Review

Review: Splendid by Julia Quinn (1995)

Splendid Trilogy, Book 1

Heat Factor: Hotter than most of JQ’s later books, but still just maybe Bunsen burner level

Character Chemistry: High drama but the overkill is fun

Plot: misunderstandings, compromises, kidnappings, OH MY!

Overall: If I were to write a first romance novel, I would hope it approaches this level of entertainment

Once upon a time I read that Julia Quinn wrote her first book, Splendid, to be a romp. It is. There is, in fact, very little about it that is not ridiculous, and this, frankly, is the reason I own every single Julia Quinn novel published.

What is the plot of this story? Emma Dunster is the only child (a daughter! alas!) of a wealthy American shipping magnate, and she’s visiting her mother’s family in London. Although all of them have plans for her to get married, she has plans for that shipping company back in the States. Meanwhile, Alexander Ridgley, Duke of Ashbourne is a rake (because of course he is) who has decided women are not to be trusted (again, because of course) and has no intention of marrying any time soon because the begetting of heirs will be something he can do in his forties when he’s had a little living under his belt. 

When they first meet, Alex believes that Emma is a servant (it could have something to do with her being dressed as a servant and carrying a lot of eggs), so he kinda sorta wants to make sure she’s okay but he kinda sorta wants to bang her as well. About 12 hours later, he finds out she’s a wealthy heiress…so he’s like, “Cool! A young virgin of my own class! I will seduce her!” Because that’s what honorable men do. 

Emma’s personality being as fiery as her hair (because of course it is), she accepts Alex’s friendship for the boon it is to her social life and is otherwise like, “Yeah, no, I’m not so into your nefarious seduction plans.” But when they decide to quit playing around and be friends for real, the magic happens! Alex and Emma become friends, and it’s totally adorable. Alex absolutely has this hypermasculine possessive jealousy thing going on, but the friendship is pretty fun. And let’s also acknowledge that this book was written in the mid-90s and narratives regarding alpha male hero behavior have changed a little bit in more than 20 years. 

The first portion of Splendid is centered on the conflict of the relationship development between Emma and Alex. Then there’s this sub-plot going on with Emma’s cousins Belle and Ned. Short story, Ned lost a lot of money to an unscrupulous, cheating Lord who has the hots for Belle. Emma has an idea to help Ned because she is wealthy, but she has to marry to access her English mother’s inheritance. She wants to marry Alex, and if she asks him she can help Ned and be married to the man of her dreams. Of course, because Alex has this somewhat unexplained antipathy toward women, when Emma proposes because of money he freaks out and dumps her. Then he finds out she’s going to do something that might be somewhat dangerous and he freaks out again because he is very possessive. Of a woman he coldly threw out of his house for being a grasping deceiver. That’s right. There is an overwrought scene of “HOW COULD YOU!?” and “For real though, why are you overreacting?” as one has been accustomed to finding in historical romance novels where there is an eensy weensy hint of danger combined with an alpha hero and an independent heroine. 

There’s some back and forth to move things along and continue crazypants arguments between the protagonists and among their relatives–short story, Emma and Alex DO get married! But there’s still quite a bit of story left, and what is going on? A whole other road trip down not only a marriage sub-plot but also continuation of the Belle and Ned sub-plot. All of this culminates in yet another dramatic scene of “HOW COULD YOU?!” after which we all live happily ever after. 

Back in the day when I first bought this book, I’m sure I thought it was ah.maze.ing. When I’ve just reread it in the context of modern culture and with the input of all the other books I’ve since read, it was rather delightfully ridiculous.


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