I enjoy, but don't write, historical romances. For some weird reason, I particularly enjoy Regency romances, those stories that take place during the late 1700s and early 1800s in England. Lucky for me, it's a popular sub-genre.
Pursuant to my reading habits, I thought I'd begin a column of book reviews. I do read. I read quite a bit, actually. But I don't always find the books I read worthy of comment. This column, posting on Saturday mornings as generated, will speak to the books that really make an impression upon me. The ones that make good impressions will be "Good Eggs" and the ones that don't will be "Rotten Eggs." It fits in with the whole agricultural theme, you know.
My first column entry focuses on A Night Like This by NYT bestselling author Julia Quinn.
Quinn's books always--always--entertain. I've yet to read one I didn't enjoy, although some I like better than others. Ms. Quinn does a wonderful job of translating the restricting mores and social conventions of Regency England for modern understanding. Her heroines, including Anne in this book, never shatter the strictly defined roles imposed upon women at the time, but they often stretch the boundaries of those roles.
Of the aspects I enjoy most about Quinn's work is her wry sense of humor. Just a little sardonic. Just a little absurd. Always understated without the amateurish employment of many exclamation points and slapstick humor. I also chuckle at the running gag of the annual Smythe-Smith musicale which permeates many of her novels.
In A Night Like This, our hero Daniel Smythe-Smith returns home from three years of exile. Of course, he comes home on the night of the infamous musicale: "It was good to be home. Even with the cacophony. Especially with the cacophany. Nothing said 'home' to a Smythe-Smith like the badly played music."
Quinn's storytelling doesn't devolve into minute descriptions of who wore what, nor does it wallow in backstory. In writing that could almost be described as "spare"--much like Dick Francis' or Robert B. Parker's work--she masters the storyteller's art of "showing" even with pages of nonsensical and baffling dialogue that nonetheless manages to make this reader laugh aloud because I can see it happening. Somehow she makes it possible for the reader to keep track of who says what in a conversation that takes place on multiple levels (and topics) at once.
In A Night Light This, our heroine is guilty of youthful bad judgment which leads to her ruin which then leads to a lifetime of servitude. The ruin and its severe consequences play out with authenticity, but without dwelling in unrelenting pathos. We don't pity Anne for her circumstances, we admire her for having made the best of them. Our hero, Daniel, adheres to the trope of being a handsome, wealthy aristocrat. He's a little bit arrogant (goes with that handsome, wealthy aristocratic background), but not a jerk, and not a womanizing jerk. He enjoys his family and doesn't treat women as disposable. He is, actually, the kind of hero you'd like to bring home to meet your family. Daniel, too, has a grievous error in his history that contributes to tension in the story.
Conflict in the story doesn't come from big, splashy catastrophes, but from smaller, personal tragedies. The influence of these tragedies ripples through the story and contribute to the building conflict that form the obstacles keeping our hero and heroine from their happily ever after. Obstacles arise from both protagonists fearing continuing retribution from their enemies and societal restrictions.
For those who wonder, yes, the romance does tiptoe into the metaphorical bedroom (even if a bed isn't actually in the scene). For the most part, explicit content hovers at the sensual level, with some kissing, touching, and some wicked talking and thinking. When it finally happens, "big deed" is tastefully written, not clinical or so descriptive that I could past a test for OB/GYN certification.
Quinn's tactful, humane writing brings the characters to life, with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. She treats them as real people so that they come alive. For anyone who enjoy character-driven plots, A Night Like This definitely satisfies.
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