If You Like Julia Quinn . . . hosted by Stephanie and Mary
Welcome to our series called “If You Like” which will be hosted by various readers, authors and bloggers of Dear Author. The purpose of the post and the comments is to explore what we like about a particular iconic author and what other authors have books like the iconic author. This week, we are featuring Julia Quinn whose latest release, Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, is on sale September 30, 2008. Mr. Cavendish, I Presume and the earlier release, The Lost Duke of Wyndham, form the duology of The Two Dukes of Wyndham. In a creative writing feat, the two books have overlapping scenes and plot lines. Stephanie and Mary of A Place for Originals put this marvelous homage to Julia Quinn’s books together for us to read, appreciate, and use as a reference point in the future.
If you would like to host an “If You Like” post, please email me at Jane at dearauthor.com
If You Like Julia Quinn-
Once, in the far away land of Austin, Texas, there were two young romance readers. And by young, we’re talking before high school here. We know, we know – what were their mothers thinking to let them read romances so early? In their defense, these books taught the girls the cardinal rule of womanhood- when choosing between a handsome, wealthy, and open-minded duke who will still respect you in the morning and a pimply faced teenage boy whose hands have been god-knows-where, always choose the duke. Even if he only exists in the pages of a book.
No one taught us this lesson better than Julia Quinn. Though we came to her different ways, Stephanie and I have both been reading and loving JQ for over a decade now. There are other romance novelists who are near and dear to our hearts, but no one else has us lining up at bookstores on publication days or browbeating poor booksellers into searching the back room for her newest release. She’s the tops.
So where does such devotion come from? Are her heroes just to die for or her heroines uncannily sympathetic? Do her dialog and plots move at such a fast clip, that we can barely put the books down? The answer is all of the above – and more.
Julia Quinn burst onto the historical romance stage in 1995, with arguably one of the best debut novels of the decade – Splendid, the story of an American heiress who vows to never marry an Englishman and an English Duke who has sworn to never marry. Since then, she has been entertaining her readers with her uniquely consuming brand of romance that blends emotional depth and true-to-life humor. Most well known for the Bridgerton Series, a beloved octet of books about the loves and lives of a boisterous, loving, and numerous (eight siblings!) aristocratic family, Julia Quinn has published seventeen full-length novels and four novellas. After winning the prestigious RITA award two years in a row, JQ has cemented herself as not only our favorite author, but one of the most consistent and adored authors in the entire Romance community.
Setting (era and geographic): Regency England
JQ’s books span the Regency period of the British Empire (strictly designated as 1811-1820, the years George IV ruled as Prince Regent, but often encompassing that transition period between Georgian & Victorian eras) and deal mainly with the upper tiers of British Society – the aristocracy and gentry. Her settings split pretty evenly between the English countryside and the glittering world of London society, but all of her characters are featured in business as usual settings – there are very few spies popping up behind bushes (with the notable exceptions of the two former-spy heroes of her early books: To Catch an Heiress and How To Marry a Marquis) and no Napoleonic invasions threatening. These books are purely English, which is a large part of their charm. Unlike many other current full-length Regency historicals, Quinn’s characters are solidly immersed in English society and culture, with all the privileges and problems that entails.
Heroine Type: Varied class levels, but always smart and self-assured
The Quinn heroines range from vicar’s daughters to lady’s maids to the daughters of London’s elite Ton, but there is one thing they all have in common – a strong sense of self. In all seventeen books, there is not a dependent, too-stupid-to-live heroine in the bunch. Whether it’s having a life independent from her large and lively family, such as Francesca Bridgerton from When He Was Wicked, or it’s a determination to run her own estate, as with Henrietta Barrett of Minx, they all have dreams and goals of their own. What’s more, they pursue those dreams
As a whole, they are not the darlings of society, but rather the nice and funny girls we ourselves would choose as best friends. Things never come easy to the Quinn heroine, but through good humor and resourcefulness, she will weather any storm – and help her hero do the same.
It’s this wit and willingness to stick to her guns even against the man she loves, that makes Penelope Featherington of Romancing Mr. Bridgerton stand out. She not only starts out as a minor character in the first books of the Bridgerton series, but also as a wallflower – a plain, shy girl who is on the receiving end of society’s scorn. By the end of this, the fourth book, Penelope has completely come into her own – she not only deserves her happy ending, but she worked for it. Even when her hero was being, well, an idiot:
"I’m sorry," [Penelope] said, "but it’s a little difficult for me to sit here and listen to you complain that your life is nothing."
"I didn’t say that."
"You most certainly did!"
"I said I have nothing," he corrected, trying not to wince as he realized how stupid that sounded.
"You have more than anyone I know," she said, jabbing him in the shoulder. "But if you don’t realize that, then maybe you are correct-‘your life is nothing."
"It’s too hard to explain," he said in a petulant manner.
"If you want a new direction in life," she said, "then for heaven’s sake just pick something out and do it. The world is your oyster, Colin. You’re young, wealthy, and you’re a man."
The brilliant thing about this scene is that it comes less than a third of the way through the book. At this point, Penelope has no idea what is going on with her and Colin, yet she still tells it like it is – risking his censure because of her honesty. Of course, Colin is not truly an idiot, just a bit misguided, so all turns out well in the end. But it’s this strength of conviction and self that makes not only Penelope shine, but all of Julia Quinn’s heroines. They may be English misses in a time when women were often little more than a possession, but they don’t let themselves become victims of their circumstances. There are no helpless waifs in these pages, only strong, caring women.
Hero Type: An aristocratic mix of Alphas & Betas
The heroes of the JQ novels nearly all come from aristocratic backgrounds. Even Jack Audley, the highwayman hero of her latest novel, The Lost Duke of Wyndham, has ties to the aristocracy. Because of this background, and you know, being men, they all have their Alpha moments. And yet, there are no cookie-cutter heroes here. They are all complicated, fundamentally good men.
There are the tortured heroes, such as Simon Bassett (The Duke and I), with such true-to-life issues, that you will be falling in love with them right along with their heroines. Then, there are the charming rogues who make every woman, including the heroine, laugh as they fall head-over-heels – like Colin Bridgerton (Romancing Mr. Bridgerton) and William Dunford (Minx).
Whichever type you prefer, you can bet that the heroes of Julia Quinn novels show just as much strength of character as their heroines. They are loyal to a fault and, when they eventually realize they’ve been blindsided by love, will stop at nothing to make their heroine happy – even if it means sacrifice on their part.
Plot (action-oriented / character-driven): Character-Driven
Julia Quinn’s greatest strength is her brilliant characterization and it is from this that she derives her plots. Like we mentioned above, there are minimal spies and super-villains in these books. The tensions and conflicts that keep the plot moving come from decisions the main characters make themselves.
Even in her latest book, The Lost Duke of Wyndham, which involves a higher degree of action than normal, the characters are constantly moving the novel forward themselves. Every twist and turn is based on who the characters are – their strengths, their weaknesses, their occasional love of robbing coaches. JQ puts characters who feel real into situations the reader can honestly imagine them getting into and we keep turning the pages to see how the devil they will get themselves out again.
Plot (slow/medium/fast): Fast
Most character-driven plots lean towards the slower end of the spectrum, but not so with Julia Quinn. I cannot even tell you how many hours of sleep I’ve lost because I couldn’t force myself to put down her latest book. There isn’t a wasted scene in any of her novels – every interaction is upping the tension and stakes more and more. Sure, no ninjas are jumping down from skylights, but people are being given the cut direct at Almack’s or having scandalous adventures through Vauxhall Gardens.
When you open a Julia Quinn novel, you are swept away. There are no other words for it. She grabs you from the first page, forcing you to care about each and every character, and doesn’t let go until the last line of the epilogue.
Dialogue (lots/little/balanced): Lots
So, say one of the aforementioned evil ninjas has trapped you in a room full of manuscripts. Your mission? Pick which one is Julia Quinn’s before the egg timer goes off – or suffer a fate worse than the cut direct.
Here’s a hint: you’ll know from the dialogue.
JQ is the queen of fast-paced dialogue. Her characters are smart and it shows in their exchanges – they have inside jokes, develop teasing relationships, and use verbal wordplay just like real people.
Through a use of sentence length manipulation (short, snappy sentences when exchanges are really fast) and individual voices, she uses dialogue as a tool throughout the book to move the plot and character arcs along.
Nowhere is this skill quite so apparent as in the Bridgerton books. There are eight siblings. That’s eight separate personalities and voices, often all in the same room. A lesser author would leave her readers reaching for the Advil bottle, but these are some of JQ’s funniest and most vivid scenes. Take this, another scene from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton:
"Biscuits are good," Hyacinth said, thrusting a plate in her direction.
"Hyacinth," Lady Bridgerton said in a vaguely disapproving voice, "do try to speak in complete sentences."
Hyacinth looked at her mother with a surprised expression. "Biscuits. Are. Good." She cocked her head to the side. "Noun. Verb. Adjective."
Penelope could see that Lady Bridgerton was trying to look stern as she scolded her daughter, but she wasn’t quite succeeding.
"Noun. Verb. Adjective," Colin said, wiping a crumb from his grinning face. "Sentence is correct."
"If you’re barely literate," Kate retorted, reaching for a biscuit. "These are good," she said to Penelope, a sheepish smile crossing her face. "This one’s my fourth."
"I love you, Colin," Hyacinth said, ignoring Kate completely.
"Of course you do," he murmured.
Doesn’t that sound like a conversation we’ve all had at a big family dinner or gathering? Brothers and sisters sniping at each other, but always with affection behind it. If you love great family banter, Quinn is the master. Her dialogue just can’t be topped!
Humor (Yes/No-serious/some): Yes (tons!)
Humor is an integral part of a JQ book. As with everything else, the humor stems from who the characters are and their interactions with others. It shows up in the large family gatherings (with sibling banter flying), ballroom conversations between best friends, and small moments between the hero and heroine. Finding an example of this wasn’t hard, but choosing just one certainly was. If you’re a Quinn reader though, you know few scenes and romance can top the laughs from the Pall Mall game from The Viscount Who Loved Me:
Openmouthed with delight, Kate just stared for a moment as the pink ball sank into the lake. Then something rose up within her, some strange and primitive emotion, and before she knew what she was about, she was jumping about like a crazy woman, yelling, "Yes! Yes! I win!"
"You don’t win," Anthony snapped.
"Oh, it feels like I’ve won," she reveled.
Colin and Daphne, who had come dashing down the hill, skidded to a halt before them "Well done, Miss Sheffield!" Colin exclaimed. "I knew you were worthy of the mallet of death."
"Brilliant," Daphne agreed. "Absolutely brilliant."
Anthony, of course, had no choice but to cross his arms and scowl mightily.
Colin gave her a congenial pat on the back. "Are you certain you’re not a Bridgerton in disguise? You have truly lived up to the spirit of the game."
"I couldn’t have done it without you," Kate said graciously. "If you hadn’t hit his ball down the hill-"
"I had been hoping you would pick up the reins of his destruction," Colin said.
Honestly, you have seek out this scene in its entirety-though you may not want to read it on your morning subway ride. No one does family antics and hilarity quite like JQ in the Bridgerton series, so there will be laughs aplenty.
Emotional Angst (high/medium/low):High
We were torn about the emotional angst level to classify Julia Quinn’s books. On one hand, she is one of the funniest authors out there – how can a book that leaves you holding your sides from chuckling be angsty? Then again, I challenge anyone to read The Duke and I or The Viscount Who Loved Me without bawling. The heroes in both are charming, wonderful men, but each has dark, deep-running issue that has them sabotaging their own happiness over and over again. What makes the impact so flooring of both these, and other Quinn novels, is that the issues her characters have are true to life – children stutter and are shunned for it as Simon (the Duke of TDAI) was, people lose parents in small, torturous ways as Anthony (Viscount Bridgerton of TVWLM) did and sometimes the only way to overcome, or even accept, these hurts is with the help and compassion of someone you love. This real life parallel is what hits Julia Quinn readers so hard. The simple, raw pain of the characters that we can completely relate to is what speaks to us, as with Simon in this scene from The Duke And I after an argument with Daphne results in his greatest fear – not being able to control his speech again:
"Y-y-you-‘"he finally managed.
Daphne stared at him in horror. "Simon?" she whispered.
He didn’t want this. He didn’t want her looking at him like he was some sort of freak. Oh God, Oh God, he felt seven years old again. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t make his mouth work. He was lost.
Daphne’s face filled with concern. Unwanted, pitying concern. "Are you all right?" she whispered. "Can you breathe?"
"D-d-d-d-d-‘" It was a far cry from don’t pity me, but it was all he could do. He could feel his father’s mocking presence, squeezing at his throat, choking on his tongue.
"Simon?" Daphne said, hurrying to his side. Her voice grew panicked. "Simon, say something!"
She reached out to touch his arm, but he threw her off. "Don’t touch me!" he exploded.
She shrank back. "I guess there are still some things you can say," she said in a small, sad voice.
This is the same book in which the two main characters hilariously try to dodge one of Daphne’s suitors – a scene that has left many a reader laughing. It is precisely that laughter that makes moments like these so gut-wrenching, for these are characters we have laughed and smiled with, so to see them hurt makes it 1000 times more impactful.
Conflict (externally driven/internally driven/both): Internally driven
Like everything else, the conflict in Julia Quinn novels comes directly from the characters. It is their own faults and desires that are often get in the way of their happily ever afters. One of the best examples of this are the hero and heroine from On The Way To The Wedding (which, incidentally, is the ONLY romance novel Stephanie has ever cried in, so gripping is the emotional conflict) – every action each takes is a direct result of their internal motivations: Gregory, the youngest of the Bridgerton clan, has always believed in true love and that he would know it at once, which is why he overlooks his growing relationship with our heroine, Lucy, as he believes himself in love with her beautiful best friend, Hermione. Lucy, on the other hand, is where internally driven conflict is most detrimental to the pair’s relationship – she comes to love Gregory, but even when he finally wakes up from his Hermione-induced stupor, she can’t bring herself to marry him, out of loyalty to her family and their happiness. So, even though she loves him, the entire book she is warring with her own convictions and responsibilities – which, naturally, makes their eventual HEA so moving.
Heat level: (kisses/warm/hot/scorching): Medium
The heat in Julia Quinn novel is definitely palpable and the sexual tension sky-high, but it doesn’t border on the erotica category of scorching or hot. Love scenes in JQ’s books are touching and a huge relief, after pages and pages of wanting these two people to be together, but they are more filled with humor and reality than scorching images. Which is not to say that the scenes aren’t fiery, how could they not be with the proud, charming Quinn heroes, but with only one or two true love scenes in each book, it’s the build-up and dying for release that makes these eventual consummations so effective.
If You Like Julia Quinn, You’ll Like-
If you’re looking for the humor of Julia Quinn in another historical, we’d highly recommend the historical romances of Patricia Cabot. This is actually the pseudonym of Young Adult queen, Meg Cabot, but she brings the same witty and warm tone to traditional romance that she is famous for in YA. Because of her overwhelming success in that genre, she’s stopped writing adult romance for the moment, but if you can get a copy of anything from her impressive historical backlist, you won’t be sorry – her characters are charming and their banter and laughter will keep the pages flying.
Similarly, Claudia Dain’s most recent releases, The Courtesan’s Daughter (The Courtesan Series) and The Courtesan’s Secret (The Courtesan Series), also mirror the light, witty humor that JQ does so splendidly. These two romances are also great for readers who want the fast-paced aspect of JQ’s novels – the events in both take place over only a few days, with complications and tension rising the whole way through. Though, be warned, once you pick one up, you won’t be able to stop reading-so you may want to clear your schedule!
If you’re looking for the character-depth and emotional impact similar to JQ’s The Duke and I or The Viscount Who Loved Me (with two of Quinn’s more tortured heroes), but don’t want to sacrifice the warmth, look into the backlists of Julie Anne Long and Julianne Maclean. These are two slightly lesser known historical authors, but they consistently deliver stellar books. While you’re waiting for Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, they can certainly distract you with books using more externally driven plots than JQ, but that still include the shading and detail of great characters – at the end of a book by either author, you may find yourself drying your eyes and smiling at the same time. Our personal favorites are: Long’s To Love a Thief (Warner Forever) and Maclean’s Love According to Lily.
Finally, if you want all the details of JQ – totally lovable characters, quick pacing, snappy dialogue, emotional depth, and most especially the humor – but don’t care too much whether it’s a historical or not, please, please, please go pick up a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel. Yes, she’s a contemporary author, but her sense of emotion and biting humor are pretty much only rivaled by the great Ms. Quinn. Both authors are experts at having you laughing and crying in the same book – all because you love their characters so much that you can fully believe them and their situations as entirely real. If you’re a die-hard historical reader, but have been looking to break into Contemporary, you won’t be disappointed, we promise!
So, fellow JQ fans, what are some books you would recommend while waiting for her next release? Is there a debut author whom we’ve just got to try, or even an outside-genre pick who makes you think of the wonderful Ms. Quinn? We can’t wait to read your suggestions!