The sixth book in the Bridgertons series brings us to the elusive Francesca. She’s rarely, if ever, mentioned in the other Bridgerton novels, except in passing generally explaining why she isn’t around (too young, too married, too widowed, too far away in Scotland). I’ll admit that I was concerned going into a book with a character we had so little invested in, but the last time I had that worry we got the great Benedict and Sophie in my second favorite Bridgerton book, An Offer from a Gentleman.
I was however, underwhelmed this time.
When the book opens in 1820, Francesca and John, Earl of Kilmartin are happily married (their marriage had previously taken place off-page between An Offer from a Gentleman and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton), when tragedy strikes and John goes to sleep and never wakes up. Quinn also takes the time to introduce John’s cousin Michael. He was visiting the pair when John dies, and he happens to be in love with Francesca. However full of issues this set-up might sound, Quinn navigates it well, instilling Michael with a sense of honor and respect so he keeps his feelings hidden from everyone, including Francesca. When it all becomes too much he removes himself to India to settle into the title he just inherited, and try to create the space he needs in order to keep his relationship with Francesca in its appropriate box.
Fast-forward four years later, and the main portion of this story comes together. Francesca decides to come out of mourning and is considering re-marrying because she has a deep desire for children. Off to London she must go. Michael finds himself ready to return to England and stop running from the sadness of “taking over” his cousins life, thinking he is prepared to re-enter the life of Francesca, but a couple months in London without her would be best. So sorry, they both arrive at the same time (oh romance novels, you do love a plot convenience) and he is still 100% in love with her.
I found Quinn’s writing about the characters’ internal struggles both helped to build their relationship on a deeper emotional level, and let me feel like I knew the characters. They both feel that they mustn’t have romantical feelings for one another, but I think Quinn just did a better job with Michael than with Francesca. Some of my favorite moments in the book are when Michael basically has the internal reaction of the nopetopus in regards to his still being in love with Francesca.
He feels if he gives in to this last boundary he will be completely ruining the love and respect he felt for his cousin. It will be like he wished for his death. Quinn plays this to the full, and plays with all the various subtexts it offers. She just seems to leave Francesca in the NO place for far too long.
I found myself frustrated with Francesca’s behavior. It’s not that I couldn’t understand it, just that it dragged on. It is one of the weaknesses in Quinn’s writing, that she will let a story stall out at an emotional point and spend more time there than strictly necessary. This book also left me wanting as far as Quinn’s usual sarcastic humor goes. It’s there, it’s just… not as great as it usually is. And finally, When He Was Wicked lacked the other Bridgertons: and the family dynamics of that bunch are what really make the books sing (Eloise’s book To Sir Phillip, With Love shows that in spades. Once the family is in on the shenanigans everything gets turned up to 11).
And Colin felt off. Colin is my favorite. There is no denying it, he is, but his characterization felt off. Believe me, I LOVED that he was the one to put in Michael’s head that he actually, could, in fact, marry Francesca and the world would not end. I just wish those interactions had been more and more in line with Colin in the other books. And here’s my last bit of annoyance before I conclude this review and tell you to go ahead and read all eight of these books, Quinn seems to have retconned her previous books (specifically Romancing Mr. Bridgerton) to put Francesca and Michael in town during the events of books four and five. I DON’T REMEMBER HER BEING THERE. I don’t know if its because I read the book six months ago, or because Francesca wasn’t memorable, but the fact that these three books are intended to overlay just didn’t work for me in that all I kept thinking was “Her? She was there?”
Anyway, read these books and you too can write 750 words about your feels as regards romantical fluff.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.