Wednesday, June 13, 2012

THOUGHTS on "A Night Like This" by Julia Quinn (or why her newer books don't seem to work for me(\)

A Night Like This (Smythe-Smith Quartet #2)A Night Like This by Julia Quinn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One thing I enjoyed about Quinn's previous books are that they are highly character-driven; there is often little plot, and little world-building (these being wallpaper historicals), but the books are still engaging purely because of the character development, and the development of the relationship between hero and heroine. My reading preferences are such that I take this development of the characters and their relationship to be THE key element in a romance.

The reason why I think Quinn's newer work, like "A Night Like This" (and "Just Like Heaven" to an even higher degree) doesn't work as well for me as her earlier work (eg, "The Viscount who Loved Me" and "The Duke and I"), is that the obstacles that the characters face in these books are external, as opposed to internal. So, whereas Anthony and Kate's obstacles in "The Viscount who Loved Me" were personal demons (fear of storms, of dying young), the obstacles facing Anne and Daniel in "A Night Like This" are external (the possibility of Sir George Chervil's threat to Anne, Lord Ramsgate's fury at Daniel, society frowning upon a match between an Earl and a governess). While there is nothing inherently wrong with having external obstacles as opposed to internal ones, they are problematic in a wallpaper historical, where the circumstances of external world are not as mitigating as they would be in a more traditional historical. More specifically, I feel like the external obstacles in "A Night like This" were too easily resolved, and led to little or no growth on the part of the characters. For books that are mostly character-driven, this is a huge loss.

Take the frowned-upon match between an Earl and a governess as an example. Many of Anne's decisions were affected by the reasonable assumption that Daniel could never marry her, due to the strictures of the society they live in. This view of the world was reiterated by side-characters (eg. Lady Pleinsworth), and seemed to pose a serious problem. But the resolution of this problem was hardly a resolution at all - the hero just ignores the strictures of society, decides to marry her, and the consequences of this decision are not addressed at all. This obstacle fails to develop Daniel and Anne's characters in any interesting way, and also makes the world they live in feel inconsistent. It's as if Anne is living in a traditional historical, but Daniel is living in a wallpaper historical (sometimes).

Another thing that I often enjoyed about Quinn's previous novels is the quirkiness of the side characters, which often shows up in the cute dialogue sequences. At some points in this book (and the previous in the Smythe-Smith quartet), however, some of the dialogue seemed too random and irrelevant, to the point where it was slightly irritating.

Having said that, however, I did enjoy reading the book, even though it didn't engage me as much as I would have preferred. Daniel and Anne are likeable characters, and the side-characters are too.

If you liked this book, I'd read: Her earlier work! I particularly enjoyed "The Viscount who Loved Me" and "The Duke and I."

View all my reviews

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