Tuesday 23 February 2021

#CBR13 Book 6: "Dancing at Midnight" by Julia Quinn

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Lady Arabella Blydon is staying with her newly married cousin in the country when she runs into the brooding and mysterious Lord John Blackwood, a former war hero who turns out to be friends with her cousin's husband. She quickly ascertains that he is just as attracted to her as she is to him, and cannot understand why he refuses to give in and admit his feelings. Frustrated that he seems utterly besotted by her one second and determined to stay away from her the next, she devises a plan to make him declare his intentions once and for all.

John Blackwood is tormented by the events of his past and has nightmares about some of the dreadful situations he was helpless to prevent as a soldier. As a younger son, he's not entirely sure he feels like he deserves the title and estate he's been granted by the crown as thanks for his service. When he meets Lady Arabella, he is instantly smitten, both by her beauty and her intelligence, but he knows he could never be deserving of her and does his best to try to convince her of this fact. When he hears that she has returned to London and likely close to a betrothal with another man, he doesn't waste much time in getting to the capital to win his lady.

Since Netflix adapted Julia Quinn's The Duke and I into the first season of the very popular Bridgerton, she's been mentioned in a lot of articles recently. She's been writing Regency romances since 1995, publishing more than 30 different stories (if you count books and novellas), yet this novel is only her second one ever. While I have greatly enjoyed a lot of Quinn's novels since I rediscovered my love of romance novels in 2007-2008, it really shows that this is an early effort of hers, and neither the plotting, characterisation, or wit from many of her later novels is really present here. 

Arabella is just a little bit too perfect, she's well-read, opinionated, charming, beautiful, has had scores of suitors and quite a few proposals, yet just hasn't found that one right guy yet. She appears to have no flaws and as such, she's not all that interesting. Blackwood, on the other hand, is a complete mess and while I get that war is hell and all that, his constant shifts from basically seeming madly in love with Arabella to pushing her away the very next second got pretty exhausting. While she wasn't all that interesting to read about, I genuinely don't see why she would ever fall for a broody curmudgeon like Blackwood, and that's coming from someone who normally tends to like broody, tormented heroes.

There's also a subplot where someone from Blackwood's past has been sending him threatening notes and is out for revenge. This felt wholly unnecessary and the villain might as well have been a mustache-twirling caricature. It made an already rather lack-lustre plot even more preposterous and I did not care for it.

Since this is a book I've owned since 2016 and it fits into more than one of my many reading challenges this year, I made myself finish the book, even as I was rolling my eyes a lot. It is not a book that anyone save rabid Julia Quinn-completists need to read. The fact that it took me 12 days to finish should speak for itself. I have in the past read more than one Quinn novel a day - this was a slog. 

Judging a book by its cover: Julia Quinn's UK publishers have used these adorable cartoony covers long before this became the trend in pretty much all things romance. I like the indigo background colour and the pattern on the lady's dress is rather lovely. In fact, I think I like the cover of the book a lot more than its general contents. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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