Julia Quinn is one of the most popular writers of historical romances set during the Regency era. A graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe, she adds to the diversity among education and background that has come to characterize both readers and writers of romance. Her series of eight novels following the various siblings in the Bridgerton family (it started with The Duke and I and ended with On the Way to the Wedding) increased her popularity; each of the eight siblings’ names starts with a different letter of the alphabet, based on birth order. (So Anthony is the oldest, then Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth, the youngest. Yes, I knew that off the top of my head.) She has written quite a few other novels; many are tied together by similar characters or ideas, including Lady Whistledown, a pseudonymous gossip columnist, who features prominently in several books and stories.
These two volumes are mirrors, each telling one half of the same story, although presumably to be read in publication order (how I listed them above). Jack Audley is a highwayman who generally donates his proceeds to wounded veterans of the Napoleonic Wars; he makes the mistake, one night, of attempting to rob a dowager duchess who seems to recognize him. She knows his father’s name, even, and as it turns out, Jack is the son of the duchess’s favorite, and second-oldest, son. More interesting to Jack than his possible elevation to the peerage is the duchess’s companion, Grace Eversleigh, an impoverished young woman of good but not excellent birth. On the other side of the story (in the other volume), we have the current duke, Thomas, who has been putting off marrying his fiancee, Amelia, to whom he has been affianced for all but six months of her life. Then, all of a sudden, she becomes surprisingly attractive — at about the same time that Jack Audley shows up. Will he still be able to marry Amelia?
One would think that because these two novels are essentially the same story that there would be very little difference between the two. And while in general they cover the same events, albeit from two different points of view, I enjoyed one novel quite a bit but found the other rather flat. Jack and Grace’s story, told in The Lost Duke of Wyndham, felt significantly more powerful to me, emotionally speaking. Thomas and Amelia, even though I’d met them in the other volume, didn’t hold for me nearly as much appeal. I don’t know, however, if that’s because I read them one after another rather than a month apart as they were published, but I somehow suspect not.
It could possibly be because Jack and Grace were more personable characters than Thomas and Amelia. Thomas was a little bit uptight, and at the end of the story, I still felt as if I didn’t know much about him, other than his awful relationship with nearly all of his family members. (And, apparently, a fascination with maps, that didn’t seem to help.) He didn’t seem to have any hobbies or interests, other than annoying his grandmother (the dowager duchess). Amelia is little better than a cipher, herself. Given, I believe this was explained by the fact that her entire life had been spent preparing to be Thomas’s duchess, but if she would have had a bit more personality, I would have liked her better.
Jack, on the other hand, is a charming scapegrace, and while that usually isn’t my cup of tea, we’re clearly given enough of his backstory and his interests — and his Big Secret — to make everything come out properly. Grace, as well, has more motivation than Amelia, and while she is certainly lacking in backbone at various parts of the story, her fascination with maps and the modicum of self-confidence that she has (which, I suspect, is related to the fact that her parents really, truly loved her and each other) made her a much more appealing character to me. Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of the charming scapegrace hero and the long-suffering companion as characters. I usually prefer the internally-focused, smart, just-a-bit-dorky heroes and the spunky, intelligent females, so I’m certain it isn’t a preference for one kind of character over another.
The love story for Jack and Grace felt more immediate, and more focused. Even though so many other things were going on in Jack’s and Grace’s lives at the moment, each had more than enough time to concentrate solely on his or her feelings for the other. Thomas and Amelia’s story was a little more diffuse; it seemed to me that Thomas’s main conflict was over his place in life and Jack’s place in the family, rather than whether or not he loved Amelia and how, exactly, to keep her. Another aspect which is a bit more minor is that Jack and Grace’s story was paced in the tradition Avon Historical Romance fashion, and Thomas and Amelia’s wasn’t. It didn’t bother me, per se, but it also reflected the different focus of the love story.
I would definitely, without hesitation, recommend Jack and Grace’s story (The Lost Duke of Wyndham) to fans of Regency-set historical romance novels. I am not sure if it would make sense to read them in the opposite order; some things are explained in The Lost Duke of Wyndham that are possibly necessary to know but not reiterated in Mr. Cavendish, I Presume. If it were possible, though, I would recommend reading them in the opposite order (Cavendish, then Wyndham) in order to get the best emotional affect. 4/5 for Wyndham, and 3/5 for Cavendish.