by Julia Quinn, historical (2009)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-149188-7
How many years had it been since Julia Quinn first showed up in the romance scene? During all those years, we have had many, many imitators, but, reading What Happens In London, I have to say that when Ms Quinn is on a roll, she can still show those wannabes a thing or two when it comes to Regency-era historical romantic comedies. While I'm hard pressed to say that the story here is in any way exceptional, I readily admit that it makes me laugh and enjoy myself. And that's a good thing, naturally.
Olivia Bevelstoke is, as our hero Harry Valentine correctly pegs her to be, a very bored young lady. While wandering around the ballrooms, rejecting boring suitors and generally being Another Young Lady In The Ballroom, she finds some reprieve from her ennui by the arrival of the mysterious gentleman into the house facing her bedroom window. They say that this fellow killed his fiancée, oh my goodness. Olivia doesn't believe in such a rumor, but she is intrigued nonetheless by the man. How convenient that she can look right into his study from her bedroom window...
Harry is a translator of Very Confidential Documents for the War Office, and he is going about doing his thing for his country when he spots the strange young lady from the house next door peeking at him. What is she up to? Dismissing her at first as a bored miss with nothing better to do, he realizes that she's actually very charming when he meets her in person. Teasing her is an enjoyable past time. Therefore, when a Russian prince suspected by his superior to be a French spy begins courting Olivia and Harry is asked to stay close to them in order to keep an eye on the two of them, Harry realizes that he doesn't mind the assignment at all. Okay, sometimes he wants to beat Prince Alexei out of jealousy, but he finds nothing objectionable at all being in the company of the most adorable Lady Olivia.
On the surface, the characters seem like a rehash of tried-and-true stereotypes, but Ms Quinn manages to make these characters all her own, with apparent ease, that it is only when I sit down to review what I have read that I begin to notice the more stereotypical aspects of the characters in this story. But while I am reading this book and allowing Ms Quinn to sweep me up into her tale, these characters are, to me, Harry and Olivia. Not "Boring Proper Gentleman #458" and "Feisty Mouthy Self-Proclaimed On The Shelf Heroine #1,321". And how I laugh at many of the scenes in this story! I don't know how Ms Quinn does this, but despite having read so many of her books and being convinced that I have seen all of her tricks by now, she still manages to catch me off guard and tickle me pink here. That scene in Olivia's place, involving three men, including Harry and our Prince, and a lurid novel that Olivia simply detests, is my favorite funny scene in the whole book. Also, I find myself unexpectedly charmed by how sweet and romantic the scenes of Harry and Olivia in the moonlight can be in this story. Reading this book is a most enjoyable pleasure.
However, this book could use a little tighter focus. The prologue of this book demonstrates why I can't dismiss Ms Quinn as some lightweight author of fluffy comedy, because this prologue is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. Unfortunately, this prologue sets Harry up as a delicious woobie hero... a set up that never results in any payoff here as Harry's past could have been easily been excised from this story without affecting the story in any significant manner. This prologue as well as those scenes of Harry with his brother seem to be inserted to give Harry some angst, but the story line doesn't make use of this aspect of Harry's personality at all. So why insert those scenes in the first place if Ms Quinn is not going to make use of that aspect of Harry's personality in her story?
Also, now that I know of Harry's little dark side, I end up wondering whether Olivia is the right person for him. After all that is said and done, she is still at the end of the day a sheltered and pampered miss with little experience dealing with darker aspects of human nature. As adorable as she may be to Harry, there will always be a gap in maturity between these two. After the honeymoon period is over, what are these two going to talk about? What do they have in common? I'm not sure if this story has provided me with the answers to these questions by the last page.
Still, I can't be too hard on a book that is this effective as a pick-me-up read.
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