The Lady Most Likely…, by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway
As the writer Julia Quinn has become particularly famous over the course of the last few months given the miniseries that was made out of one of the series she wrote, I thought it would be worthwhile to start looking at her material in greater detail. I must say that this book, which is one of the cooperative novels she has written, may not be the most ideal way to see her own voice as an author, but it does a good job at presenting the mentality of contemporary regency romance novelists and it does not provide a particularly impressive story. The authors here are clearly trying to crib from Jane Austen, in at least some of her novels, by having a spirited heroine–indeed, quite a few spirited women-and in having the plot of the book move towards engagement, but the authors here forget that Jane Austen was not writing regency romances like they were, she happened to be a contemporary novelist who just happened to live and write in the regency period. The difference between writing from knowledge and experience and observation, even if one was a maiden aunt, and writing from an anachronistic point of view, turns out to make a fair amount of difference after all.
This book is between 350 and 400 pages and it consists of a multi-author exploration of a multi-couple dinner party and its repercussions. The setup is that we have a horse-mad earl who is trying to find a partner, and his sister decides to play matchmaker and sets up a party so he can end up finding a partner, and the end result is an entertaining and complex story with multiple subplots where the writers dispose of the unmarried people in such a way that ends up providing a great deal of romantic interest to the reader, at least potentially. People kiss and compromise themselves with seeming impunity, and yet the men in the story act all over-protective about women that they would happily romp with and then agree to marry in order to make things work out for the morality of the people reading the book. One gets the feeling that if earls and other members of of the ton set acted like they did here there would be a lot more duels where such people would find themselves pushing up daisies. And that would be a lot more realistic and perhaps even more enjoyable than what happens here.
In reading a book like this, it is important to ponder what the role of the setting is in the book. Given that the men and women in this book act a lot like contemporary men and women do in terms of their attitudes, especially towards sexuality, the authors appear to miss the point of making a regency novel. The appeal of the past, properly understood, is to provide a context by which to judge the present, especially as a commentary on societal failings and problems that are present in our society that are taken for granted. This is not what this book offers. Instead, this book offers cosplay for people who think and behave much like contemporary people without any deeper sort of moral compass to guide them. The authors likely fail to write about the past in a compelling way because they lack an ability to get inside the mentality and worldview of the past. All they want to do is portray the past as a costume drama for the wish fulfillment of their readers. And if this book is not disastrously bad, it is certainly not inspiring either.