Lady Whistledown Strikes Back, by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, and Mia Ryan
This book is made up of four romance novellas, and as a cooperative story there are definitely a great deal of common threads shared throughout the story. This particular book is thanks to the popularity of sequels and requels, where the popularity of a particular character, in this case the sharp and witty Lady Whistledown, encouraged the creation of a series of novels that are united by the waspish commentary of the titular character, even if each of the couples involved are focused on by different authors. It should be noted that every chapter of this book begins with a humorous comment from Lady Whistledown, all of them written by Julia Quinn, to whom the character belongs. In this particular case, the stories are connected via a rather loose frame narrative that involves a disastrous dinner party that leads to the hostess’ jewelry going missing with accusations as far as who the thief is, which leads to each writer choosing to write about a different couple who attended that disastrous dinner as well as various other social events going on at the same time.
This book is made up of four connected stories that revolve around a few set piece events that the various characters are a part of, and some characters that are minor characters in one story are themselves major characters of their own and are related to each other. The book begins with novella where the hero is a second son of a relatively poor gentleman who is seeking an heiress and ends up finding love with the sister of a close friend of his who died near Waterloo. The second novella looks at Bella, the companion to Lady Neely, seeking business success as well as her first kiss at the advanced age of thirty, where she finds herself courted by Lord Roxbury, someone viewed as a rake who happens merely to be reluctant to marry. The third story then discusses a young woman whose parents drastically underestimate her who finds love with an eligible earl. The fourth story then looks at a relative of the young woman in the third short novella who is courted by her husband, who has been in exile on the continent for years, and who returns home when she seeks an annulment. These stories are connected by the disastrous dinner party by Lady Neeley, visits to Hyde Park, and a rather disastrous reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, as well as Lady Whistledown’s observations.
There are at least some aspects of this book that are interesting, although the stories are highly variable. The text at the back of the book is not all that useful in helping the reader to understand what is going on. To give one example, the back text refers to someone as a servant who has always tried to stay out of trouble who is courted by a rake, when in reality she happens to be Lady Neeley’s companion and relative, and so not strictly a servant, but rather someone in a more ambiguous position. Similarly, the men in this book aren’t really as bad as the blurbs try to make them out to be. That is not to say that they are very moral individuals, by Christian and biblical standards of morality, but by society they are hardly immoral. The real issue is the women. It is perhaps unsurprising that modern women would have a hard time being able to understand the level of restraint that was expected out of women. The authors can hardly expect their precious heroines to show more restraint than they would, which is not nearly enough for them to be moral according to the standards of their time. Nonetheless, it is telling that the double standard that feminists complain about has very good reason, in that men were expected to be able to please their women, which required experience, while women who had acquired the same level of skill were by definition fallen women. Perhaps we are a bit too hard on the double standards of the past.