Friday, May 31, 2013

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

What would have happened if the Romeo + Juliet balcony scene had gone on for several days? What Happens In London gives us a pretty decent clue.

So... I liked this book. Very much. It was sweet and treated its characters with kindness. But I felt like several things were happening that kept me from falling for it.

First, a little background.

He: A baronet who grew up with a drunk father and absent mother. He fought in the war and now that he's home, works in secret as a Russian-English translator for the Home Office.

She: A pretty, coveted lady of the ton. She's quick-witted and doesn't use her beauty as a weapon even though she very easily could.

Conflict: No real reason why the H&h cannot be together - after a rocky beginning, they both like each other and are in generally the same echelon of Society so there's no impropriety to them being together. There's a background situation of covert dealings (baddies, Russians, the French) but nothing that really feels fraught with thrilling danger. Until a random little kidnapping subplot near the end.

There were many things in the book the I liked including the fact that everyone is really nice (even the guy who kind of looks like the "villain" of the piece). But there were some things I found unusual enough to stop me from really throwing myself into it.

1) We learn a lot of the H (his difficult childhood, his motivations, the source of his desire for a peaceful life) and I like that Julia Quinn shows rather than tells us that he has a "hero complex" (as so many romance novel heroes do) by giving evidence of the H's actions throughout the story. That said, we don't learn a whole lot about the h apart from the fact that she's beautiful and nice. I didn't really find any reason to really love the h.

2) The kidnapping plot seemed to come out of nowhere and gets resolved without anyone really putting anything on the line. 

3) The title seems to have little to do with the story. "What happens in London" suggests there is some Vegas-styled burlesquery that happens but that's not at all the case. There wasn't even a shot gun marriage.

4) The female characters in the story seem to get a lot of air time but ultimately don't seem to have a great impact on anything which I thought was a little disappointing.

a) For example, there is the doyenne of the hero's family - his Russian grandmother. She seems like a strong personality who will play a big part in the actual events. Apart from insisting the H learn Russian, she doesn't seem to impact the actual plot in any way. 

b) The hero's mother is a passive, defeated woman who plays no role in his life. At the very least you would expect the hero to go the other way and rebel against a woman like that and be attracted to someone quite the opposite. While the heroine isn't exactly passive, she's not exactly doing much with her life either. She's just sort of a light, amusing and pretty society chit. 

c) The heroine's own mother seems to show up from time to time to make her behave like a lady - but again, no real impact on important events. 

d) And the heroine's friends all seem to do nothing but sit around and gossip. 

By contrast, all the boys in the plot get to be kings, wonderfully funny dramatists and spies for the foreign office. The most awful man in the story is an amusing drunk who throws up a lot. Not someone to aspire to, true, but at least his antics have an effect on the main players (the hero, traumatized by his drunk of a father, never touches alcohol.)

In the end, I wasn't all that perturbed by these issues because What Happens in London made me smile - the banter was quick and the plot was light and it was a nice quick read for a random Tuesday evening.

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