrying a Duke (or whatever he is).  ANd..I dunno..I just love the dialogue. The latest ones haven’t been as good, but I still consider her an auto-buy.  She’s one of my comfort reads author.  But I am NOT one of those people who think Violet needs a hea.  I think she already has it. 

    Ah…for some reason reading JQ just gives me the warm fuzzies most of the time.  I like to turn that last page, sit the book down and just smile.

  2. Meljean says:

    I was just over at HelenKay’s blog mentioning a few of the Bridgerton books, and I completely forgot this one—how much I enjoyed it. I was nodding my head in agreement throughout this review. I find that when I re-read this story, I read the first half, and then skim through the second half, so I definitely agree with the ‘let-down’ feeling.

    But, despite that, it is a keeper for me, too.

  3. Meljean says:

    “But I am NOT one of those people who think Violet needs a hea.”

    Yikes! There are people clamoring for a Violet romance? I agree—particularly after her conversation with Francesca about being a widow (god, I loved that part) to give her a different romance would feel tacked on and…well, not right.

    Oh—and I was just thinking of something that weirded me out about this book: the Author’s Note at the end. It never even occurred to me that Anthony was going to SPOILER!!! die young after the end of the book from a bee sting. But once it was mentioned in the A/N, I was like: “Gah! I was this close to a tragic ending I never knew about!”

  4. Meljean says:

    Sigh. I just realized that my wording made it sound like he *did* die. That should be “Anthony might SPOILER!!! die young…”

    ….crawling away to sob over my dying brain cells.

  5. Sarah says:

    Nicole, I am the same way about JQ. Warm fuzzy comfort reads, like a romance novel made from flannel pajamas and a down comforter. I put them down and smile like a fool. I think I actually cried at the end of one of her books – probably ‘Brighter than the Sun’ or ‘The Duke and I.’

    And Violet does NOT need a HEA! I can understand people wanting to know about her story with her late husband, even knowing the unhappying ending. But Lord, pairing her off? Whatever hero JQ came up with would not measure up to Violet. She’s a motherhood icon in the romance world, which already has a share of bad moms!

  6. Nicole says:

    Yeah, she’s the best romance mother.  I think I like her earlier books better.  Brighter Than the Sun, Everything and the Moon, Minx, Dancing at Midnight, and the early Bridgertons…but I do love all of them.

  7. I read one Julia Quinn: The Duke and I. I thought it was just kinda okay, and utterly forgettable.

    But it’s okay if I’m the only one who thinks that way. People love her books. I just don’t get it.

    (said for the sake of solidarity with potential lurkers who might be thinking the same thing as me)

  8. Jennifer says:

    I found a confusing typo there.

    “It’s the second in the Bridgerton series, after The Duke and I, which is probably my favorite Quinn and is the story of Anthony’s younger ***brother*** Daphne. Daphne, being a girl…”

  9. Sarah says:

    What? You didn’t know there as cross dressing in the Bridgerton series? What did you think the “bridge” stood for, anyway?

    Sorry about that- will fix post-haste. Thanks.

  10. shainamaydel says:

    heart. i love these books! this was the first bridgerton i read, totally by accident, but then like years later i started reading the others and realized…wow, i read this a long time ago! havent bought them yet, but i have no space on my shelves anyway…

  11. Jen C says:

    Finally started reading this Julia Quinn, and I am hooked!  I love her!  I especially love the Bridgertons, and their lovely close family relationship.  I am from a very small family, and I love that, and I don’t want to be part of a large one- but these books make me kinda wish I was.  As long as we were rich and awesome, of course.

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