Rokesby Series, Book 1
Heat Factor: Low heat, all the butterflies
Character Chemistry: present and accounted for
Plot: You’ve been a thorn in my side for my entire life, how could I possibly be in love with you?
Overall: Finally, a JQ in the old style
This is the Julia Quinn I had been waiting for for years. When an author becomes prolific, finding new plots or new heroes and heroines with unique problems can be a challenge. I can accept that. I had a hard time accepting a number of JQ’s recent ones, however, as each seemed to me to be more over-the-top than the last (I’m looking at you, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy). At last, here we have a fresh story in tried and true mold with moments that cause butterflies in this smut-jaded heart.
The first book in a new series set in the Georgian period (a new period for JQ) Because of Miss Bridgerton explores the relationship between Billie Bridgerton and George Rokesby (with the Rokesby blue eyes, which make me a little swoony even though I’ve obviously never seen them). Most of the book is set at the adjacent Bridgerton-Rokesby estates, so there’s very little to distract us from the budding romance. This is probably what is so butterfly-inducing. There’s nothing to distract from either George’s or Billie’s internal reflections. Squee!
Billie and George have known each other all their lives, but George, being the eldest of all the Rokesby and Bridgerton offspring, was not particularly friendly with the four next children, who were all born very close together and got up to childish shenanigans (as children do). He’s also risk averse and fully aware of his position and duty as heir to an earldom. He considers before he acts. By contrast, Billie is the eldest Bridgerton, and she is a risk-taker and feels she should have been born a boy so she could inherit the estate that she loves and loves to manage. Her confidence in her abilities and judgements leads her to act before thinking.
JQ presents their relationship as if it’ll be a hate to love sort of story, but I never really bought that they didn’t like each other. Perhaps a better interpretation would be indifference to love: the Rokesbys and the Bridgertons are practically family, and what we see tends to reflect a distant oldest brother, the bickering banter of siblings or very close friends, the acceptance of the personhood of someone you’ve known forever. I’d agree that at the outset of the story George does not, perhaps, respect Billie. He doesn’t like that she acts first and thinks later and brings his siblings along with her into potentially dangerous situations. He also doesn’t appreciate that she essentially performs all the duties of a steward to manage Aubrey Hall on her father’s behalf. He thinks of her as the annoying girl next door who never got held accountable for her behavior because she was so vivacious. Billie thinks George is a dull stick, but my read on her thinking of him as someone to antagonize was more due to the families’ familiar relationship than because she actively had any negative thoughts about him.
This story is one hundred percent about George’s and Billie’s journey of self discovery through their romance. No crazy bad guys. No family pressure. No distractions. It feels normal and relatable. George and Billie, through their shared experiences in this story, gain a little self understanding and self acceptance. For their relationship, as the story progresses, we peel away the layers of George’s and Billie’s observations about each other and their speculation about what that means for themselves until we’re left with moments of, “OMG, how could I possibly want to kiss this person!? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?!” And then eventually moments of, “Let’s stop pretending and snog our brains out in the drawing room.” I paraphrase. For one reason or another, I have read this book four times and even considering the points I find silly or not to my taste, or more to the point, even knowing exactly what happens (it’s only been out since 2016…it’s not like I’ve had ample opportunity to forget), I still get butterflies every time. How does JQ do that?
Now I’ll nitpick a little bit. Quick repartee and an embrace of absurdity feature hugely in JQ’s work, and we see that here. In particular, the needling bickery banter that the characters from Billie’s and George’s generation engage in is, on the one hand, relatable because you’ve been exposed to people or at least a show that tease like this. On the other hand, it’s not particularly kind, and it is rather frequent, and that could become an irritation for the reader.
Also, for me, Billie was a difficult heroine. She has personally decided to run Aubrey Hall because she can do it better than anyone else. In context, she is highly skilled, knowledgeable, competent, and she works hard. I don’t want to imply that she hasn’t achieved a great deal. Still, refusing to acknowledge the skills of others or to provide them with the training they need in order to be successful is not something I would say ought to be lauded, and while George does suggest that Billie needs to let go of Aubrey since her brother will eventually inherit it, nobody ever suggests that Billie is perhaps relying too heavily on the estate to provide an outsized part of her identity. Billie is also a homebody, which is not something I identify with. In part, this is because she’s comfortable at her estate and she isn’t comfortable, for example, in the sophisticated aristocratic society of London. It’s also just part of her entrenchment in the estate. Her best friend Mary, who is pregnant (and traveling!), suggests that Billie should come visit her.
“You know I can’t,” Billie replied. Mary had been inviting her for a visit for over a year, but it was so difficult for Billie to get away. There was always something that needed to be done around the estate. And truly, didn’t it make more sense for Mary to come to Kent, where she already knew everyone?
“You can,” Mary insisted, “you just won’t.”
Intellectually I understand that different people have different levels of comfort with being around people or traveling or what have you. I just felt like Billie was being selfish and wasn’t admitting to herself or anyone else the reasons she really didn’t want to go visit her best friend. Or go anywhere, really. In these moments, she was difficult to like. But one of the reasons we read is to explore new ideas, isn’t it? Later in her exchange with Mary, Billie points out that they have different ideas about what contributes to a person’s happiness.
Clearly if I’ve read this book four times, I still quite enjoy it. You should give it a go, too.
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