Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

I apparently spoke too soon with the not-being-able-to-read thing. Actually, the truth is, posting about it here helped a lot. It made me think about the problem, rather than just be frustrated and feeling like a reading martyr in my own mind. And I decided the problem was related to the fact that I had a lot on my TBR pile that I should read, and not nearly enough that I wanted to read. So I thinned. Lots of those things on the TBR pile went back to the library today because I thought: "I don't have to read this. I would like to, sometime. When I am feeling more excited about it. Or when I am less frustrated with myself. But I don't have to read it now."

I spent yesterday reading Julia Quinn's The Duke and I. The Pratchett isn't in yet or I would have read that. But the Quinn was a good enough second. It's fast, light, and engaging. What's interesting, though, is that I had some significant problems with the story. I really like Quinn's writing, but I didn't buy the story this time.

The characters were engaging, and very likeable, all of them. The villain was off-screen except for the prologue, although he was villainous enough that he didn't need to be onscreen. The basic premise is this: duke comes back from overseas and discovers he's suddenly the most eligible bachelor in town, and is swamped by [what are amusingly called] Ambitious Mamas trying to marry off their daughters. Eldest, witty, intelligent daughter in a family of eight can't find a suitor to save her life -- she's got three older brothers and all the men think she's a delightful friend but not a romantic interest. The two of them meet at a ball and decide that they'd rather pretend to be attached, foiling the Ambitious Mamas and drawing jealous male attention, after which they will make a show of breaking it off. The duke will be allowed to be a cranky bachelor and the lady will make a good match. Of course, things don't go as planned, because of course they fall for each other. Will they ever make it work?!

I don't know if you can tell, but the punctuation is sarcastic. No, really.

Once again, I love how carefully Quinn has styled a world full of etiquette and social mores and then used those social rules to further the plot. Her characters are alternately bound and freed by the rules they must follow, and not always in expected ways. And also, I'm very impressed by how funny and exciting the book can be when in the hands of another author it might be boring or frustrating. Or melodramatic. Even the duel wasn't melodramatic. It was tense, it was dramatic, but it wasn't over the top. There are a number of nods to Jane Austen, as well, some more explicit than others, which I do quite enjoy. It's a romantic comedy set in Austen's time and locale -- it would seem weird if there were no Austen references.

So overall, I enjoyed the book until I got a little closer to the end. It was an interesting experience, because I managed to sit back even as the ending was happening and think -- oooookay. I don't buy this at all. Also, I think that Daphne has actually done something I really disagree with, and if I were Simon I would react exactly the same way. Maybe worse. And I sure as hell wouldn't feel badly about it. I mean, Simon's being a dick previous to Daphne's Bad Decision, but that doesn't excuse it.

I can't reveal what it is, because that would be a major spoiler. Even if I don't like what Quinn did with the story at this point, I have to admit she certainly treats the reader to a series of very interesting, believable conflicts that happen after what would be the normal conclusion of a romance novel. Other readers might not be as put off by Daphne's Bad Decision as I am.

I've read that section a couple times now, and I don't think Daphne ever apologises or even recognizes that what she did wasn't right. I looked for it, because it seemed out of character. Part of what I loved about Daphne is that she's really smart, and she's not afraid to apologise when she's in the wrong. She handles conflict well. She's very young, yes, and impulsive, but I never got the impression that she felt she had wronged Simon when to me, she really clearly had. The thing she did I could have handled -- maybe -- but her inability to regard it as absolutely out of line went way too far.

I don't want to give spoilers, but let's just say that the whole situation is resolved in a way I find completely implausible and actually distasteful. And that's disappointing. It's a happily ever after that came off quite sour for me. So I'm not unhappy I read the book, and I'll certainly read the next Bridgerton book that comes my way (Daphne has seven siblings for Quinn to marry off) but I don't see myself reading this one again.

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