Book Review: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

Everyone is probably aware of the Bridgerton family by now! The Netflix show has taken audiences by storm and the popularity is immense. It is not difficult to see why. A period drama full of so much bright colour, regency attire and a beautiful cast has provided desired entertainment during this lockdown. The story was original and I ended up watching the full series twice, back to back. I am certain that I will be giving it another watch now I have completed the first book. Finding where to purchase the book was the initial task I had, with eBay listings being extortionate, Waterstones had sold out and Amazon is on pre-order. Therefore, this was a job for the kindle and I am very glad because it meant I could start reading ASAP. Hopefully, the popularity will wain a little so I can buy the paperbacks to add to my shelves one day.

*CONTENT WARNING*

This review contains spoilers and mention of rape and sexual assault.

London is abuzz with debutantes looking for a marriage in their first season. Daphne Bridgerton hasn’t been quite so lucky, with this being her second year and receiving no proposals. This dismays her mother as she desperately attempts to introduce Daphne to all the eligible bachelors, while brother Anthony – head of the family, Viscount – possesses the seal of approval, scaring all suitors away. It appears hopeless until Daphne meets the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset. Their chance meeting was an unforeseen situation with the Duke aiding Daphne in her predicament. Eventually, they are formally introduced and concoct a brilliant plan.

Simon has returned to London from travelling the world and news of his father’s death, earning him his dukedom. He is determined to complete his business with no distractions of ambitious mothers and daughters pestering for a marital match. Therefore he suggests to Daphne they form a mock courtship, making Simon unavailable and Daphne all the more desirable. This plan proves more complex as their own feelings start to develop.

I think it would be wise to address the main comment readers would have with the book to begin with. I must confess that I was made very aware of the potential controversy a certain scene in the book would cause. Therefore, I erred on the side of caution while reading it and having watched the Netflix show, I knew exactly what this referred to. This is a delicate matter so forgive some of my wording as I didn’t know how else to write it.

As Daphne learns more about ‘marital relations’ she soon realises that Simon has been lying to her about his misconstrued declaration “I can’t have children”, choosing the ‘pull out’ method, thus replacing ‘can’t’ with ‘won’t’. This of course, deeply unsettles the uneducated Daphne and after many arguments later, it appears the character abuses Simon’s drunken state during sex to use her leverage to trap Simon, releasing into her to attempt pregnancy. This is the very moment which has stirred a lot of concern, especially with the Netflix show portraying it too. Many reviewers have rightly described this as marital rape, while this is disputed with the sex being consensual, however, the finish was not. This is a very sensitive topic in general, so I do not wish to delve deeper into such, but I will say that this does read a little uncomfortably – a lot uncomfortable. Despite the sex being mutually agreed, Daphne controlled the situation and the narrator later comments on this selfish act but describes Daphne as not being remorseful. She knew it was wrong but she wanted a child more. This showcases the characters desperation for a child and the lengths she would go to, to try and ensure one – even though this attempt did not succeed. There are hints that explain this is wrong by the narrator but it is overshadowed by Daphne’s absolute desire justifying her, essentially sexual assault. I think this is wrong and descriptions of Daphne being ‘innocent’ and further synonyms do not justify for such an act, when she knew exactly what she was doing.

I did feel a lot of sympathy for Simon during this scene. Daphne defiled his upmost request and his passionate vow against wanting children, reducing him to his early years of stuttering. Throughout the novel we learn this is a major element Simon battled to improve himself, and the heartbreaking and traumatic events with his father. So, this reaction truly highlighted how hurt and devastated Simon was by her act. Also, considering that this is a book review I won’t mention the Netflix adaptation too much regarding this, but equally the chance to explore this more contemporarily was left. My discussion with Alicja, previous to writing this review allowed for great points. She inferred that such a thing might be explored differently if it was to be written and published now and I would hope there would be a trigger warning. But, Netflix offered a modern approach to a lot of elements in the story (especially the choice of the phenomenal cast), this is one that appeared forgotten. This is the main concern that I have for both book and TV show.

One of the first things I realised when reading this was that there are many differences between the book and TV series. Of course this was to be expected, so I was very pleased to read different scenes to widen my Bridgerton love. This ultimately challenged my opinion deciding whether the book is better than the TV adaptation. The key differences include the minimal mention of the Featherington’s and in turn, there is no Marina Thompson – or Queen. Now, I don’t know if the Marina storyline is one that will feature in future books or whether this was the choice of the show’s creatives to include, but I do think I enjoyed the character Colin much more without it.

I am sure like many Anthony Bridgerton has stole the hearts of viewers of the show, so I was pleased to learn more about him in the book (and I’m equally more excited for the second). I thought with Anthony being in the know regarding Daphne and Simon’s ruse caused for more suspense and added humour! Anthony is most protective of his sister and especially being aware of the situation infuriated him despite acknowledging the social benefits. His character remained true throughout and he was always at Daphne’s aid and ready to punish Simon no matter how small or large the inconvenience is. The brotherly love was radiated throughout all the older Bridgerton’s and this made the family atmosphere all the more inviting and loving. I really enjoyed reading more about the family and I think Violet Bridgerton quickly became one of my favourite characters. I particularly loved the scene on the Thames. Quinn’s stunning writing allowed for a perfect picture to be painted in my mind and I could visualise everything perfectly. The 19th century worldbuilding truly transported me and oh, how I long to attend a ball and dress up most regally!

Despite the Bridgerton brothers’ efforts, Simon and Daphne’s relationship does blossom at a realistic pace. They are full of passion, attraction and desire from the very beginning. Quinn writes their chemistry in the most seductive and charming way. This makes the reader feel that what the pair have is real and in essence a true love match. Like all relationships they have their tests and it is important to remember this novel is set in the 19th century, where often a wife didn’t stand up to her husband – and as we are reminded from Simon’s declarations that he “owns” Daphne *sigh* further reinforces this contextual power. However, there are many occasions where Daphne develops from innocence and argues back at Simon, eventually getting through to him regarding his feelings towards his father. Both characters are the cause for each others’ development and in the epilogue it is heartwarming to read how far the pair have come.

Quinn’s writing style was not how I thought it would be, for historical fiction anyway. I thought the book might have read as a bit of challenge, but instead each word connected to the next in the most perfect way. Each sentence flowed exquisitely to the next, allowing for a quick and addictive read. I had to read every single word as it was so beautifully constructed and I didn’t want to miss a thing. The third person narration allows for the story to follow Daphne and Simon separately. I really enjoyed the narration to both, especially when they overlapped, revealing another angle to scenes. I found both of their lives intriguing and different, that I couldn’t have a preference. One of the main literary elements that I highly commend Quinn for is remembering that Simon had a stutter and implementing it throughout. I had a fear that this would be explored in relation to his childhood but would then cease when the character ambitiously developed his speech. I feel like this was the case with the TV series. However, it was a thorough element explored throughout the whole novel. Quinn has kept this factor apparent and hints at the stutter reappearing in moments of strong emotion, particularly anger and hate. This provides a realistic sense to the character, with the occasional stammer, reminding the reader of Simon’s issue and therefore his past. It allowed for Simon to read most realistically and I am glad that it was repeated throughout to remain true. Simon is the most authentic character I’ve read.

With my edition of The Duke and I, it had a second epilogue. I am lead to believe that this will be the case with all the reprinted books, whereas originally those epilogues created the final book The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After. I didn’t know this at the time of purchasing the series but I don’t think I will continue to read the second epilogue during the upcoming books and leave it to the final one where they are all compiled. I did feel like it revealed a lot for the future novels and would maybe ruin the surprise of the outcomes knowing them. But while on the subject of epilogues, I was so excited to read in the first one of The Duke and I the Pride and Prejudice reference! It is a truth universally acknowledged that Quinn totally had me fangirling as I read that line! It made for a very happy ending to my reading experience.

To conclude, dear reader, as you can probably tell, I did enjoy this book a lot. Despite the major element causing for dislike and uncomfort, the overall story was original and I couldn’t seem to put it down. I rate The Duke and I 4/5 stars. This is not only due to the uncomfortable factor but also the lack of Lady Whistledown. I thought more of her newspaper articles would be included, but Netflix has spoiled us there and who can beat Julie Andrews’ narration?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thank you for reading my review. I know it was a long one but I did feel like I had a lot to say, haha!

Meg x

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

  1. Great in-depth review. The discussion around the sexual assault is never easy, but it was definitely interesting talking to you about the way current readers and original readers of ‘The Duke and I’ could have seen the scene as, especially in the context of the regency drama – where women had very few rights, and yet it in this particular scene the roles are almost reversed. It’s not an easy topic, and I do believe it could have been handled better especially in Netflix adaptation, but overall the series is worth watching and reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! I really enjoyed our discussion, it was very thought provoking and interesting. I will certainly be discussing more books with you! And ultimately, Netflix had an opportunity and sadly it was not taken.

      Liked by 1 person

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