- Title: What Happens in London
- Author: Julia Quinn
- Type: Historical romance
- Genre: Regency
- Sub-genre: Humorous
- My Grade: C (3*)
- Rating: PG-13
Somewhere between To Catch an Heiress and the about the middle of the seemingly endless Bridgerton series, Julia Quinn lost her mojo – for me at least. Her stories became so shallow and contrived – and repetitious – I just gave up. She was always an Amanda Quick style writer, favoring what became increasingly slim stories with wit and charm. I did read The Lost Duke of Wyndham and thought it OK, but having read the reviews of Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, I skipped the second book. What Happens in London generated enough buzz I bought it – and read it cover to cover in record time. Was it that good? Ummmmmmm NO. It was that slight and shallow, no brains required.
The whole story line is based on a superficial premise that the beautiful Lady Olivia Bevelstoke begins spying on her new neighbor, Sir Harry Valentine, because of a rumor that he murdered his fiancé. Even Olivia realizes how utterly groundless the rumor and her suspicions are, but still she watches Harry every day from her bedroom window. Harry is very aware of her spying and not above giving her things to wonder about – like wearing a silly hat indoors as he works at his desk translating documents from Russian to English for the War Office, but just knowing she’s watching has become a major distraction and his work is going too slowly. His Russian Grandmother insisted he and his siblings speak and read Russian and French and she flatly refused to speak in English to them, so both are near cradle languages for him. Whatever Sir Harry is doing with all those papers has Olivia beyond curious and Harry furious at the distraction.
Sir Harry, having assumed the title on his drunkard father’s death, has his younger brother Edward fresh from school living in his London home and showing all the signs of following in their father’s staggering steps. His cousin Sebastian Grey, with whom he went to school and later served with on the Peninsula fighting Napoleon for years, is also in London. Sebastian’s cousin died leaving only female offspring, so he is, theoretically, his uncle’s heir – a rich earldom. Seb’s uncle hates him and despite his age is bride shopping in London in hopes of getting a replacement heir. Still, London society is betting against his uncle and treating Seb as a very attractive ‘catch’ for the eligible ladies – which translates into his being asked to all the best parties. Seb is no fool and knows Harry is up to something when he asks where Lady Olivia will next be in society. He has Harry join him at the notorious musicale at the Smythe-Smiths house so he has company in his misery. There, Harry finally meets Olivia. He even gets to torment her again a few days later in the park. When Olivia asks him why he’s sitting with her, he replies, “You vex me.” Now he’s done with Olivia. (I hope you’re containing your excitement over all this brilliant wit.)
A call to the War Office changes all that. Harry is asked to spy on the visiting Russian Prince Alexei Ivanovich Gomarovsky. The prince’s father was a Napoleonic sympathizer and the War Office has concerns about the political leanings of Alexei. Unfortunately, Prince Alexei is very interested the beautiful blue-eyed blond Lady Olivia – a very suitable match. Harry must now ingratiate himself with the lady he’s gone out of his way to provoke. He does so by bring her a novel, one of the ‘horrid romances’ so very popular with the ladies. This book becomes the centerpiece of much of the rest of the novel. Perhaps the funniest bit is when Seb begins reading out loud to the prince and half of the staff of the Bevelstoke house.
From here out the story runs on the slimmest of plots throughout and the bizarre twist at the end was more annoyingly contrived than anything else. Neither Harry nor Olivia has any real substance. They are as shallowly drawn as the plot. The book was amusing with an occasional laugh. Unfortunately, it was also utterly forgettable as well. I felt like Ms Quinn was aiming for Tracy/Hepburn in fancy dress, but ended up with something that was a pale shadow of their wit and charm. If this story was food, it would be cotton candy – fairy floss. Sweet, fluffy, mildly flavored and satisfying a momentary desire for something light and insubstantial. Insubstantial describes every part of this book from plot to characters to dialogue.
Having just re-read Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, the shortcomings of What Happens in London seemed more obvious than they might have at another time. No part of the book struck anything like a remotely memorable chord. Neither was it annoying in any way. What Happens in London was simply a pleasant bagatelle and nothing more.
Dear Author liked this book far better than I did. See their review here.
Who would enjoy his book: Followers of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series and Stephanie Lauren’s Cynster series.