This book review contains spoilers.
“Can there be any greater challenge to London’s Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke?”
—Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1813
As I stupidly watched the second season of Bridgerton on Netflix in one night (I absolutely adored it), I am already suffering from symptoms of withdrawals. I thought that now would be the perfect time to start reading Julia Quinn’s bestselling series of books to perhaps provide more depth to the characters I’ve come to know and love as well as help fill the void until season three. The Bridgerton collection currently includes eight books and two novellas set between 1813 and 1827. Each book features one of the Bridgerton siblings.
The first book, ‘The Duke and I’ centres around the betrothal of Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest sister of the family. Daphne longs to be wed, start a family and establish herself in society, however, proposals are scarce and her admirers are somewhat undesirable. Perhaps this is because she is never looked upon as a desirable wife, just an attentive and affectionate friend. It could also be due to the ever-looming presence of her three older brothers.
The homecoming of the infamous rake, Simon Basset (the newly appointed Duke of Hastings), has ruffled the feathers of marriage obsessed society mothers. He is the catch of the season. To free Simon from the constant ambush of socialites and constant turns around the dancefloor he forms an alliance with Daphne, the sister of his best friend. They pretend to form a courtship. The Duke will appear spoken for and, in turn, Daphne will be declared more desirable due to the Duke’s interest and attract a plethora of suitors along the way.
I know it’s a bit of a faux pas but I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the series whilst reading. I usually always read the book before the television adaptation or film but I had genuinely never heard of Bridgerton before it popped up in my Netflix recommendations. Perhaps, if I had read the book first, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.
So here goes: the Queen simply does not exist in ‘The Duke and I’. There is no reference to the ‘diamond’ of the season, there is no Prussian prince and painfully little scenes or dialogue with one of my favourite characters, the iconic Lady Danbury. She is not responsible for taking Simon under her wing and she is merely portrayed as a slightly meddlesome old woman. There is barely any mention of Eloise, no pregnancy scandal and Lady Whistledown’s identity remains intact throughout.
I think the reason I adored the Netflix adaptation was the array of wonderfully crafted ‘side’ characters that supported Daphne and Simon’s betrothal. Some of my favourite scenes are those with the cunning Lady Featherington clawing herself into society, the moments of sibling affection and understanding between Benedict and Eloise and Penelope’s unrequited love and development. Basically, all the scandals and secrets that are carefully woven into the plot of the award-winning series are non-existent. I found ‘The Duke and I’ to be nothing more than a constant reminder of how deplorable Daphne’s behaviour is. There’s a particularly awful scene that, albeit due to her innocence, I found really distasteful. Yes, the scene is present in the series but reading it in black and white was a bit disturbing. Let’s not gloss over it; male rape. I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of what I was watching in the series but there really isn’t any other way to describe it. Simon is also incredibly controlling and borderline abusive throughout.
There is a decent amount of humour (Violet’s bumbling and confusing description of bedroom activities the night before Daphne’s wedding was particularly comical), witty dialogue and well-written bodice-ripping sex scenes… but that’s really all I can think to compliment it on. I was truly disappointed and utterly confused at how such a wonderful series took inspiration from this book. Perhaps I need to read another to provide more depth and friction between characters? Perhaps if I hadn’t watched the series I wouldn’t be so aware of what is missing and what I’m being ‘deprived’ of. However, fans of the Bridgerton collection have openly said to me that book 1 is their least favourite and that I shouldn’t be so quick to write off the entire series. I’ve read wonderful things about ‘The Viscount Who Loved Me’.
Even though I adore romance and regency inspired books, I’m not completely convinced this series is for me.
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn is available HERE. (Affiliate Link)0