Once I completed my self-assigned project to read 26 classics, I was pretty burnt out on heavy literature. While I genuinely enjoyed all but two of the titles I chose, I realized that there’s a reason why people don’t typically read classics for fun. The pacing is far slower, the world-building is more involved, the themes are less obvious, and in many cases, the dialect can be quite difficult to follow. Reading a classic is enjoyable in the way reading a PEW Research Center study is enjoyable. It’s work. So, as a balm to my somewhat raw senses, I decided to try a modern and lighthearted take on classics, with Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, following the prolific family of the same name in Regency era Britain, which officially spans the years 1811-1820.
In our modern world, where everyone is watching something different, there are few titles that everyone recognizes. While others lament that fact, I’m just relieved that finally, I can rewatch the original Roswell for the 87th time in peace, without being subjected to the absolute horror that I haven’t seen Yellowstone. Bridgerton, however, is one of the rare shows that seems to have gained household notoriety, even if not everyone has actually watched it. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise and have perhaps just had it on your Netflix list, it’s about a family of eight children, the Bridgertons, sequentially named for the first eight letters of the alphabet and their adventures in love. Each Bridgerton gets their own book and, I would assume, Netflix season. Though historical romance has never been my jam, I made my way through the entire Bridgerton series, complete with lengthy epilogues, and figured it would be a complete waste not to review them.
As with my previous “I read… so you don’t have to” serial, there will be unavoidable spoilers, because… well that’s the “you don’t have to” part. I will not, however, share every detail of the plot or resolution, completely ruining the story or show for those who intend to read or watch. The show has already veered a great deal, so I suspect reading my reviews will spoil very little, but reader beware. I will be updating and reposting my reviews as the series continues, to include my assessments of each season.
1. The Duke and I – Daphne and Simon – Rank: 3
The Duke and I tells the tale of Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, and Daphne, the oldest Bridgerton daughter in the summer of 1813. Simon is a rake (Regency era playboy) and the best friend of Anthony Bridgerton, Daphne’s oldest brother. Having been abused by his own father, Simon has vowed never to marry or have children. Meanwhile, Daphne longs for marriage and motherhood, but finds that she’s so easy to get along with that men tend to see her as a strictly friendly or even sisterly companion, much to her despair during her first season on the marriage market.
Simon first meets Daphne when she’s being harassed by a suitor. Before he can save the day, Daphne punches the drunk herself and Simon finds himself immediately attracted to her… that is until he discovers that she’s the little sister of his best friend. Regardless, Simon and Daphne hatch a plan to convince high society, or the ton, that they’re courting. Mothers eager to marry their daughters will leave the disinterested, yet extremely eligible, Simon alone; and Daphne will attract the attention of far better suitors when they see she’s caught the eye of a Duke. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t go as planned and the two begin to truly fall in love.
Through Regency era shenanigans, Simon and Daphne find themselves forced to marry, despite their differing plans for life. Simon informs Daphne that he can’t have children and she accepts him regardless. When innocent Daphne’s mother, Violet, explains sex to her, she’s left confused at the mechanics and goes into marriage blind. In time, Daphne realizes that Simon hasn’t been truthful with her and feels betrayed by what she realizes are his deliberate efforts to mislead her and avoid conception. Through drama and heartache, the two reconcile and babies are born into a happy marriage, some of them through the epilogues of other books.
I’ve never been a connoisseur of historical romance, finding it difficult to suspend my disbelief to accommodate these charming, young, handsome, tall rakes of the Regency era. I can never forget that the average male height in this time period was 5’6″, baths occurred on a weekly or monthly basis, and toothbrushes hardly existed. Still, I obviously enjoyed The Duke and I enough to continue the series, but I did notice a glaring issue with the show. While Bridgerton has been relentlessly praised for its diverse casting, it didn’t take long to realize that most of the Black characters in the show don’t exist in the books. There is no sassy Black queen. Marina is an off-page bit character in book five. Will, Alice, and Madame Delacroix aren’t in the series at all. Simon is the only prominent character from The Duke and I played by a person of color. Lady Danbury does become an important character, but she’s barely in the first book. It’s as if the writers wanted to appear progressive without “ruining” the image of the main characters and that’s… gross. The Bridgertons are one of two main families in their story and there’s no reason why the Featheringtons couldn’t have been portrayed by people of color as well, if historical accuracy was moot.
Despite the books souring me on the show’s faux diversity, I quite enjoyed Simon and Daphne’s story. I’ve never been drawn to the Brother’s Best Friend or Fake Dating tropes, but it was fun to read such a contemporary take on this time period. The show did a fair job of depicting the characters and their story in season one, with an appropriate touch of gloss on some scenes the didn’t age well. While fans of the show didn’t ignore the dubious nature of Daphne’s attempt to conceive against Simon’s wishes, the scene in the book was substantially more rapey. I won’t ruin it, but I will warn that it might color the character in a pretty negative light for some readers.
As with all romance, the guaranteed HEA, or happily ever after, takes much of the stress out of the story. The odds for the couple are seemingly insurmountable, but it’s always in the back of your mind that everything will work out and it does. This is not a time period about which I fantasize, but I can see how some would after reading this book. The realities of history are replaced with a story about wealthy, beautiful people, surrounded by loving and accepting families. Whether watching the show or reading the book, you’ll want to be a Bridgerton and why are we reading books such as these if not for escapism? Ultimately, Daphne and Simon rank as my third favorite Bridgerton couple.
2. The Viscount Who Loved Me – Anthony and Kate – Rank: 2
In the summer of 1814, Anthony, the eldest of the Bridgerton children, has decided that it’s time to set aside his rakish ways and marry. Traumatized by the untimely death of his father from a bee sting, however, he’s determined never to love and deliberately seeks a match that will incite no truly deep feelings. Enter, Edwina Sheffield, the shy and proper younger sister of fiery Kate. Nearing spinsterhood at age 20, Kate’s sole concern is finding a decent match for her beloved Edwina. While Anthony has decided the younger of the Sheffield women fits his requirements precisely, Kate disapproves of the match, convinced that the Viscount has not given up his rakish ways. Despite the growing friction between the two, neither Anthony nor Kate can deny their attraction to each other. Caught in a precarious position when Kate is stung by a bee, the two have no choice but to marry and reconcile their differences, eventually growing in love throughout the rest of the story.
Anthony and Kate were my second favorite of the Bridgerton couples. Just typing this makes me want to reread, though I’ve never cared for the Enemies to Lovers trope. I appreciate the concept in theory. I just always find it somewhat uneven. The conflict between the two either tips into hostile and abusive territory or exaggerates what is simply good-natured ribbing. In an attempt to avoid sullying the swoon-worthy hero, the author often writes only the heroine as truly antagonistic, inadvertently coloring her as an unlikable shrew. Anthony and Kate had the perfect balance. I’m talking chef’s kiss here. They’re both assholes to each other and it is Chuck and Blair delicious. While Anthony’s absolute conviction of his early demise seems a wee bit overwrought, the animosity and attraction he shares with Kate are simultaneously quite convincing, which I find rare among these stories. I would say my favorite thing about this book, is that the couple spends basically the last half of it together. In my opinion, it is absolutely vital in this trope, that the reader experience the couple happy after all that conflict and most authors fail here.
On screen, Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley did a fantastic job portraying Anthony and Kate’s chemistry. The switch-up with Indian culture felt fun and natural. The costumes were gorgeous. That said, Netflix ruined the story of The Viscount Who Loved Me. Y’all, I am not a purist when it comes to adaptations. I love a good twist on an old tale, but Anthony and Kate’s season of Bridgerton was utter crap. In The Viscount Who Loved Me, Edwina is simply looking for a husband, nearly as pragmatically as Anthony. She never loves the eldest Bridgerton. She barely has a chance to get to know him, before he’s forced to marry Kate after he’s caught scandalously examining her bee sting. What follows is a delightful forced marriage story, as the couple comes to love and respect one another for their equally strong wills, a concept I appreciate considering my prideful, stubborn, pushy husband.
Bridgerton, however, drags out Anthony and Kate’s courtship up to the humiliation and devastation of Edwina. This unavoidably paints the leads as complete assholes, not to each other but the sister Kate adores and whom Anthony respects, regardless of his lack of romantic affection. By the time the two unite, I can’t even root for them anymore, because they’re dicks, which I suppose is a minor consolation for the fact that we’re robbed of their growing love for one another. All of this was entirely unnecessary, as the original story included a great deal of drama that could have been easily adapted for the screen, such as Anthony’s conviction that he won’t live past 38, Kate’s absolute terror of thunderstorms, and a carriage crash that nearly killed the heroine. The fabricated drama of the show hurt the story and its characters, so while this was my second favorite book, I can only hope it’s my least favorite season of Bridgerton.