As these books are essentially two halves of the same story, I thought it would make the most sense if I reviewed them together. Thomas, duke of Wyndham, has been raised to power and privilege, knowing from birth what it was to be, essentially, Wyndham. He’s been engaged to Lady Amelia since they were babies. His grandmother, however, is a stodgy old dowager determined to make everyone’s life miserable, particularly that of her companion, Grace Eversleigh, a girl whose parents were country nobility but on their death found nothing for herself but this position. Into this established little picture comes Jack Audley, a former soldier turned highwayman with a disturbing resemblance to Thomas’s dead uncle – his father’s older brother. If Jack is proven legitimate, their whole world will be turned upside down.
In the first book, the central characters are Jack and Grace, and everything is seen through their point of view. In the second, we see things through the eyes of Thomas and Amelia. These books get a lot of criticism for being mostly the same story, but I think when you know that going in – as you should if you’ve read any summary or even heard of the books – you can’t really complain, because why did you bother reading the second one in the first place if you didn’t want to hear the same story told a bit differently? That’s my main gripe with most of the reviews I’ve read. I found the second book intriguing enough even with the same plot, because the characters are different and that’s really why I was interested in it. The search for legitimacy and what it means to each person is explored through all four of them and I think it’s a different way of looking at romance. I particularly like that the first one focuses on the lower class (although none of them are low class, they’re all of gentle birth) who are about to experience a lift in status, while the second explores the issues of identity that Thomas has, realizing he’s not the duke after all and how much of his identity rests on that – and how much doesn’t. Amelia has these issues to a much lesser extent given that she seems to have less attachment to her future as duchess and instead wants to marry a man she actually likes.
Now, I did feel like these didn’t quite live up to the first few I read by Julia Quinn, I must admit. I didn’t feel quite that same spark with the characters – they just weren’t as lively, there wasn’t as much chemistry, and I didn’t have that smile on my face at their interactions. She still does deal with a real life issue here though – identity crisis and how we define ourselves – and there’s also Jack, who reflects, in a small way, our terrible habit of letting those who fight for our countries languish and struggle because once their duty is done we’re not interested. So I wouldn’t say Quinn has lost it, because I still enjoyed these books. I think they’re great for romance. I just don’t think they’re quite up to her standard, and I think that before you read them, you should know that they consist of the same basic plot told through the eyes of two different couples.