Title: Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgerton #4)
Author: Julia Quinn
Year of Publication: 2002
Length: 370 pages
Genre: Regency romance
New or Re-Read?: re-read, many times
Rating: 5 enthusiastic stars
This review carries a mild spoiler warning – I won’t say anything explicitly, but anyone who’s clever enough and hasn’t read the book might put things together, especially once she starts reading.
Y’know, I always say that The Viscount Who Loved Me is my favourite Bridgerton book… and then I get to Romancing Mister Bridgerton, and I think maybe I’m wrong. I love Kate and Anthony, but I love Colin and Penelope, too, and they have a particularly special place in my heart, because they’re writers. You can feel JQ’s love for words coming through here, and while I, unpublished, have to empathize more with Colin’s hesitation and insecurity, everything that both characters say about writing rings so true. It’s an unusual vocation for either hero or heroine in a romance novel, and so I’m glad JQ went there and gave me this opportunity for vicarious delight.
Penelope, too, is an attractive character for any girl who was ever a social outcast — ever convinced she wasn’t pretty enough, ever a wallflower, ever picked-on and belittled and made to feel less than what she truly is. And, yeah, I was one of those girls. I never took it quite as quietly as Penelope did, but I know the feeling all too well. I love the early part of the book, when Lady Danbury takes an interest in her – I love so much of what Lady Danbury has to say whenever she appears, really, but this about takes the cake on a sentimental level:
“Isn’t it nice,” the older lady said, leaning in so that only Penelope could hear her words, “to discover that we’re not exactly what we thought we were?”
Wise words, Lady D. And it is nice. So, with such an underdog heroine, who we’ve seen the butt of jokes and the odd one out for so many books now, it’s a glorious vicarious thrill to see her get everything she deserves from life — fame, wealth, recognition for her talents, and, of course and best of all, the love of her life. It’s a delicious fantasy. I remember loving it when I was an awkward-and-unfortunate sixteen-year-old, and I love it now as an only-slightly-less-awkward-though-thankfully-less-unfortunate nearly-twenty-six year old — with the added comfort now that Penelope finds true love and satisfaction at the age of twenty-eight. Does anyone else find that the older heroines are more attractive than the ingénues the older you get? Nowadays, when I read books where the heroines are 18-20 year old debutantes… well, they just seem so young. Which means I must be getting old, because I know that wasn’t the case when I was 15 and 16 and reading these books for the first time. /digression
I think what I really love in Romancing Mister Bridgerton is Colin’s devotion to Penelope, his protection of her, his pride in her. It’s heart-warming. And he’s a hero for it. Colin’s quest throughout the book is to prove that he isn’t just an empty-headed charmer, and for my money, he succeeds so admirably.
As I said at the top of the review, this book vies strongly with The Viscount Who Loved Me for my favourite Bridgerton novel, and I think part of the reason I can never choose is because they’re such different books and such different couples. I’m attracted to Colin and Penelope for completely different reasons than I’m attracted to Kate and Anthony. With the latter, it’s all fire and spice and combat and pride covering vulnerabilities, with butting heads and cutting wit – and I find all of that very appealing. With Colin and Penelope, it’s a quieter, more sly sort of wit, and a different kind of story. They don’t collide into each other like Kate and Anthony do; they more drift into each other, almost on accident. Colin learns to look at the girl who has, in his own words, always just been “there” in a completely new way, and Penelope has to learn how to de-pedestal the man she’s been in love with for a dozen years and see him for who he truly is. And then, just when the think they’ve gotten their feet under them, everything changes again.
It goes without saying that I would love to read everything Penelope ever wrote, but I bet I’d love Colin’s travel journals, too. JQ put a lot of effort into what little we see of them. I also like to imagine that Colin and Penelope travel a lot in the course of their life together. Paris, Munich, Antwerp, Luxor, Istanbul? They should see the world together.
Overall – I love this book. I’d recommend it to any reader of romance novels, although mostly I don’t have to, because most romance readers I know are already solidly in love with JQ, the Bridgertons, Colin in particular, and this book. But in the event that any of you haven’t read these yet and haven’t been convinced by my first three reviews – read the Bridgerton novels. Seriously. You’ll be glad you did. And technically any of them could stand alone, but I almost think this one less than the others, because it hinges so much on what you learn about Penelope in the earlier novels. You don’t even realise you’re picking it up at the time, but you get to Romancing Mister Bridgerton and… wow. You definitely wouldn’t get the full experience of revelation, I don’t think, if you haven’t read the earlier books.
This is another digression, but re-reading this book also gave me a splendid idea: JQ’s said she won’t write Violet’s love story with Edmund, because we know how it ends and it’s too sad. But y’know who ought to get an absolutely ripping story? Lady Danbury. JQ should totally swing back in time to the rather more raucous 1760s or so and give Lady D some time in the spotlight.
And as a final, I swear, additional note — does anyone know what the story is with the new cover? I mean, what is that? This entire book takes place in London, not at some woodland estate. I so wish we could get the British covers in the U.S. — those are so darling and generally a lot more true to the book than any of the U.S. covers, old or new.