Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn

Book Description:
Sophie Beckett never dreamed she'd be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton's famed masquerade ball - or that "Prince Charming" would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight. Who was that extraordinary woman? Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other - except, perhaps, this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid's garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet, if he offers her his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?

At first I wasn't sure if I was going to like this storyline. Illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Penwood becomes Cinderella and meets Prince Charming at the masquerade ball, but then must return to the drudgery of being a housemaid in her stepmother's residence after midnight. I didn't see how this was going to have a happy conclusion. Am I a romance snob? Yes, I admit, I am. I can't reconcile the aristocratic classes marrying someone illegitimate or into the servant classes - it just didn't work back in Regency times. So, I hesitantly read this book, keeping an open mind. I'm glad I did. I really wound up enjoying this storyline, and Julia Quinn has pulled off another entertaining romance!

Her Bridgerton family is a delight to read - they're really the first family of romance novels. This is book #3 in the series and reading about Benedict, Bridgerton #2 (as he dolefully thinks the ton refers to him as) is a pleasure and he has an interesting story too - not your usual rake turned honorable gentleman. Benedict becomes Prince Charming who's looking for his Cinderella, and winds up falling in love with Sophie, a lady's maid.

Sophie has standards and morals. Born illegitimate, she will not make the same mistake as her mother who was a lady's maid. She and Benedict first meet, a magical evening, she's the mystery woman in silver, and all he has left of her is a long glove she wore that evening with a small Penwood coat of arms on it. His only clue as to her identity. Two years go by, she has now left her unhappy home of being a slave to her evil stepmother and is working as a maid at the country home of an acquaintance of Benedict's. Benedict saves her from almost being raped by a bunch of loutish cads there. He doesn't recognize her and winds up taking her to his house in the country with the intention of finding her a place in his mother's household as a maid. He's strangely drawn to her, and it turns into full blown desire over the course of a few days as he's getting over a bad cold in bed. Sophie knows who he is and is grappling with her own feelings. She has loved him from day one.

Eventually, Benedicts asks her to become his mistress, since it is inconcievable that one of his class could ask a lady's maid to marry him. Sophie has not been forthcoming as to her true identity, and keeps her secret from him, and the fact she was the woman in silver at the masquerade. She's afraid he'll ask her to be his mistress if she does - but he asks her anyway when he thinks she's a servant, so it really served her no purpose in the end to keep it from him - as he points out to her later when he finds out the truth and is very angry with her deception. The crux of the matter is - can a nobleman overcome the rules of the classes and break the barriers and marry for love and a servant? I had a little trouble with it myself, but the story developed so well, and as usual, the conclusion all worked out that I was happily relieved with the outcome. Benedict's mother, Violet, plays a large part in the book - I love her! (I suspect she is the infamous gossip columnist, Whistledown, btw - do we ever find out who she really is?) I also think Violet's story should be told of how she meets her husband - that deserves a story of it's own as a prequel - is there one already? I always gets a little misty-eyed thinking of their love, and again I had tears in my eyes during a moment she has with Benedict, discussing his father with her. Ms. Quinn has a way of bringing emotion in her books, I always have at least one moment that brings me to tears, whether from sadness or happiness - she's good at it!

So, do Sophie and Benedict work things out? Does Sophie agree to be his mistress or does she forsake him forever, knowing she could never share him with his "other" love, the woman in silver? A conundrum, indeed. The side characters in this book are well developed too. Plenty of lead-ins to future books in the series too. We're re-introduced to Benedict's family and friends, of which there are many.

This is a really enjoyable Regency series, with more than just your typical plotline. The books have a bit more thought and substance to them. There's a moral and social issue going on here that complicates love. It's well thought out and more on the realistic side - yet, with still a trace of humor in it to lessen the serious overtones of poor Sophie's dilemma. I recommend this and all the books in this series.


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