Recently, I have been on a Bridgerton kick. It started when I decided to re-read Romancing Mr. Bridgerton last week and continued with When He Was Wicked. Having issues with To Sir Philip, With Love, I decided to skip that one and go straight to WHWW, hoping that I would enjoy yet another friends to lovers story. Unfortunately, I did not.
There was so much wrong with this book that I don't know where to start. As Maria von Trapp was fond of saying, "Let's start at the very beginning" because that's "a very good place to start."
The book opens in 1820 when Francesca Bridgerton was happily married to John, Earl of Kilmartin. They've been together for two years and are widely regarded as being extremely in love with each other. Based on the cover copy, it is obvious that John dies, leaving Francesca a widow at the tender age of 22. A good 20% of the book is spent on this period of time.
In the very first scene, we meet Michael Stirling, John's cousin, who is head over heels in love with Francesca and is more than a little bitter over that fact that John met her first. Being an honorable man, he doesn't get in the way of John and Francesca's relationship (a good thing, since Francesca does not feel the same way about him as he does about her). After John dies, Michael becomes the earl and immediately feels weird about stepping into his cousin's life, especially since he has always wished that Francesca was his. Instead of dealing with his new position in society, Michael runs away to India, where he spends 4 years growing up--the entirety of his time in India is skipped over and we start up again in 1824 on the very day that he arrives back in London.
Michael times his arrival in London, so he would be back a full month before Francesca is due to arrive for the season, but little does he know that Francesca is already in the city, hunting for a new husband because she wants a baby, and they run into each other in the Stirling family's home in London, where Francesca still lives when she is in Town (because Michael has not married, she still holds her title as the Countess of Kilmartin). Of course, they can't both stay there and Francesca goes back to her mother's home until proper chaperones (in the form of Michael and John's mothers) can arrive.
My main issue with this book is that the relationship seemed forced to me. We were never really given a reason as to why Michael loved Francesca; we were simply meant to believe it because he did. To make matters worse, Francesca's attraction to Michael was so sudden, but once she felt it all she could think about was how handsome he is and the shape of his lips. Still mourning her husband, she feels guilty as hell about these feelings and honestly, I couldn't help feeling as if she was on the rebound. She missed her husband, she wanted a baby, and she needed a husband to fulfill her needs. Michael fit the bill.
I also had a problem with the way Michael changed mid-way through the book. For the first 60% of the book he's all woe is me about his feelings for Francesca, but as soon as her brother suggests to him that he marry her, he's all for it, haring off to Scotland, where Francesca ran away to after sharing a passionate kiss with Michael, to find her and convince her to marry him. All of his misgivings just disappeared after two conversations with Colin. It just didn't make sense to me.
What made even less sense to me was how he went about convincing Francesca to marry him. (Highlight to read.) He decides that the best way to get her to marry him is to get her pregnant so she has no choice but to marry him. What??? How is this a good way to do anything? Forcing someone to do something they do not want to do is not the way to go about things. At this point, I started to wonder if maybe Michael had somehow fallen out of an old skool romance. At least he didn't try to rape her, although he did use her desire/attraction for him against her. This isn't even something that he does once of twice--he does it all the time from the moment he decides to marry her.
Michael wasn’t certain when it had become apparent to him that he would have to seduce her. He’d tried to appeal to her mind, to her innate sense of the practical and wise, and it wasn’t working. And it couldn’t be about emotion, because that, he knew, was one-sided. So it would have to be passion. He wanted her — Oh, God, he wanted her. With an intensity he hadn’t even imagined before he’d kissed her the week previous in London. But even as his blood raced with desire and need and, yes, love, his mind was sharp and calculating, and he knew that if he was to bind her to him, he would need to do it with this.
Quinn, Julia (2009-10-13). When He Was Wicked (Bridgerton Family) (p. 247). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
This is supposed to make me root for them? I'm supposed to sit here and believe that he actually loves her and doesn't simply want to possess her when he's deciding to manipulate her into marrying him.
In the same scene, he ponders:
he had to do this slowly. He had to tease her and torture her, bring her to the very heights of ecstasy and then keep her there as long as he could. He had to make sure they both understood that this was something they could never, ever live without.
Quinn, Julia (2009-10-13). When He Was Wicked (Bridgerton Family) (p. 253). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Nice. Totally hero material. He even uses this same tactic to get her to marry him immediately.
His hand crept under her dress, sliding right up her thigh. “All I care about,” he said thickly, one finger turning very, very wicked, “is that you’re mine.” “Oh!” Francesca yelped, feeling her limbs go molten. “Oh, yes.” “Yes on this?” he asked devilishly, wiggling his finger just enough to drive her wild, “or yes on getting married today?” “On this,” she gasped. “Don’t stop.” “What about the marriage?” Francesca grabbed his shoulders for support. “What about the marriage?” he asked again, quickly withdrawing his finger. “Michael!” she wailed. His lips spread into a slow, feral smile. “What about the marriage?” “Yes!” she begged. “Yes! Whatever you want.” “Anything?” “Anything,” she sighed. “Good,” he said, and then, abruptly, he stepped away.
Quinn, Julia (2009-10-13). When He Was Wicked (Bridgerton Family) (p. 330). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
At this point, I wasn't about to give up on the book, although I did give up on liking Michael and wanting him for Francesca. He just didn't understand why she would have a problem marrying him when he struggled with the exact same misgivings less than half the book earlier. It just didn't make sense to me.
Despite all of this, I do enjoy JQ's prose and that alone makes this a 3 star book. If this was written by any other author, I doubt I would have finished it.