REVIEW: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn (Bridgerton #1)

In brief: The first book about the Bridgerton family in Regency England focuses on Daphne and her fake courtship with Simon, Duke of Hastings.

The good: It’s deliciously fun.

The not-so-good: Those expecting the TV series on paper may be disappointed – just remember that the book came first.

Why I chose it: Loved the Netflix series.

Year: 2000

Pages: 452

Publisher: Avon Books (Harper Collins)

Setting: Mainly London, England

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

If reading The Duke and I has reminded me of anything, it’s that reading should be fun. Yes, there’s serious reading, work reading and educational reading but fun reading is the best. This novel is pure fun. It’s cheeky and witty with the aim to entertain and delight.

Millions of you will be familiar with the storyline thanks to the wonderful Bridgerton series on Netflix. I too am one of those, enraptured by the gorgeous costumes, drama and opulence of this Regency series. But dear reader, do be aware that this novel is not the TV series in word form. The novel came first and there have been some liberties taken. I can assure you though that the novel is just as wonderful, so just consider that you have two fantastic versions of Daphne and Simon’s story.

The story opens with an insight into Simon’s background and the stutter that caused his father to tell everyone he was dead. Moving into the present setting, Daphne and her mother Violet are having a discussion about marriage, men and the mysterious Lady Whistledown’s scandal sheet. It’s obvious from the outset that Julia Quinn has a superb talent for witty dialogue as well as a few sly pokes at the conventions and restrictions of the time. The banter and wit doesn’t let up between Daphne and her three older brothers, who are especially close and protective of her. When Daphne and Simon meet, it’s wit laced with a punch or two, plus some smouldering lust. Quinn takes the stuffiness of ballrooms and turns it upside down with a heroine who learned a few traditionally masculine endeavours. This turns into a fake relationship between Daphne and Simon to take the heat off both of them to find partners, but it ends with a shocking discovery in a garden and pistols drawn at dawn. The story then takes a turn beyond the traditional happy ever after marriage and follows the pair beyond lust to failure in communication, to selfishness and to hidden issues. The serious drama doesn’t start until after the wedding, when with one scene all trust between the pair crumbles. Who was right? Who was wrong? Was there consent? It’s a difficult scene to come back from, but I think Quinn handled it well. The path to redemption for both Daphne and Simon isn’t smooth, and they both acted poorly. Through a modern lens, it easy to condemn one or both of them. However, I think through their honest discussions and the second epilogue to their story included in this edition of the novel it’s clear that they forgave each other.

Another area in which Quinn shines is through her characters. All the characters are wonderfully flawed, from Daphne who is everyone’s friend but nobody’s lover to the OTT protectiveness of Anthony. Colin really shone for me in the novel as he’s more blunt, swear-y and cheeky than the other brothers. Simon of course has his stutter, as well as the trauma and loneliness of his childhood to work through. Violet is more Mrs Bennet-like in the novel (but less irritating to the reader than she is to Daphne). Hyacinth and Gregory provided light relief as naughty children, but really this is Daphne and Simon’s story. It is joy, drama, shock and a happy ending all in 400 pages. It’s a wonderfully delicious delight and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series about the other seven Bridgerton children.

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