Ah, this is the one I’ve been waiting for: Penelope and Colin.
I am, of course, talking about “Romancing Mister Bridgerton” (2002), fourth in the series of Bridgerton romance novels by Julia Quinn.
Colin Bridgerton has just arrived back to Regency England from traveling abroad and he has a problem. The third-born of the alphabetically-named Bridgertons, he is, at 33, the oldest unmarried sibling and showing no signs of changing that status any time soon. But that’s not his problem. Lady Whistledown is.
Everyone in London knows Lady Whistledown writes a gossip sheet. Everyone reads it. Everyone talks about what Lady W writes. But no one knows who Lady Whistledown is. And now, after more than a decade, everyone is hot to find out.
That is a disaster waiting to happen, as far as Colin is concerned.
He’s sure he knows the identity of the Whistledown woman and if it gets out … it will ruin lives – namely those of his family. So he goes to the one person he can trust to help him: Penelope Featherington.
Penelope has been best friends with Colin’s younger sister Eloise Bridgerton for years. Penelope never had the looks or outgoing personality to catch a husband. Now, at 28, she’s considered a spinster. Colin knows all of these things about Penelope. He also knows she’ll help him because she’s loyal. What he doesn’t know – what no one knows – is that Penelope has been secretly in love with Colin for years.
Colin’s quest to run interference for Lady Whistledown means he and Penelope will have to work together – closely – to keep ahead of everyone else trying to find out who Lady W is. But it’s hard to keep secrets when you spend a lot of time with someone and Penelope isn’t the only one with something to hide.
I do enjoy Julia Quinn’s writing. There’s humor, witty repartee, sharp retorts – usually from Lady Danbury, who gets better every time out – and the comedy of errors at the Featherington family gathering is priceless.
Quinn knows how to write good heroines. Her leading ladies speak their mind, stand up for themselves, and can even throw a punch when the situation calls for it – that would be Daphne, not Penelope, by the way.
Her damsels do not reflect their times – that of Regency England, where a well-bred young lady’s main job was to be demure and catch a husband.
Quinn takes the opportunity to lament how restrictive women’s lives were compared to men’s – a comparison that rings true even today in a lot of ways.
I’ve liked Penelope as far back as “The Duke & I” and I’m so glad Quinn gave Penelope her own story. It’s fun to see Penelope grow from the wallflower the whole ton overlooks to a woman who realizes she has something to say.
Of the three oldest Bridgerton brothers, I’ve always liked Colin best. A sense of humor in a man always gets me. Colin’s always been the fun one, especially when he’s having a good laugh at Anthony’s expense. This time out, Quinn gives the reader a more complete picture of Colin’s heart and mind. Anthony and Benedict struck me as imperious, but Colin is more a soul in search of a purpose, with a good dose of fear thrown into the mix. Loyalty to family is an admirable trait and that’s Colin’s driving force in this story.
I like it when an author sneaks in little nods and winks. Quinn does it by referencing a Shakespearean plot in Anthony’s story and a well-known fairy-tale in Benedict’s story, and puts her own twist on them. Keep your eyes open and you might spot some more.
There’s a reason people love the Bridgertons – the family, I mean. Eight siblings who look out for each other, keep each other in line, stand up for each other, put each other in their place, fight with each other, but always love each other.
The goal of most romance writers is to have their characters realize they are in love. What I like about Quinn is she takes her characters beyond that point to where they realize what they share as people. That is where she shines as a writer, especially with Colin and Penelope’s story.
If you’re looking for a fun read, pick up the Bridgerton novels. Start with “The Duke & I” (2000) and work your way through all eight; taking them in order will help you avoid spoilers. Because of the Netflix show, Quinn is reissuing the series with new covers and updated Epilogues. For other novels by Quinn, visit her website at juliaquinn.com.