If book six in the Bridgerton series were a cake (I did warn everyone in the last review), it would be multiple layers of Outlander enveloped in a Fifty Shades of Grey ganache. This is definitely the raciest of the books so far. Widows aren’t afraid of a little wickedness, I guess.
Francesca, the third daughter of the Bridgerton clan, was married, and promptly widowed to a Scottish earl at some point backstage. It’s mentioned in other books, mostly to explain Francesca’s absence at certain family activities or crises: “Oh, she is at her castle in Scotland.” At first, I was stumped as to why Quinn would skip one of the sisters’ love connections. This book answered that question. Forget the ingénue, widow’s have experience. Or, at least enough experience to get a little experimental.
One of the things that has needled me about these books is that the unmarried ladies have zero knowledge regarding the “marital bed.” Aside from Eloise supposedly getting the lowdown from a bribed lady’s maid, the Bridgerton daughters and daughters-in-law were, for the most part, totally in the dark about sex. I’m not sure they even knew sex existed. Perhaps children came from kissing? Maybe a cupped breast led to a little bun in the oven? I am unsure. There is a lot of talk about compromising a lady but no real understanding what that actually entails beyond close physical contact in the absence of a chaperone.
This “innocence” led to a lot of scenes in previous books where the heroine is carried away by unexplained tingling or tightening in various areas of her body. What magical sorcery is this! Eventually, the women do find out that what can ruin a lady can also ravish one. I just find the complete cluelessness of these ladies to be a smidge unbelievable. Didn’t they ever eavesdrop on their older brothers?
Francesca, however, is a widow who had a loving and satisfying relationship in and out of the bedroom. Her “gee whiz, this is what the fuss is all about” moments are whatever transpired in the book that wasn’t written about her first marriage. Now, Quinn is moving her heroine into more experienced but still room to grow territory. Who better to help her on this journey than a rake who has pined for her for years?
Michael Stirling, the aforementioned rake, was the cousin of Francesca’s dead husband, John. Raised more like brothers, Michael and John were extremely close. Of course, when Michael first meets Francesca he unfortunately falls completely in love with her and proceeds to spend the entirety of his cousin’s short marriage as the guilt racked third wheel. After John’s death, Michael’s guilt is now compounded with grief. Francesca is also devastated and far away from her family in London. Her nearest source of solace is her good old friend Michael. Tension.
To further compound the messy emotions here, Michael was next in line to inherit and now is the current earl. Francesca’s castle is now his castle. He inherits everything but the one thing of John’s that he truly wanted, Francesca’s love. Awkward. So awkward, in fact, that Michael hightails it to India for four years while Francesca Havishams it at home in Scotland. By the time he returns to assume his responsibilities to the earldom, Francesca is thinking about finding a suitable husband as a means to an end: she wants to have children. Both still grieving the loss of John, but trying to get on with it their lives, they begin to see each other in a different light. Unfortunately, the person that brought them together is the reason they try to keep apart. Would it be a betrayal to John?
I have two more books to go to complete the Bridgerton series, and this has slid up to one of my favorites. Starting off with romantic interests who already knew each other worked well here as it did in Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, another of my faves in the series. It also cemented my love for Colin Bridgerton who plays a sly Cupid here. Seeing Colin through Michael’s eyes was interesting. The Bridgerton brother who seems to be the most happy-to-lucky has always been the one with the most depth, I think. Certainly a wee bit less self-centered than the rest and a great observer of human nature (as is his wife Penelope who I also adore.) I’m anxious to watch the show now that I have lived with these characters longer. I suspect as I finish the final two books that I will decide they are my favorites because, issues that I have with the books aside, I have really grown to love the quirky Bridgerton family. They are great fun to spend time with and passages where groups of them are together are a delight. Except for Benedict. You didn’t think I would let that go did you?