After heartily enjoying watching The Bridgertons on Netflix, I took on the considerable task of reading through the series by Julia Quinn.
It took me roughly 10 days to finish all seven books including the Happily Ever After book that Quinn penned as a way to give answers to questions that fans felt were unanswered in the books themselves.
I have to say. I’m relieved to have completed the reading and it is unlikely I will be quickly imbibing romance content again.
The books follow the eight Bridgerton siblings throughout their struggles in finding their society-enforced partners, but instead of beginning with the eldest and finishing with the youngest, the timeline danced around quite a bit as everyone paired off. Also the late viscount Edmund and viscountess Violet decided to name their kids alphabetically from oldest to youngest.
The story starts with Daphne, the fourth Bridgerton sibling who is on her third season and encounters Duke Simon Hastings. Because this is romance and it is especially heterosexual romance, there is immediately a trope. The trope of this book is fake dating.
The next book follows Anthony, the viscount Bridgerton who has decided this is the year to get himself a wife. He settles on Mis Edwina Sharma but before he can truly woo her, he must impress her sister, Miss Kate Sharma. The trope this time is enemies to lovers.
Following up behind this novel is the second son Benedict who doesn’t do much of anything other than go to parties and wonder what he’s doing with his life. At a party, he encounters Sophie, a Regency-era Cinderella who has escaped from the drudgery of cleaning her evil stepmom’s shoes and preparing her step sisters’ clothing to come to a masquerade ball. She escapes only to encounter him again later when he comes upon a group of men threatening to rape her. The trope in this book wavers between Cinderella slash save her from sexual assault and ruin.
The fourth book follows Colin, the third son as he comes back from yet another one of his world tours this time from primarily Greece only to find his sisters’ childhood friend Penelope (who has been in love with him all her life) is looking very different to his eyes. BUT THEY HAVE SECRETS FROM EACH OTHER! Anyway, the trope here is SECRETS slash girl he grew up with is suddenly girl he is attracted to.
Enter Eloise Bridgerton, stuck decidedly in the middle of all the siblings as the second eldest daughter, who loves to write letters. She writes letters so much that she sends condolences to a cousin’s husband after she passes away and suddenly years of missives end in him proposing marriage to her. But, he also has children who need a mother. The trope here is mail order bride slash insta stepmom.
Not to be forgotten (although there are quite a few Bridgertons so I forgive you if you have lost count at this rate) is the third daughter Francesca who married younger than Eloise when suddenly her husband dies. She is left to somehow address her relationship with the new earl, Michael, her husband’s cousin she has known for years. Obviously, he declares his love for her and she is left confused. The trope here is widow slash she has no life meaning without children.
Another challenging Bridgerton daughter (considered apparently the most challenging one) finds herself attracted to yet another rake in the seventh book in the series. We follow the youngest daughter Hyacinth as she reads to an older woman and falls in love with her nephew, who is, unsurprisingly, a rake who shall never marry. The rake in question, Gareth, asks her to translate his Italian grandmothers’ diary and from there is a charming if maddening treasure hunt. This books’ trope lies somewhere between a treasure hunt and daddy issues all around.
Last, the fourth son and seventh in line Brigerton progeny. Gregory falls in love with a woman at a party but all is not well because she loves another. Or so her friend tells him. He stubbornly attempts to stay in love with the unattainable woman while her friend Lucinda attempts to give him advice on how to woo her. Then he discovers he loves Lucinda and tells her so by interrupting her marriage ceremony. The trope here is actually I love your friend and here’s a big romantic gesture at your wedding.
Finally, the last book The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After takes us through every single one of the couples’ attempts and successes at progeny, including a few sweet moments of their mother Violet Bridgerton while she was young and throughout the series. This one’s trope is side stories.
Now that you have a brief understanding of these books, I have to say, I truly enjoyed maybe three of the books in this entire series, and frankly only because I also had the Netflix show to compare it to. The first book had lightning-fast dialogue that made me laugh often and I enjoyed reading through it. The characters were as well fleshed out as one could expect of a romance novels’ characters, which is to say, one of them had a dark past and the woman ended up doing a lot of emotional labour that a therapist honestly should have.
The second book easily captures the tumultuous feelings between Kate and Anthony and I’m a sucker for a good enemies to lovers trope. The character of Kate really challenged and held firm against everything Anthony had made himself into and it was fun to read.
The third book was dismal. I despise it when the only thing redeeming a character is that he saves the female lead from a sexual assault. I especially hate it when he is thanked (seriously, bare necessities, stop a rape before it happens) by the female lead and his reason for doing so has to do with him having sisters. Not to mention Benedict threatens Sophie regularly with transportation to Australia unless she agrees to become his mistress. Plus he can’t seem to understand how consent works, because when he “gives” Sophie the chance to say no before they have sex, he says this is the last time she can say no because he won’t “be able to” hold himself back any further. There’s a serious power imbalance between the two since she is supposed to be a servant and he is her employer. This comes down to there being few redeeming qualities of Benedict and Sophie is only a victim.
The fourth book I was most disappointed in because the fun, loveable Colin Bridgerton was a watered-down, whiny, smug brat and clever, amazing Penelope’s main defining qualities were that she was kind and that she had lost weight from her previous year. Their romance was boring, their lives were boring and even the reveal of who Lady Whistledown was disappointing. Justice for Penelope!
We move on to Eloise who barely appears in the book intended to be for her. In fact, we spend more time with her intended, Philip. It read as if the author had decided after four books she no longer had to make the Bridgertons themselves interesting or fleshed out or develop them any further. In fact, this book is more of a smack in the face of misogyny and society-imposed gender nonsense. Trigger Warning to those who need it as well, there’s mention of suicide, child abuse and drownings.
Onto Francesca’s novel, which, despite her fair share of misery in her husband dying, had some of the best and hottest sex scenes. Consent was on display in all the sex scenes very prominently and she was even written with sexual agency which we love to see. Disappointing however that one of her biggest life decisions-remarrying- was reduced to happening only because she “needed to have children”. I long for a romance where the couple is perfectly satisfied without marriage or children. Also highly unfortunate that anyone should be called Frannie as a nickname.
In Hyacinth’s novel, there is a starling amount of “daddy issues” on display and frankly, they all need therapists and some time alone with their thoughts. The prevalent theme of “Bridgerton girls are not like other girls” was especially strong here as was the tamping down of the character into what would be considered more appropriate by society (aka getting married and having tons of kids). One poignant note is that Hyacinth is supposed to be THE smartest and much like Lady Danbury and yet in every other novel for a Bridgerton daughter, the same thing is said about them.
We get to Gregory’s book and I wanted to throw it through a window. Gregory was a supercilious twat and Lucinda was meek and the total opposite of self-aware and it felt heavily styled off of Romeo and Juliet. By which I mean it was a bunch of kids talking about love and kissing others and suddenly falling in love left and right. Even the one sex scene in this book was watered down and boring. Frankly, I didn’t care what happened to Gregory. All he did was whine.
In the prequel/sequel book of the Bridgertons: Happily Ever After, the author wrote that she attempted to tie up any loose strings she had left from the books or to answer questions from fans in it. To me, this sums up the series as a whole, in that if a romance book is written well, you either don’t have questions at the end or are at least satisfied to make up something. The fact that she had stories for every single book is telling. While entertaining, these side stories also went directly against the thread of plot and events described in the books, especially in the case of Gregory and Lucy. I had just finished reading how Lucy had gotten pregnant practically every year and she was coming up on seven (or was it eight?) kids who turned out to be twins but she was overjoyed. There was a moment where she even commented on how easy the birth was and she brought her needlework in and it was all over. That is decidedly not what happens in the story added to the Happily Ever After book. I loved the story of their mother Violet Bridgerton at various ages but practically smouldered with fury when the author perpetuated the idea that little boys bother little girls because they like them.
In total, the enjoyable writing I had enjoyed in books one and two had rather petered out by books three, four and five. There were continuity errors, and three books were written to happen within the same week. Character development barely happened for the Bridgertons and I’m incredibly relieved to be completing this series.
I would rank this entire series two stars out of five and the only reason it gets two stars is because of the first two books. If you enjoy Regency-era romance, stick to the tv shows. The Bridgertons are much more interesting there.