Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"It's In His Kiss," by Julia Quinn

The Chick: Hyacinth Bridgerton. The youngest Bridgerton would like to get married, but she's so overpoweringly awesome no other man can possibly keep up with her.
The Rub: How dare that Gareth St. Clair keep up with her! That jerk!
Dream Casting: Felicity Jones.

The Dude: Gareth St. Clair. After inheriting his grandmother's diary, he needs someone to translate - and if the lovely (if crazy) Hyacinth volunteers to translate, what's harm?
The Rub: Thanks to a secret only he and his cruel father know, Gareth's unworthy of Hyacinth's hand.
Dream Casting: Ryan Phillipe.

The Plot:

Hyacinth: Hi! I'm overpoweringly annoying!

Gareth: I see your Overpoweringly Annoying and raise you one Case of Daddy Issues.

Hyacinth: I see your Daddy Issues and raise you one Overestimated Sense of Self-Importance.

Gareth: I see your Overestimated Sense of Self-Importance and add an Offer of Marriage.

Hyacinth: I fold!

Gareth: HOO--

Gareth's Asshole Dad: I see your Offer of Marriage and raise you Overt Manipulation.

Hyacinth: You were bluffing?
Gareth: Crap.

Hyacinth: Know when to run, tough guy!

Gareth: Raise you one set of Endearing Personal Insecurities??

Hyacinth: Oh, all right.

Gareth: Royal flush! Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Secret Bastard

1 Italian Diary

1 Set of Hidden Jewels

1 Crotchety Old Grandma

1 Inconveniently Dead Dad

1 Inconveniently Alive Non-Dad

The Word: People warned me about this book, but I haven't always agreed with the general reviews of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series. Many fans say that Romancing Mr. Bridgerton is the best of the lot and everything is downhill from there. I disagreed on two counts - first, I thought Romancing was unoriginal and cutesy and a huge let down (An Offer from a Gentleman remains my fave), and second, When He Was Wicked (a later novel) wasn't that bad. Not bad at all, actually. So while I had some reservations about It's In His Kiss, I still took the warnings from commentators and fans with a grain of salt.

So now I have a salty crappy book instead of a regular crappy book, I guess. Julia Quinn tends to dance a fine line with her "spirited" female characters. Spunkyville is only just up the road from ShutTheFuckUp Town, after all, and while some of her heroines (Daphne, Kate, Sophia, Francesca) can stay on the beaten path, others (Eloise and Penelope) traipse down that hill with wild abandon and drive me absolutely bonkers.

Hyacinth Bridgerton, the youngest of the Bridgertons, is the Mayor of STFU Town. The entire book is actually based around the fact that she's a crazy annoying, egotistical control-freak narcissist (or, as it's more commonly known in Julia Quinn land, "intelligent"), and only "special" people can tolerate - er, I mean, understand the real her. She's been through several seasons already and is still inexplicably popular but she hasn't found a husband yet and she's starting to wish for one.

Meanwhile, we have Gareth St. Clair, a young man cursed with an irrational cartoon villain of a father. In the prologue, Gareth learns that Lord St. Clair isn't his real father at all, but because he was born within the bounds of wedlock, the baron was forced to acknowledge him. Because of that, his father has treated him like dirt. By the time the rest of the novel opens, their relationship has worsened - with Gareth's older (and legitimate) brother dead, Gareth stands to inherit the St. Clair estates, and to prevent this from happening, Lord St. Clair is determined to mire his faux-son in debt.

The possible answer to Gareth's money problems may be his paternal grandmother's diary, but it's written in Italian and he needs a discreet translator he can trust. Why not choose the overwhelmingly smug and spoiled brat you barely know who isn't even fluent in Italian? Brilliant! Okay, okay, so Gareth and Hyacinth share one degree of separation - Bridgerton family friend Lady Danbury is Gareth's maternal granny so they're not total strangers, but still.

Seen in hindsight, the romantic development of It's In His Kiss is superficially similar to Mary Balogh's Slightly Scandalous. Both plots involve heroines who are so awesome (or at least believe they're so awesome) that the only man who can satisfy them is the one man who can take them down a peg. The only problem is that Balogh does a much better job of convincing the reader that Freyja Bedwyn is The Shit, whereas Quinn's Hyacinth just comes off as, well, shit.

If I want to dig into the subtle differences, I would have to say the main reason I preferred Freyja's particular brand of Crazy is because Slightly Scandalous explores both the upside of Freyja's confidence as well as the downside - such as her haughty, unforgiving and sometimes even cruel behaviour (particularly her views on her ex's new wife). She's confident and content with who she is but she's also flawed (and she can acknowledge that she's flawed), and she develops towards the end of the novel without compromising her character.

With Hyacinth, I got the impression that the novel was trying make her Batshit Insane while still Romance Heroine Perfect, and the two don't mesh. Hyacinth's behaviour is just seen as "quirky" without dealing with the negative implications (such as her complete self-absorption) and she doesn't change or develop or alter her behaviour beyond the Captain Obvious "If I Want a Smart Husband I Better Stop Pissing Off the Smart Dudes Who Hit On Me" decision. I know it's a balance - the heroine has to be proud of who she is, but still, everyone has problems and everyone has room to improve and in this case Hyacinth has about 100 fully-furnished rooms to fill with improvement. But nooooo, she's just Perfect Bonkers Hyacinth and it's everyone else's job to adapt themselves to fit her crazy rather than the other way around.

As well, when it comes to the romantic interaction, Freyja's interactions with the cunning Joshua are hilarious setpieces of forceful emotional and verbal combat, and Freyja enjoys herself even when she ends up on the losing end. In this way, Freyja and Joshua come across as equals. With Hyacinth and Gareth, she's petty and whines about how Gareth makes her feel small and stupid, which inspires her to do childish, petty things. This makes Hyacinth the child and Gareth the adult, and the power imbalance makes their interactions dull.

Gareth has some interesting moments as he does battle with his faux-father, and they're obviously supposed to be deep "why can't I act like an adult?" moments, but I can't help but feel his struggles would have been more poignant if his dad had been more than a ridiculously one-note villain. None of the characters ring particularly true in this novel. It's In His Kiss is like reading a very elaborate comic strip. Julia Quinn cut her teeth on stories that chose humour and personal drama over giant epic setpieces and elaborate plot devices, but in this instance, there's simply not enough story to go around and so we get repetitive and cutesy and whining banter between characters who have been exaggerated in order to seem more interesting.

Avoid this one, folks.
C-

10 comments:

  1. Ouchie. I was told to try out this series since I liked her newer books (WHAT HAPPENS IN LONDON). Looks like a mixed bag then.

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  2. Diana4:42 PM

    I liked Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, An Offer From a Gentleman, and When He Was Wicked for the most part, but I enjoyed all of her earlier Bridgerton books.

    I think it was this one that I began noticing Quinn's annoying habit of writing one-sentence paragraphs.

    So it wasn't the characters or the plots that began to bug me in her later books, but the writing style itself. I haven't been able to get back into her books. I just feel jolted about as I'm reading.

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  3. Anonymous5:05 PM

    In general I like Julia Quinn's early work MUCH better than her recent stuff. Her pre-Bridgerton books are (mostly) good. Some of the Bridgertons are good. Post-Bridgerton is crap.

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  4. "When He Was Wicked" is my favorite Bridgerton book followed by "The Viscount Who Loved Me."

    For me, "It's In His Kiss" felt a bit rushed in certain parts. I still enjoyed it, though. I wished we would have been provided with more information about Gareth's relationship with his father.

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  5. I'm so glad you're back. I missed your reviews!!

    What a crack up. But SO true! I think this one was my least fave of the Bridgertons. Like Antonia I liked When He Was Wicked best (perhaps because I read it first but then maybe not) and then The Viscount Who Loved Me and then The Duke & I.

    I thought It's In His Kiss was too formulaic and Hyacinth was not a sympathetic character at all. I didn't mind Gareth though - but what did he do to deserve Hyacinth I ask you?

    And you're quite right about Frejya and Joshua. That was delicious. But I love Mary Balogh. I could probably read a shopping list written by her and enjoy it.

    Welcome back!

    (er, sorry about the over-enthusiastic use of exclamation marks.)

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  6. And, yes, WELCOME BACK!!! <3

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  7. I like the majority of Julia Quinn's books and this one was no exception, but it still doesn't beat out What Happens In London and An Offer From A Gentlemen

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  8. What a hilarious review!!! I did not care for Romancing Mr. Bridgerton at all, at all - disliked it intensely as a matter of fact. I haven't been the slightest bit tempted by this one - and now that sounds like a very wise decision.
    And as others have said - glad to see you're back *g*

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  9. Another vote for When He Was Wicked as the best of the Bridgerton lot. WHWW was the first Quinn I read and I thought WAYHAY! And everything I've read since has been a bit disappointing *shrugs*

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  10. Vorkosigrrl7:58 AM

    "Spunkyville is only just up the road from ShutTheFuckUp Town, after all. . . "

    LOLOLOL! Once again, you brighten my day.

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