by Julia Quinn, historical (2006)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-053125-8
Julia Quinn's On The Way To The Wedding finally closes the door on the lives of the Bloody Blooming Bridgertons, and no, contrary to population prediction, the story does not end with the Bridgertons and their spouses growing wings and flying straight up to heaven to take their rightful place among the celestial angels. But on the bright side, this book sees Ms Quinn at her lowest when it comes to sensuality level - barring a rushed love scene late in the story that is actually very tame, this book can now be read together by mothers and twelve-year old daughters. On the downside, maybe I'm too cynical or old but I can't help viewing Gregory Bridgerton and Lucinda "Lucy" Abernathy as anything more than overgrown children living out their first teenaged crushes.
Picture this. Lucy constantly lives the shadow of her prettier best friend Hermione Watson so it is not a surprise to Lucy when the sole unwed Bloody Blooming Bridgerton male, Gregory, takes a shine to Hermione. Hermione, however, fancies herself in love with his father's secretary. Lucy's brother is in love with Hermione. As Lucy tries to give Gregory some pointers as to how to win over Hermione (Lucy fears that her friend's affections for a mere secretary can only lead to trouble), she realizes that she's in love with Gregory. But she's engaged to be married to Lord Haselby, so there's that. What will all these people do now to sort out their messy lovelives, eh?
The thing is, I don't know. I used to be young once, and before I actually married my husband, I imagined that love is like Ms Quinn describes in this book: a magical moment when one can hear music and feel like one is struck by lightning when one stares into the beautiful eyes of one's soulmate. Or, in Gregory's case, the back of the neck of his soulmate (insert your own Freudian observations about loving someone who is walking away from him here). But if his love for Hermione is like the tantara of chubby angels opening his eyes to everything beautiful in this world, how does one explain then how quickly he shifts his affections from Hermione to Lucy in the second half of this book? Oh, don't tell me I spoiled the story - you know Gregory has to change his mind about Hermione to marry the heroine Lucy in this book, surely!
It's not as if Gregory's feelings for Lucy is in any significant way more mature than his feelings for Hermione. It's all about music and magical feelings, although he does feel some sliver of libido for Lucy, more than the asexual pedestal foot worship that he has for Hermione. As for Lucy, her feelings for Gregory is a textbook young girl's first crush. She truly comes off as such a young girl here, when she starts panicking over Gregory's mere kiss, flying into a flurry of excitement about how he should or must marry her now that they have kissed. How old is Lucy again, Ms Quinn? Fourteen?
The depiction of true love here is "true love" with the inverted commas made from cotton candy hearts and all while the alphabets in the phrase coming in at least seventeen different bright shades of colors. It's nearly free from libido - I can easily imagine Gregory and Lucy giggling and playing hide-and-seek in their marriage chamber on the wedding night because these two are so, er, wholesomely kiddie-like that way. Sure, Lucy makes Gregory laugh and vice-versa, but these two have a relationship built on idealized fantasies of what they both imagine love to be. I don't think these two really know each other at the end of the day.
Lucy has the added factor of being immature. True to the ways of too many romance heroines, she doesn't play by the rules she sets: she objects Hermione's relationship to the secretary even if Hermione insists that what those two have is true love via celestial music and two hearts beating in unison or some rot like that, but when it comes to Lucy's own future, she's suddenly all about marrying for love even if in this case such an action may not be the most proper.
But while the rather prepubescent portrayal of love doesn't really strike a chord with me, I still enjoy Ms Quinn's writing because at the end of the day, she really has a way with comedy, even if she's starting to use too many short one-sentenced paragraphs for my liking nowadays. However, my amusement starts to wear thin by midpoint of the book when it becomes apparent that there is no suspense in this story. There is no obstacle to the grand love of Lucy and Gregory that can't be fixed by the magic wave of the hand of what seems like a thousand Bloody Blooming Bridgerton family members and their spouses all hovering over those two like sentinel Carebears with belly buttons aimed ready to blast any threat to those two into starburst smitheereens.
Then, out of the blue, comes the late quarter of the book when the villain turns into an actual cacking mad loony and the heroine doing an incredible dumb thing to martyr herself. When Gregory and her brother later wonder aloud whether Lucy has actually seen any evidence before she martyrs herself under the villain's manipulations, that's when my estimation of Lucy plunges from her being a rather silly child to a very dim-witted danger to herself. This very rushed and silly attempt at "excitement" really ruins the book. I don't understand why the need to spring this drama on everyone. The story could have ended on a high note when Gregory and Lucy realize that they are in love and happily run out of the church towards their own happily-ever-after but no, we have to make Lucy make herself a victim without even thinking straight so that the hero can save her from the villain as well as herself. What, it's not romantic until the hero saves the idiot heroine from a hole that she digs herself into, is it?
On The Way To The Wedding suffers from a multitude of flaws. It's a textbook example of a story crippled by being a very late addition to a series: the secondary characters from previous books crowd around the hero and the heroine like a protective mantle that robs the story of any genuine challenges that the two main characters will have to face. Then, when the author feels this need to provide a dramatic rescue-the-idiot-woman denouement, the magic Bridgerton mantle collapses in the face of the heroine's braindead desperation to make herself a martyr and she flings herself onto the figurative sword when any saner person would have gone, "Hey, wait a minute, what he told me doesn't sound right at all!" This book's strength - the author's prose and sense of humor - can be found as well as in any of her books in the past, so at the end of the day I have really no good reason to recommend On The Way To The Wedding other than to fans who want to complete their collection of the author's books.
And as for all those Bridgertons, well, I'll race them on my way to the exit.
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