Rating: 4.5 stars
Anthony Bridgerton is the eldest of eight siblings, the youngest of whom never even got to meet their father. Anthony idolised his father, Edmund, who he thought was everything a man could ever aspire to become, as a nobleman, husband or father. When Edmund Bridgerton died suddenly from a bee sting when Anthony was 18, he became convinced that like his father, he would die at the same age (38). Having spent most of his twenties taking care of the family's finances and trying to support his mother and be a good role model for his brood of younger siblings, Anthony has nonetheless developed quite the reputation as a rake. Now nearing his thirties, he's very aware of his responsibilities as a viscount and wants to get married and father heirs to continue the title. However, having seen the great love his parents shared, and how his father's death almost crushed his mother with grief, Anthony doesn't want to marry a woman whom he will love passionately, as then dying at a relatively young age will hurt her too much.
Having made the decision to marry, he asks his brothers who the most promising young debutante on the marriage mart is, and makes up his mind that she'll probably do as well as any other. There's only one obstacle. The lovely Miss Edwina Sheffield has declared that she'll not marry anyone who doesn't have the approval of her older half-sister Kate, and Miss Katharine Sheffield doesn't like feel that the rakish Viscount will be a suitable match for her sister at all. Taller, plainer and four years older than her sister, Kate is used to being compared unfavourably with her sister and knows gentlemen only dance with her and talk to her to get closer to Edwina. She and Anthony absolutely infuriate each other, although the viscount only becomes more determined to win Edwina's hand when her meddlesome sister is so against the match. He thrives on a challenge, after all. Now if he could only stop picturing Kate every time he closes his eyes, wooing her sister would be a lot easier.
Unlike The Duke and I, which I never re-read until this year, I've read The Viscount Who Loved Me several times, because I love Anthony and Kate's story. I like the way they absolutely can't stand each other to begin with, and with every encounter grow more and more attracted to each other, while constantly saying the wrong thing and infuriating each other. The "I hate you, I hate you, I can't stop thinking about your hair" trope can be incredibly frustrating if done badly, but it can also be a delight, and Julia Quinn manages it marvellously in this book. Anthony and Kate are well matched in absolutely every respect. They are both fiercely loyal to their families and both feel more comfortable in the countryside than in the city.
Anthony's absolute conviction that he'll never survive to see his 39th birthday, which he realises is irrational and daren't confide in anyone about is mirrored in Kate's all-consuming terror of thunderstorms and lightning, which she's suffered from since she was a child, but hides from her step-mother and sister, because she doesn't want them to worry. They both have some serious issues they need to work through before they can truly get their happy ending, Anthony just takes a bit longer about it. It'll also not come as any surprise to anyone who's read a single narrative before what is actually at the root of Kate's night terrors, but I don't think it was meant to be a grand revelation and doesn't in any way ruin the book for me that the obvious explanation was also the correct one.
As Anthony is trying to woo Kate's younger sister, most of the early romance is really the two protagonists bickering or trying to out-manoeuvre each other in delightful ways. There is a very fun game of Pall Mall (which from the context appears to be an early (and very aggressively played) version of croquet, which is taken up again in the 2nd epilogue, set 15 years later. All the Bridgertons are fiendishly competitive and everyone wants the black mallet, the "mallet of death". Unsportsmanlike behaviour seems to be encouraged and it's clear even before Anthony's fear of bees leads him to compromise Kate (in a way that had me howling with laughter the first time I read the book), that she is a perfect fit in the family in a way the quiet Edwina could never be.
Anthony and Kate's book is among my favourites of the many Bridgerton books. If only Anthony hadn't taken quite so long to actually confide in his wife and come to his senses, it would be a near-perfect book to me. As Quinn was one of the first romance authors I read when I re-discovered how awesome the romance genre could be, it's good to see that some of the books I read and loved early on, still stand up when re-reading. Highly recommended, and currently available at a reduced price, because of Quinn's online re-read in anticipation of her new book in March.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.