So, this one was kind of weird! 3.5 stars, I’ll say, from the exact average of the first (great) half and the second (weird) half. Spoilers.
But first, Goodreads summary: “In every life there is a turning point. A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one’s life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London’s most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.
After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca’s surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer—the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin.
But that was then… Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love… until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms, and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets…”
This one was setting itself up exactly like a quintessential slow-burn romance, with the pining and unresolved feelings and exploration of new, unexpected feelings and all of that good stuff. To catch everyone up quickly: slow-burn is probably my favorite romantic trope? I just love unresolved sexual tension and how explosive it is when they finally acknowledge their feelings.
And suddenly, that whole part is where this went really wrong for me. And confusing, honestly. Because, I’ll state upfront, Michael’s seduction on the page is every bit as accomplished as it’s made out to be earlier in the book. Their first encounter was so hot. But also, in my opinion, really tonally wrong for their developing romantic chemistry. Michael has this depth of feeling for Francesca that spans years and is incredibly complicated by the psychological presence of the previous Earl of Kilmartin. Francesca is on the very verge of admitting to herself feelings for Michael beyond their platonic kinship. I felt quite jarred that, given the emphasis on emotional complexity that formed both of their characterization in the first half, the story then went the route of deepening their relationship not through continued emotional exploration and honesty, but instead through fairly impersonal passion. It’s not impersonal for Michael, of course, but Francesca doesn’t know that. And then for her part, her chance for emotional intimacy is, in part, rather waylaid by her ongoing assumption that the pleasure she’s experiencing at Michael’s hands is thanks to his legendary prowess and not because of any unique connection the two of them share. So by the time he admits he’s always been in love with her, he’s basically at the end of his rope, and his feelings toward her basically become emotional blackmail: if she can’t suddenly grow her feelings to the depth of those that he has cultivated over years, she’ll lose him, and that’s a decision she has to basically make right this instant.
I don’t know. Romance is all tropes and I’m not saying you can’t ever take a story of unrequited pining and then suddenly spin that into a lust-to-love story, but I don’t think it worked here and it did a disservice to the characters in the process.