Monday, 4 April 2016
#CBR8 Book 34: "It's In His Kiss" by Julia Quinn
Rating: 4.5 stars
Hyacinth Bridgerton is the youngest, and probably most outspoken and nosy of all the eight Bridgerton siblings. Her mother is starting to despair that she'll ever find a husband, as even with a raised dowry, her refusal to suffer fools and her tendency to talk interested suitors' ears off has tended to scare off most potential suitors. Hyacinth herself is quite happy to become a spinster, she certainly can't abide the thought of a man who can't match wits with her. If she is going to marry someone, she wants a marriage as loving as that of her parents', which she has heard so much about throughout her life, even though her father died before she was born. She could quite happily see herself becoming as formidable a presence in society as her friend Lady Danbury, for whom she reads every Tuesday.
Lady Danbury, however, thinks her favourite grandson, the rakish Gareth St. Clair might just be the man to capture Hyacinth's attention. She's more or less raised him since he had a massive falling out with his father a decade earlier. With his older brother, one of the few people Gareth ever cared about dead, Gareth finds himself in the possession of his grandmother's diary and his sister-in-law seems to think it's important that he learn its content. Unfortunately, it's in Italian and Gareth doesn't know anyone who speaks the language. He visits his grandmother to see if she knows anyone, since she knows anyone who's worth knowing, and discovers that her favourite young companion does indeed claim to know quite a bit of the language.
Hyacinth's grasp of Italian might not be the best, but she knows enough to gradually decode the diary and she promises not to tell anyone else about what she discovers. Lady Danbury is delighted that the project will throw the young people closer together, never dreaming of what secrets Hyacinth will uncover. Gareth is in desperate need of money as his loathsome father seems to be determined to gamble away as much of the family fortunes as possible, only to make sure Gareth inherits nothing but debts. Hyacinth claims that his grandmother may have hidden a fortune in hidden jewels somewhere in his father's house though, and if they could find them, Gareth's future would be secure.
I always remembered Hyacinth and Gareth's book as one of my favourites, and was happy to see that it still holds up remarkably well. The banter between Hyacinth and her mother Violet, or with Lady Danbury and especially with Gareth is stellar and I had completely forgotten that this is the first book to mention the amazing Gothic novel parody Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, which also plays a very important part in two of my other favourite Quinn novels, What Happens in London and Ten Things I Love About You. It was long enough since I read either book that I never connected the lurid fiction that Hyacinth reads out loud to Lady Danbury every Tuesday with the book that is so instrumental in getting Olivia Bevelstoke and Sir Harry Valentine together. The appearance and several mentions of that book alone is enough for me to raise my rating of this book half a star from my previous one. It's not a perfect five star book, though. Gareth's father really is a complete creep and his moustache-twirling ways annoy me enough that the book is yet half a star away from those coveted five.
The esteemed Mrs. Julien claims that there are only ever five plots in romance novels with minor variations, and this book features the trope of the rake and the wallflower. Hyacinth is really a wallflower by choice rather than through unfortunate circumstances. She drives off interested parties because of her propensity to speak her mind candidly and often, she's stubborn and really rather devious. Because she is so strong-minded and has been raised in a very loving environment, she can't see herself with anyone who can't stand his ground with her, something she has yet to meet a memorable man who does. Of course, her very perceptive mother, who has at this point married off six of her eight children (Francesca twice), observes that perhaps Hyacinth won't even let herself consider the men who make her a bit uncomfortable, precisely because they may in fact be able to match her wits. She rules those out without even giving them a chance to approach her. With these words in mind, Hyacinth gives Gareth both a second and a third look and after she starts decoding his grandmother's diary, they have ample opportunity to meet, and her attraction to him doesn't exactly lessen as time passes.
Gareth is really rather lonely and his rakish ways seem like more an excuse for him to try to find closeness with anyone at all. Having become estranged from his hateful father at the age of fifteen, he has only really had his older brother and his grandmother Lady Danbury to care for, and who cared for him in return. With his brother newly dead, he finds himself the heir to a title and estate he never wanted, although if his father has his way, there will be nothing but debt and destitution left by the time he can inherit. He does his very best to taunt and ridicule Gareth every time they meet in public, making him feel helpless and worthless and it cannot be denied that his father's jeering comments that a woman like Hyacinth Bridgerton being far to good for the likes of Gareth initially makes him consider wooing her and winning her just to prove a point. The more time they spend together, though, trying to decode his Italian grandmother's secrets and searching for her lost treasure, the more he realises that his grandmother is right in doting on Hyacinth, because she's remarkable and he would indeed be lucky if she would agree to be his wife.
Of the four latter Bridgerton books, this is the only one I think is really essential reading. I loved revisiting Hyacinth, Gareth (and Lady Danbury) and experiencing their treasure hunt once more. The current e-book versions on sale don't yet contain the second epilogues, but for those wondering if Hyacinth and Gareth ever find his grandmother's jewelry, they should absolutely seek out the second epilogue, currently available in the collection The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.