The Duke And I
by Julia Quinn, historical (2000)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80082-9


I have been following Julia Quinn since her debut, and I must say this is one author who consistently comes closer to hitting the home run with each subsequent book she puts out. Ms Quinn almost hit bulls eye with her last one, How To Marry A Marquis, but adult-sounding 10-year olds (I can't help thinking of these kids as hypothyroidic adults, poor things) and a wimpy heroine ruined the first ten chapters. In The Duke And I, there's still a hypothyroidic adult masquerading as a ten-year old girl, but since she doesn't talk much, what's left is a fine, fun, and entertaining romance with probably the most well-developed heroine ever created by this author.

Daphne Bridgerton is the kind of woman that every man thinks of as a friend. Hence the poor woman never actually gets many suitors - to the men, she is practically their sister. Those that do ask for her hand are never the right ones. Her mother Violet however isn't going to admit defeat - by golly, she will see her kids get shackled or die trying! Hence poor Daphne is dragged through soirees and parties and is made to meet equally uncomfortable bachelors.

One night, after knocking a persistent suitor senseless with a well-aimed punch, Daphne meets Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings. Simon is her brother Anthony's Eton-classmate and buddy. No matter how much Simon wants to rip off his shirt and do a King Kong impersonation, it wouldn't do to seduce his best buddy's sister. But Daphne speaks like no other boring debutantes, and she is funny. And Daphne, she wouldn't mind playing Fay Wray to Simon's King Kong.

Hence when Simon thinks of a half-baked idea - let's pretend we're courting to stop all those pestering mommas! - it is no wonder both of them seize the opportunity like a drowning sod grabbing for a lifeline. They're so nuts they'd do anything to be together if only for a while.

However, there are baggages on Simon's part. He's born a stutterer, which his late father saw as a sign of imbecility. Hence Simon is determined not to marry and continue the Hastings line, just to spite the miserable old Scrooge. Daphne wants children, lots of 'em, all named in alphabetical order like her siblings (Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne... wonder if they ever reach X, will a daughter be called Xena?). This difference becomes the central conflict later into the story, although Ms Quinn wisely reduces the stubborn-donkey antics from Simon. This story is certainly no The Mule And I.

Part of the charm of this story is the slow, easy, yet entertaining interaction between Daphne and Simon. Simon's the stock Regency lord with Issues, but Daphne, now she's a gem. This woman says things that throws Simon and me off-guard all the time, that it is so easy to see why Simon would be attracted to Daphne. Their quiet times together, despite being surrounded by shrieking children, overprotective brothers, and a sly momma, are utterly romantic. And when I actually find myself reaching for some Kleenex somewhere late into the story - me, crying, in a light-hearted romp? - I believe I have found the Julia Quinn that hits the home run.

And the secondary characters... oh! I adore them. Violet Bridgerton is an inspiration to bossy busybodies everywhere, and those Bridgerton siblings (with the exception of hypothyroidic Hyacinth - she's fun though, if scary) are certainly enjoyable. The Bridgertons are rowdy, warm, and a clear contrast to Simon's father - no wonder the poor man is doomed. I would love to see a story about Anthony and Benedict and Colin. All of these scoundrels need their comeuppance, and I, for one, can't wait to see that happen!

I have a guess who Lady Whistledown, the gossip-monger whose writings begin each chapter, is, and I have a premonition that she may be a heroine in one of the next books in this Bridgerton saga, but I'll have to wait and see if I'm right. :)

There are minor quibbles - Simon could use some more development beyond his stock characterization and would those under-10s stop using big, big words? The latter is scary, really, because when children talk in grown-up manner, I can't help thinking of The Bride Of Chuckie.

But hey, TDAI is still a triumph. If Ms Quinn keeps improving at this rate, it's almost scary to imagine how great the next book could possibly be. Until then, I'll reread and savor the fun that is TDAI.

Rating: 86


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