Splendid by Julia Quinn

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “American heiress Emma Dunster has always been fun-loving and independent with no wish to settle into marriage. She plans to enjoy her Season in London in more unconventional ways than husband hunting. But this time Emma’s high jinks lead her into more dangerous temptation…

Alexander Ridgely, the Duke of Ashbourne, is a notorious rake who carefully avoids the risk of love…until he plants one reckless kiss on the sensuous lips of a high-spirited innocent. Soon sparks – and laughter – fly when these two terribly determined people cross paths during one very splendid London spring Season…”

REVIEW: This is Julia Quinn’s debut novel which I have, ironically, discovered only after reading many of her later works. The raw talent that Quinn possesses for writing Regency romances sees its establishment in this novel, which was just as entertaining and easy to read as all of her later novels, if perhaps a little less polished. Quinn’s first novel tells the story of the ‘splendid’ Emma Dunster, who travels to London to spend the social Season with her beloved cousins, Belle and Ned, in the very heart of the great city. Emma makes a huge impression on London society, but on none more so than the dashing and standoffish Alexander Ridgely, whose interest in Emma begins during an unlikely encounter in which she saves his nephew whilst dressed as a serving maid. Alexander and Emma’s relationship is one that blossoms gradually throughout the novel, with moments where the reader truly wants to knock some sense into them and get them together sooner! Yet the friendship that develops between them is both surprising and tender, although heavily tinged with desire, and this makes the later romantic relationship that develops between them far more believable than it might if Emma were simply seduced. The relationship between Alexander and Emma is the main focal point of the novel and one that is both gripping and entertaining throughout. The other more minor characters in the novel are also very well written and provide a brilliant humorous element to Alexander and Emma’s relationship – in particular, Alexander’s mother and sister, and Emma’s cousin Belle, all three of whom constantly conspire to bring the couple together in increasingly scandalous ways. The only part of the novel that falls short, however, is the ending. It is only at this point that the reader begins to recall that this is Quinn’s first novel, and by the ending it appears that she is trying too hard to create a shocking plot which simply ends up being unrealistic. The kidnapping of Belle by an unwanted admirer and the subsequent rescue attempts – which are often thwarted through crossed wires and changed plans – is an entertaining part of the book but one that seems to have little bearing on the rest of the story and almost appears as an afterthought, added on even after the marriage of Alexander and Emma; which, in my opinion, would have been the obvious concluding point. I greatly enjoyed this book all the same – Quinn’s books are the perfect form of escapism and great for some light relief when life is becoming stressful. However, I would warn those who have only read her later novels to bear in mind that this, as Quinn’s debut novel, can at times fall short of the standard we are used to from her fantastic works of regency romance.

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