For those of you not familiar with the romance genre, Julia Quinn is a Major Name in historical romance. She's not as big as Nora Roberts, but she's certainly the leader of the pack of Regency-era romance writers that emerged in the 1990s following the success of the Pride and Prejudice miniseries. This is the first book not related to the popular Bridgerton series that she's released since 2000, and it's surprisingly good.
I've never been a huge fan of Julia Quinn, though I do read her books. My issue with her is that her books are just too perfect--the heroine is always decent, smart but not too smart, pretty but not too pretty, etc. The hero is likewise rich (they are always, always rich), handsome, dashing but not so much that he would ever dream of abandoning the heroine, and an overall a nice guy. The plot moves along in the expected way, and at the end your have a pleasantly believable HEA. Quinn's books feel to me like the equivalent of literary pablum: I have never hated one of her books, and I have never loved one of her books. They're just pleasant, non-thought inducing ways to spend the time.
The Lost Duke of Wyndham is pretty much more of the same, although technically Quinn has really upped her game with this book. The storyline, characterizations, and plot twists are tight and solid. The beginning was a little rough because the heroine kissed the hero within the first ten pages and, of course, swooned. Urn, swooning, really? Let's rewind 75 years and try again. But somehow, the plot and the hero pulled me out of my skepticism and dragged me back into the book.
Since this is Julia Quinn, it's hard for me to say anything too bad or good about the book, although there was one bad point and one good point that stood out to me. The really great part of the book is that, although it's pretty clear from the beginning that Jack (hero) is the real Duke of Wyndham, you don't know until the end if he's going to accept that fact and take over his duties. Things become even more complicated when a Major Plot Twist is revealed.
The bad part of the book is Jack and Grace's (heroine) relationship. It starts out with the rather unlikely kiss-and-swoon and picks up a bit once Jack moves into the ducal palace; but although the two are clearly attracted to one another, I had difficulty seeing them as a real couple. The sex scene was kinda awkward. Even worse, I barely cared if these two got a HEA. The central relationship in the book was actually the one between Jack and his long-lost grandmother, and that was almost completely ignored. I wanted Jack and the dowager duchess to come to some sort of understanding or armistice, but they never did. And you would think that a man who spent his whole life unaware of half of his family tree would be a little curious about them, but he never evinces any curiosity in the inhabitants of the palace other than Grace.
Interestingly, the reviews for this book on Amazon are completely spread out--there is a nearly-equal number of people who gave the book one star, two stars, three stars, and so on. This is amazing because usually people LOVE Quinn's books--for The Duke and I, 118 out of 164 reviews gave the book 5 stars. Even toothpaste commercials can't claim results like that. Could The Lost Duke of Wyndham actually be arousing more feeling in people than that of warm fuzziness?? One reviewer actually called this book "too charming," which is amazing because all of her books are charming--the difference here is that people actually seem to be noticing. In a book where Quinn is clearly growing as a writer, the light-hearted Kodachrome feeling that carried her earlier work is beginning to feel more like artifice than ambiance. I'm not suggesting Quinn stop writing romance, but (sad to say) she might benefit from writing in another subset of the genre for a while. Paranormal romance, anyone?
*Reposted from my old, non-book blog, 6/23/08
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