Lots of spoilers ahead. Bewares.
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy is the fourth book in the series which, honestly, is beginning to lag for me, and really lacks the charm of Julia Quinn’s famed Bridgerton series. I think it’s because the family its centered around is not nearly as interesting or charming. There’s a lot I like about this book, but what I didn’t like really detracted from the overall quality.
So the basic plot of this story–what the reader understands from the first chapter is this: Richard needs to marry fast, and Iris doesn’t have a lot of reasons to say no. We’re not told until maybe just past the halfway point why he needs to marry and the resolution, while understandable and even welcomed, is mashed a bit in the ends.
I think the main problem I have with the way the story is set up is that I wanted to like the hero, but I couldn’t. Because I didn’t know why he was hurting Iris. The readers are informed pretty much the same time as Iris is, and –she wasn’t angry enough, because I was pissed and these people aren’t even real.
The readers needed more time with this secret. Because I’m still not happy with it, even though I understood the motivations. His eldest sister, unmarried, is pregnant. He believes the child’s father is dead, and therefore Fleur (the sister) is facing certain ruin. There’s not enough money to set her up as a widow or arrange a marriage, so he decides to get married himself and pass the child off as his own.
And he does exactly that: He meets Iris, decides she’s the one because she’s pretty enough and relatively intelligent, then within a week, forces her hand into marriage, drags her to Yorkshire, plays hot and cold by being charming and lovely during the day and outright rejecting her at night. She finally learns why when Fleur and Marie-Claire return home a week into the marriage.
That’s the majority of the book. Iris learns this horryifying background into the marriage in Chapter Eighteen. There are twenty-five chapters in this book, which means the readers spent two-thirds of the book getting really annoyed.
Not only should the readers have been included in this earlier, but I think there needs to be more time with the fallout. Iris decides to play along for the moment, but her decision lasts barely a day or two before she learns Fleur is lying about the father. I’m not saying Julia Quinn should have dragged this a lot longer, but I think she misses a chance here to really expand on the depth of her leading characters, which I’ll get to in a bit.
So, yeah, I like the idea of the story, but I’m just not thrilled with the execution. So, the structure? I’m going with a 3.
I liked Iris in Sarah’s book, The Sum of All Kisses, so I was prepared to like her in this. She was a bit deadpan, a bit of a break from the histrionics of the Smythe-Smith girls in general (Sarah and Honoria are lovely, but Iris is quite different). And she had a good sense of herself. I loved that she knew from the get-go that Richard wasn’t being honest with her, but that she had enough vulnerability and softness to want to go along with it for a bit. So, yeah, my initial impression of Iris was good.
I couldn’t warm up to Richard, mostly because of what I mentioned earlier. I knew that he was deceiving Iris, I knew that while he found her intelligent and relatively attractive, he didn’t really get a sense of her worth. His proposal is calculated and very off-putting, and I know as readers, we were supposed to see it coming, but it comes back to this: I don’t know why he’s doing it. It’s not enough for me that he hates that he’s doing it. He’s still doing it. He’s still targeting this woman whom he barely knows for reasons I don’t understand, and I don’t care that he hates it. I like Iris and he’s messing with her.
Now, once I know what’s going on, I did start to change my mind. He is in an impossible situation–his guilt of not looking out for his sisters, the feeling that he has come across the only solution that will save both his sisters–it all works. I just wish I had known it earlier. I could have been agonizing with him. But I’m not allowed to.
Now should I have figured it out earlier? I don’t know, I have a pretty rotten cold, but I honestly didn’t see it coming until the sisters rolled up, Fleur was so angry and then sick, and Marie-Claire talks about the next year being a disaster. I’ll have to reread it to look for clues, but I’m pretty good about seeing things coming and I didn’t see it coming.
So yeah, right away, I’m not on board with Richard, and I feel really cheated because I could have been if given the chance.
Additionally, I felt like there was more backstory that I didn’t get a clear idea about. Richard’s father seems like an irresponsible fellow, but he paid the education for the son of one of his tenant farmers, which is a lovely thing. But Richard really seems to resent his father, so I don’t know what I missed.
Iris’ parents are truly awful in the scene in which they’re working out the details of the marriage. Her father is–I can’t even describe it, and her mother is an absolute twit. I really thought we were going to get more about that, except it’s not mentioned again. If Julia Quinn is saving it for another book, that’s a pity. I feel like it might have given Iris a great deal of depth.
So yeah, there’s some muddiness to the backstory that I really think is a missed opportunity.
So Iris is great and Richard could have been. Characterization gets a 3 as well.
So I’ve been kind of sad about the last few books Julia Quin has written. Her Romancing Mr Bridgerton is one of my top five favorite books and she’s always been a must buy, pre-order if possible. That hasn’t really changed, but I was sooo disappointed with the ending of The Sum of All Kisses. It’s literally a five star read with two fantastic leads who just sparkle together–except for the last, oh, six or seven chapters that derail it completely.
So. Yeah. This, in a lot of ways, was a major step up. The ending was not a melodramatic mess and I liked the way it looked at the repercussions of choices in society given the time period and people involved. I just think there were a few missteps that really dragged the book down as a whole. It had the potential to be a five star, but I just can’t make myself do it. So, three stars it is.