About a quarter through my reading of Julia Quinn‘s latest fluffy concoction, The Sum of All Kisses, I realized that I was having fun with it. That, despite my initial misgivings that the experience wouldn’t amount to anything but inhaling the air surrounding a bouquet of cotton candy—which, to be fair, was what my disposition direly needed at the time—Quinn had written a romance novel that I was actually enjoying. Sure, that first quarter was a study on how to alienate a reader by way of a deliberately shrill and over-dramatic heroine. But it was all smooth sailing from there.
And then, a handful of hours after finishing the book, just as I was about to write down my impressions of Quinn’s novel in my notebook, I found out that I couldn’t remember what exactly happened. I had nothing beyond the two main characters. It was fucking ridiculous.
No, it’s not the first time that a Quinn plot was thrown into the shadowy recesses of my mind. For one: I was resigned, during the reading of The Sum of All Kisses itself, that I won’t ever ever ever recall what happened to the first two Smythe-Smith books—no matter how hard Sum beat me over the head with a gaggle of secondary characters that I assume were from those earlier books in the series. But this is the keenest I’ve noticed how terrible Quinn’s work hangs onto me: I’d forgotten what The Sum of All Kisses was all about, way way way too soon after I stopped reading it.
I admit I bought The Sum of All Kisses because—as Quinn’s books have proven for me time and again (I’m sure, I think, I sort of remember)—I was sure I’d need a book that I would just read. [And also because will you just look at that beautiful cover, just look at it.] I’ve never been for light romances, I know this, I am an angst-bucket kind of romance reader. Or, you know: At the very least, I’m all for romance novels with substance. (Too much to demand? Can’t we have lightness and not fucking fluff?) (Can’t we have good romance novels that refuse to settle!) Let me be immersed in Anna Campbells and Tessa Dares and Courtney Milans and Sarah MacLeans. Mary Balogh’s reissues are the quaintest I’m willing to get and tend to enjoy. Know what’s a light romance that doesn’t have you feeling like all the air’s been sucked from your noggin? Laura Kinsale’s hedgehog story. There. Romance novels to read when you’re not too keen on getting your heartstrings cut to shreds? Eloisa James.
If you know you enjoyed a romance novel, but can’t fucking remember why you enjoyed a romance novel—can you still actually claim that you enjoyed the romance novel? Do you still have a worthwhile blog post if all the blog post delivers is confusion over forgetting what a romance novel is about?
I should really stop buying Quinn’s books. Or I should just go back to her Bridgertons.
Then again, here’s a thought so our time here isn’t completely wasted: Historical romance is brimming with heroines who are wallflowers or eccentrics—or, in the case of the Smythe-Smiths, part of some collective object of ridicule—and with heroes who belong to some suave, dastardly club. Is there a series out there that upends this? Where we have women who are at the top of their ton game, but especially: Heroes who are on the fringes of fashionable society. Not quite the Misters or the soldiers or the lone wolves—but those who are of the ton, but aren’t quite adored by it? Can we have wallflower-marquesses? Or scientist-earls? Or, I don’t know, just a quartet of terrible musicians—let’s even make them second sons—who, for some reason or the other, keep playing for a quietly mocking crowd? Can we have secretly-Alpha fops and dandies and shy heroes and whatnot? Can we have secretly cool socially uncool male leads? Please? And do we even have them already?