Brighter than the Sun

Dancing At Midnight

The Duke and I

Everything and the Moon

How to Marry a Marquis

Minx

To Catch an Heiress

The Viscount Who Loved Me

 
An Offer From A Gentleman
by Julia Quinn
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81558-3
****
This latest installment of the Bridgerton family series is my favorite. Which is a surprise to me, since I’m not particularly enamored of the Cinderella story upon which An Offer From A Gentleman is loosely based.

Little Sophie Beckett came to live at Penwood Park at the age of three. Although everyone, including Sophie, was aware that she was the bastard daughter of the sixth Earl of Penwood, no one had the audacity to point it out. Instead, the bachelor Earl referred to Sophie as his ward, provided well for her and generally kept his distance.

Life at Penwood Park was pleasant, if a bit lonely, for next seven years. Until the arrival of the Earl’s new bride, Araminta and her two daughters, Rosamund and Posy. Instead of the loving mother and sisters that Sophie had always dreamed of, her life quickly became a living hell.

Araminta found Sophie’s very presence a personal affront and treated her accordingly. When the Earl died prematurely, leaving Araminta responsible for Sophie’s welfare as a stipulation of his will, Sophie went from being a member of the family to a lowly servant. Although slave would probably be a more accurate description.

The years pass slowly and at age twenty-one, Sophie is still serving Araminta, Rosamund and Posy. While the three women are off attending the Bridgerton masquerade ball, the other servants in the household prepare a surprise for Sophie. They dress her as beautifully as a princess and arrange an invitation to attend the masquerade...but she must leave at midnight to make it back before the others notice she is missing.

Naturally, Sophie is a great success and catches the eye of one of society’s most eligible bachelors, Benedict Bridgerton. They share a private waltz and a kiss. But before Benedict can discover her identity, Sophie hears the clock strike midnight and she quickly runs away.

Two years later, Sophie is working in Wiltshire as the upstairs maid for the Cavenders, a job she enjoys. The only fly in the ointment is the Cavender’s son Phillip. Phillip has made no secret of his interest in Sophie and when the elder Cavenders are away, a drunken Phillip and two of his friends attempt to rape her. She is saved by the unexpected appearance of Benedict Bridgerton.

Dreams of Benedict have sustained Sophie ever since the ball. Now she is being rescued by her own personal Prince Charming...and he doesn’t recognize her. Benedict rescues Sophie and finds her a position the Bridgerton household, but he still doesn’t recognize her. After all, she was masked at the ball. But one thing he does recognize is his desire to make her his mistress and Sophie adamantly refuses his offer. She cannot chance bringing a child into the world who would face the kind of torment that she’s endured as the bastard daughter of the Earl.

And Sophie has certainly had a tormented life, but An Offer From A Gentleman is never maudlin. Although I have to admit shedding a few tears, the plot was equally balanced with lighthearted moments.

Sophie struck me as the more mature of the pair. Although she’s dreamed of Benedict for years, she’s wise enough to realize that the dreams might be preferable to the reality. Benedict, on the other hand, has lived a charmed life. Unaccustomed to being refused anything, he cannot understand why Sophie would refuse him. It’s a wonderful moment when Benedict finally realizes exactly what he’s asking of Sophie when he demands she become his mistress.

The secondary characters are equally well developed. The wise and loving matriarch Violet has a pivotal role here and the Bridgerton siblings are up to their usual mischief. The evil Araminta seemed a bit over the top, until her motivation is revealed in the end.

An Offer From A Gentleman is as close to a five heart book as I’ve read in a long time. The only thing that kept it from being a perfect read for me could well be the fairy tale quality that permeated the story. In my favorite books, the characters become as real to me as friends, but I felt a bit at arm’s length here.

If you’ve enjoyed the Bridgerton series, there’s no question you’ll love An Offer From A Gentleman. And the mysterious Lady Whistledown, whose Society Papers have opened each chapter in the books, has finally put down her pen. Hopefully, in the next book her identity will be revealed. I can hardly wait.

--Karen Lynch


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