I know this book is the unpopular one in the Bridgerton series around these parts and I am here to vehemently disagree. This is book 5 in the Bridgerton series, and was one of my two favorites the first time I read the series. That was pre-Cannonball for me, so I was very surprised when I came here and found it disparaged. I thought that maybe I wasn’t remembering it fully, so decided on a re-read. I stand by my earlier assessment – I am so very rarely wrong in these things 😉 – and it held up really well on rereading.
Francesca Bridgerton is the 6th of the Bridgerton siblings, and is the quiet one who did not make much of an impression in earlier books. She has always felt a little separate from her siblings, but has found a happy life with marriage to her best friend. Her husband’s cousin, Michael Stirling, rounds out their three-some (not that way). Michael has been in love with Francesca for years, but he and his cousin are very close, and he does not resent their happiness. *Spoiler?* Francesca’s husband dies. Suddenly Michael finds he has inherited a title, the lands, and a woman he desperately loves who only wants to cry on his shoulder. Under the pressure of guilt he runs away for years to India, and just so happens to return right as Francesca decides that she is lonely and wants children, so she will go back in to so society in search of a husband.
This is not a typical Julia Quinn book. She usually does light and fluffy with a good heart and fun banter. This book took a darker turn, but I thought it kept the sincerity that grounds her stories. I think my enjoyment of this one mostly rests on genuinely liking both Francesca and Michael as characters and just wanting them to be happy. There is actually not a lot of plot here, and some of the emotion is overwrought, so the characters have to carry the weight.
I love a good friends-to-lovers story as well as an I-have-loved-you-from-afar-for-years story, so this one very neatly checked off both boxes. The weight of the emotion each of them feels about John’s death was so sad, especially when they did not have each other to rely on after Michael’s departure. Widows make many appearances in historical romances, but rarely do they ever give me a real sense of what it must be like to lose a husband so young. Often the deceased husband was hated, and I like that here he was loved by everyone and his loss was really felt through the whole book. Francesca’s pain is very relateable.
The only part of this story I find weak is that Michael is supposed to fall in to the Reformed Rake trope, only settling down when he can finally have Francesca. There’s only tiny anecdotes about his past that hint at this, and they never ring true for me. He is the most milequetoast rake to ever grace the pages of a romance. If I pretend that these characteristics are not being attributed to him I enjoy the story much more.
I forget why I read this one out of order, but I have been rereading a bunch of everything this year, and have plans to do most of the Bridgerton books. We will see how many get full reviews. And, I still have never read the final one, so that’s on the list too.