The Further Observations Of Lady Whistledown, by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, and Mia Ryan
One of the most telling aspects of this particular book is the way that the four couples in this book are so dependent on the course of their courtships on a narrow group of events. For example, the couples all end up going to the theater to watch a noted actor in The Merchant of Venice. In addition, all of the couples end up going to a disastrous ice skating event where most of them end up making a fool of themselves and others, and all of them end up going to a Valentine’s Day party. This sort of forced unity within the stories demonstrates the small world effect that these novels and many other romance novels work on, where people seek their spouses from a very narrow range of potential marriage partners, and where their follies and foibles and struggles in relationships are in full view of competitors as well as other potential partners, making it hard for people to get a fair chance from other people because of their prejudgment of people, which ends up proving important in several of these particular stories. If everything ends up well, at least in the mind of the authors, the characters are sufficiently appealing for love to prevail.
This particular book is a cooperative set of four stories that are all themed around winter romances in a season where people are drawn to the freezing over of the Thames (itself the result of a volcanic eruption, not discussed here). The first story talks about a young woman who has been engaged all her life to a fiance she does not know, and whose flirtatious behavior draws her reclusive fiance from his farm to court her, seeking to win a heart he had assumed was his all along. The second story shows a man reluctant to marry who finds himself spurred into courting a friend of his who has shown a sudden interest in matrimony, showing an example of a friend turning into a lover. The third story has a young woman being courted by two gentlemen, one of whom happens to be the man who evicted her from the house, rather accidentally because of some brain injuries he suffered in war that made it impossible for him to be as articulate as he would wish, encouraging him to be rather eccentric. The fourth and final story then deals with a young woman who was jilted by a gentleman and is then courted by his brother, with a great deal of competitiveness even though the younger brother is now married to someone else who is not happy to see him still trying to manipulate the feelings of the young lady.
In looking at the travails of the couples in this story, it is interesting to look at the sort of situations that are portrayed. Many of the stories are, perhaps unsurprisingly love triangles of a sort, These love triangles manifest themselves in different ways. For example, one of the couples was jilted by a younger brother and then courted by the older brother, but the younger brother still tries to get his jilted partner to suffer because of the rejection even after he has married someone else. Another young lady behaves in a way that draws her reclusive fiance from his sheep in Yorkshire to a London he dislikes in order to court someone he has been engaged to all of her life. Given the way that love triangles are an easy way to ramp up romantic tension and competition and spur people on to court, they are easy to put as part of romance novels, though admittedly they do not make for very enjoyable experiences. The fact that such things are relied on to such a large degree by these writers suggests that they are not quite at the highest level of skill in being able to use less obvious means of increasing the tension between characters, though even the best romance novelists use such things at least occasionally.