Michael Stirling knew he loved her when he saw Francesca Bridgerton for the first time. Unfortunately, she was only 36 hours away from marrying his cousin and best friend, John Stirling, the Earl of Kilmartin. Almost worse is that Francesca and John remain very much in love throughout their marriage, with Michael the occasional third wheel. He gets up close and personal with a woman he can never have, a woman he would never even try to have because he loves his cousin, but a woman that he loves. They become very close friends. Then, John dies tragically and unexpectedly. Michael can’t handle Francesca’s grief or his own and he flees to India. Four years later, Michael knows it’s time to return, and heads to London early to avoid Francesca, with whom he has not corresponded. Francesca heads early to London to find a husband, because she desperately wants a child. Unsurprisingly, they collide, and neither can handle the attraction that they suddenly feel for each other.
This was a really different take on romance. I can’t remember another book like it, or even one in which the heroine was previously happily married. There might be one, but my experience is a bit limited. Anyway, it’s always the male who has had the experience, whether it comes to previous marriages or affairs. Here, though, both of them have to deal with John’s memory and how to reconcile their feelings with how he would have seen things. I think it’s well done. Francesca especially struggles, because she was happy and she loved John and she’s afraid he’d think she was betraying him.
I also liked how the tone of the book was different from the rest in the Bridgerton series. Not only is the situation very different but the main character, Francesca, is described as feeling a little distant from her family because she’s more serious than they are, though with a snarky edge. Not only does Quinn tell us that, she shows us as well, a fair mark of her talent I think. This book is angsty (although I never thought of it that way until I saw another reviewer say so) and less “fun” than her other books, but its different take on romance and emotional strength are well worth it. I nearly cried at the end, twice, and honestly, who could say that about a typical bodice ripper?
Julia Quinn is definitely my favorite romance author. If you’ve ever considered reading romance or you’re just in the mood for something lighter, start with her. She consistently produces quality stuff with a slightly different edge and with much more between the characters than physical attraction.
Buy When He Was Wicked on Amazon.