…which some might say doesn’t necessarily entitle me to write a review of it. After all, I didn’t give it a chance in its entirety. Still, even though the series is composed of eight volumes, the individual books can be read as standalone stories so I think I have licence to offer commentary on the ones I got through and on my experience of the first 50% of the series before I made my escape.
I’d just like to emphasise that this is not a totally negative review, but neither is it overloaded with praise. Keeping the balance between like and dislike proved tricky to navigate!
So what prompted this mixed reaction? Back at the beginning of the summer, I chose to embark upon The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn, a well-known name in the historical romance genre. Set predominantly in the Regency Era, the series follows a family of eight siblings and their paths to romance. Each book is devoted to a different sibling.
I felt the series started off quite strongly and at first I was eager to encounter all the Bridgerton children and discover how each would find their happily-ever-afters. But, for various reasons, my enthusiasm began to flag the further I delved into the series and at the end of the fourth book I made the decision to call it a day.
Here is a brief account of what I thought of the books I completed.
Book 1: The Duke and I
In the opening instalment, Daphne Bridgerton makes a deal with Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings, to pretend to court one another – the arrangement will free Simon (who has vowed never to marry) from society mothers who want to wed him to their daughters, while making Daphne (who longs to be married) desirable in the eyes of other suitors. The problem is that Daphne starts to wish the courtship is real as she finds herself falling for Simon.
This was my favourite book by a considerable margin. I became engaged in the story quite quickly and I really liked the chemistry between Daphne and Simon. However, I did not approve of a certain questionable action on Daphne’s part in the second half of the book – it was out of character and caused me to lose some of my affection for her. Other than that though, it was an enjoyable read.
Book 2: The Viscount Who Loved Me
The eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony, decides it’s time to find a wife and picks out the season’s most eligible debutante, Edwina Sheffield, for the purpose. His choice is complicated by Edwina’s spirited older sister, Kate, who is opposed to the marriage and who unexpectedly becomes the one occupying Anthony’s thoughts and dreams.
I found this book more farcical than The Duke and I, with silly incidents involving a dog and a bee, the latter of which was actually used to bring about a crucial point of plot development. Certain elements of the story were really similar to the first book, including dunkings in water, marriages forced by circumstances, and the male protagonists revealing long-held secrets after getting married. The series fizzled a little for me at this point but I was still optimistic.
Book 3: An Offer From a Gentleman
Benedict Bridgerton falls immediately in love with a mysterious lady at a masquerade ball but she disappears before he can learn her name. A couple of years later, he experiences similar feelings of attraction for a maid called Sophie Beckett, not knowing she is the same woman.
This was undoubtedly the lowest point of my acquaintance with the Bridgertons. Although it did have a romance between an upper class gentleman and a woman perceived as lower class, a combination I love to read about, its homage to the premise of Cinderella was so far from subtle as to be quite irritating. Worse than that, however, was that I found Benedict to be unlikeable, arrogant, childish and overbearing. A detestable ‘hero’ is quite a blunder in this genre.
Book 4: Romancing Mister Bridgerton
The third son in the Bridgerton family, Colin is known for his charming smile and easygoing nature but wishes he could amount to something more than that. After yet another trip abroad, he returns to England to find that Penelope Featherington, the wallflower he’s known for years, might be just the person who could change his life.
The only saving grace that motivated me to go on and read the fourth instalment in The Bridgerton Series was that this one featured Colin as the main character and I had been very fond of him as a side character during his brief appearances in the previous three books. At the same time, I was growing weary with the series overall and suspected this would be my last foray into it. The story was decent enough but included a public display of affection towards the end that was so inappropriate for the times it left me cringing. A bonus for completing Romancing Mister Bridgerton was that it revealed a big secret which had been kept throughout the series up to this point, so I was pleased to gain that knowledge after the question had been dangled for so long.
And that was where I decided to slip out the exit door. I read the blurbs for the remaining four books (To Sir Phillip, With Love, When He Was Wicked, It’s In His Kiss and On the Way to the Wedding) and, while I had a passing interest in finding out how the final four siblings achieved their happy endings, I simply wasn’t driven to invest any more time in reading the series.
Aside from some rather contrived storylines, what put me off was that the writing turned out to be just ordinary. Repetition was a major transgression: ‘ground out’, ‘blurted out’, ‘choked’ and ‘murmured’ were all used to excess, not to mention there were so many smiles, nods and raised eyebrows that I’m surprised the characters’ facial muscles didn’t seize up.
Having said that, the books were generally well proofread and did contain nuggets of humour which lifted them every now and then. I liked the framework of gossip columns that came at the start of each chapter and found them a good device for exposition. I have to admit, I thought smugly all along that I had the big secret pegged but it transpired I was incorrect – credit to Julia Quinn for wrongfooting me on that one!
On a final note, I’m at pains to stress that I don’t wish to engage in any author bashing here. While these books did not turn out to be my glass of milk (a cup of tea not being my beverage of choice), I have a healthy measure of respect for Julia Quinn. She knows her audience and she serves them extremely well, providing FAQs in relation to her books, insight into her research and writing, 2nd epilogues for fans who want to know what happened to all the characters years afterwards, and merchandise branded with family trees, quotes and more. I enjoyed wandering around her website and exploring all that she has to offer. Hats off to a savvy author who knows how to market her books.
I won’t say I’ll never go back to The Bridgerton Series to finish it or that I’ll never read another book by Julia Quinn. But for now, time is pressing and other books are calling.