Monday 22 February 2016

#CBR8 Book 16: "The Duke and I - with 2nd Epilogue" by Julia Quinn

Page count: 437 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Miss Daphne Bridgerton is one of the oversized Bridgerton brood (there are eight of them in total). She is the eldest daughter and her mother despairs that she isn't really attracting promising suitors. Not that it's all that easy with three overprotective elder brothers who can scare off anyone but the staunchest at heart, or the fact that most male members of the ton regard her as a very good sport, but certainly not an exciting marriage prospect. So when she runs into her brother Anthony's friend Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, recently back from the continent, with the reputation of quite the rake, they strike up a deal. He wants the marriage-minded mamas to stop thrusting their eligible young daughters into his path, and she wants to appear more attractive to society in general. If she's courted by a duke, more men will take notice and she's likely to find a suitable mate.

Simon, due to complicated childhood issues and a desire to thwart his now dead father, is determined never to marry or sire children. Daphne wants nothing more than to get married and be a mother. Their courtship is supposed to be for show only, and Simon keeps telling himself that compromising his best friend's sister would be a terrible idea. When they are nonetheless caught in a rather heated embrace by the overprotective Anthony, it seems as if Simon might choose death by duel rather than actually marry Daphne. She manages to change his mind, reconciling herself to a life without children. When she discovers the reasons behind his reluctance to marry her and father children, Daphne becomes determined to change his mind once more. She doesn't want to give up her dreams of motherhood and knows Simon would make a wonderful father.

In my memory, The Duke and I was the book that made me re-discover romance as a genre. Avon had the book available to read in its entirety on their website and I read it over the course of one day. This was before e-books were a big thing, nowadays, they just would have released the book for free for a limited time. Looking in my big nerdy notebook where I obsessively note down everything I've read since 2007, however, it's Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible that holds that honour. The Duke and I was the fifth of recommened romances I read in 2008, but while it wasn't the very first, it certainly spurred my love of romances a lot, because it introduced me to the Bridgertons, one of the greatest families I can think of from any genre.

There are the eight children, four sons and four daughters, of Violet and Edmund Bridgerton, named alphabetically from Anthony, the eldest, to Hyacinth, the youngest, who wasn't even born when her father died. His widow, Violet, the Dowager Viscountess, has it as her life's mission to marry off her numerous offspring, but she's also not so desperate that she doesn't want them to find someone to love, as she loved their father. The family feels authentic, with brothers and sisters teasing and tormenting each other. The brothers are protective of their sisters' reputations, the sisters are determined to make sure their brothers are constantly exasperated, but also end up with pleasant wives, no matter their social background. As well as a large, loving and incredibly likable family at the centre, because while this book has Daphne as a heroine, you had best get used to her siblings as supporting characters, The Duke and I also introduces Lady Whistledown, gossip columnist extraordinaire, whose witty and observant reports from society gatherings form the introduction to each chapter. As the series goes on, the mystery of whom Lady Whistledown is becomes greater and I for one can say, I had no idea and was delighted when it was revealed.

My big book of books has also revealed to me, that while I have re-read several of the other Bridgerton books more than once, this is the first time I've re-visited The Duke and I since May 2008. Julia Quinn is currently doing a big online re-read of the entire series, with each of the books on sale in e-book for a week or two, and other famous romance writers sharing their stories of how the Bridgertons have made their lives richer. I decided that it was the perfect time to pick up all the books once more. Having now re-read this, I can see why I loved it so much when I first read it, but also never really saw the need to re-read it.

While Simon and Daphne's story is a sweet one, the introduction of the family take up quite a bit of page space, and compared to later books in the series, some of the angst and plot contrivances in this book make it less fun than some of her siblings' romances. I am not a huge fan of the way Simon deals with his unresolved resentment issues towards his father, and I'm even less ok now than I was in 2008 with the way Daphne eventually gets around the fact that Simon doesn't want children. Both of the characters are wrong in their way and treat their significant other poorly as a result. I still really like the book, but it's fallen somewhat in my general estimation.

A few years after Ms. Quinn finished the series, she wrote a number of second epilogues for the various books, and each one of these are now included with the main novel for the first time. You can also get all of the second epilogues and a novella about the Bridgerton matriarch, Violet, in a collection called The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After. In the second epilogue for this book, it becomes clear that after having had four children in short succession nearly twenty years ago, Daphne finds herself with child once more, to the amusement and shock of her entire family. I don't really think the story adds anything of necessity to the already existing book, but don't mind its existence, either. If you already own the book in some respect, you do not need to buy a new copy for the extra epilogue. If you haven't ever had the joy of reading a Bridgerton novel, this book is a very good start.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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