Love and letters, 4.5 stars!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 9 May 2014
At twenty-eight and firmly "on the shelf," Eloise Bridgerton was content with her life as a spinster -- or so she thought. Within the arms of her eclectic family, she never felt pressured to marry, and so she held out for the right one, because she was not one to settle for second (or third or fourth) best. As the years since her debut passed, she became increasingly acclimated to the idea of the single life, especially with her best friend and confidante, Penelope at her side. But then Penelope went and married her brother, Colin (Colin!!), and while she was truly happy for two of the people she loved most in the world to find happiness together, she couldn't help feeling...stuck. And so when Sir Phillip Crane, the widowed husband of her cousin, Marina, her secret correspondent of the last year, proposed marriage, she decided to accept. Seized with desperation to claim her chance at a life she thought had passed her by, Eloise flees London before she can lose her nerve...only she neglected apprise Sir Phillip of her impending arrival, and so she arrives at Romney Hall to set her plan in motion, only to be surprised by Phillip's two (unruly) children, no chaperone, and a man equal parts maddening and intoxicating, his manners making her temper flare while his smiles turned her knees to jelly. Is marriage to a man she barely knows her only hope of happiness? Or will her reckless gamble see her married to a man consumed by past demons, one she could never love?
Phillip Crane has spent much of the last decade living a life he'd never wanted. The second born, all Phillip ever wanted was to escape his abusive father's reach, losing himself in his studies at Cambridge where he earned a first in botany. But everything changed when Waterloo took his brother's life, and Phillip found himself the heir to his father's baronetcy. He'd hoped to find a measure of happiness with Marina, his brother's now-bereaved fiancee, but their marriage is doomed from the start, as Marina is crippled by depression. Left with two children he barely knows, and if he's honest, fears to raise -- fears seeing his father's temper rear its ugly head as a twisted, emotional inheritance -- Phillip is every bit as lost as his late wife. But a chance letter from Eloise, a woman he's never met, leads to an unlikely friendship, and gives birth to a desperate plan -- he'll marry the spinster, she'll take charge of his children, and his life will finally be normal. When Eloise arrives, she's nothing like he expected -- gorgeous, spirited, and independent, she's the answer to all of his prayers...if only he can convince her to stay. But when their hands are forced and marriage is no longer an option but a decree, will love have room to grow? Or will happiness remain a dream unfulfilled, forever out of reach?
To Sir Phillip, With Love marks a transition in the Bridgerton series, as with Eloise's story Quinn begins to tell the tales of the four younger siblings that make up this quirky, loving family. The older siblings are now well-established in their lives and families, and the younger are at last given the spotlight in which to shine. Eloise has long been a fixture of the series, for as Penelope's best friend and confidant she unknowingly played a critical role in the Lady Whistledown saga that ran through the first four books, tying them together with columnist's famously droll observations about the ton's eccentricities. This installment is a bit of a departure from the winning formula of its predecessors, as Eloise makes the conscious, shocking decision to flee the only life she's ever known, risking everything on the wild hope that she could love a man she's never met, and thrive in a life outside the close-knit confines of her family.
The romantic in me loves a romance based on letters, and as such was thrilled with the premise behind Eloise and Phillip's connection, despite the decided lack of letters, romantic or otherwise, featured in the narrative. Rather than Whistledown excerpts, each chapter opens with an excerpt from Eloise's past correspondence with friends and family, revealing a glimpse of the woman she'd one day become, whose firmly-held views would undergo a trial by fire when she gambles her future on Phillip. Quinn's trademark warmth and humor are ever present throughout the story, if perhaps in a slightly muted form given the tragedy coloring the lives of the Crane family. I loved the impact of Phillip's "surprise" children on his attempts to court Eloise -- it reminded me a bit of The Brady Bunch, only twins Amanda and Oliver are first wholly opposed to the idea of welcoming Eloise in their lives. Pranks and tears ensue in turn en route to Phillip and Eloise's happily ever after, but Quinn imbues the journey with the warmth, sensitivity, and emotional depth I've come to appreciate as a hallmark of her fiction.
Eloise is a fascinating character, because up to this point she's been given an extraordinary amount of latitude in a culture that raised women to fulfill limited, specific roles. Her contentment with the concept of spinsterhood, and her family's support, enabling her to enjoy a measure of freedom not typically afforded to well-bred single women in her social sphere. But even a Bridgerton must pay the piper, as Eloise discovers to her mortification when her scandalous plans are uncovered, leading her four brothers to Phillip's door, where marriage, once just an option, becomes her future. I LOVED seeing all four of the Bridgerton brothers again, their typical easy-going camaraderie transformed into a formidable force when united in defense of their sister's honor, and the glimpse afforded into Benedict and Sophie's married life. And I loved that even in romantic, escapist fiction of this ilk, Eloise has to come to terms with the consequences of her choices.
Eloise and Phillip's love story is one of conscious choice, wherein the decision is made over and over to fight for the success of their unorthodox relationship. In many respects, these two couldn't be more different, their marriage a study in work and compromise. Quinn handles the impact of Marina's depression on her family with a compassionate touch, sketching the heartbreaking effect such an illness can have on those within its orbit. Therefore, Phillip's response to Eloise, his relief at marrying a passionate, capable woman masking his reticence to deal with his own emotional issues felt incredibly authentic. Once again Quinn crafts a romance that takes the relationship far beyond the physical, here delving into trickier emotional waters, forcing her leads to work through their respective fears and commit to each other and the health of their marriage.
Quinn has never been one to shy away from weightier issues in her romances (i.e., illegitimacy in An Offer from a Gentleman or parental death/mortality in The Viscount Who Loved Me), but this volume feels more somber in tone, perhaps due to circumstances surround Marina's death and Phillip's young children. Although less effortlessly humorous, less effervescent than its predecessors, Eloise's story stands out for its emotional resonance and the unorthodox origin of her love story. While the Bridgerton clan is largely absent from this tale, their presence is always felt, as Eloise discovers anew the import and gift that is her familial legacy as she scripts her life story. The tale of a woman determined to live life on her own terms and a man broken by his past, To Sir Phillip, With Love, is a tribute to the dreamers and the risk-takers among us, those with the courage to seize their dreams and the passion to see them succeed, one of Quinn's best portraits of marriage and commitment.
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