i'd like to start this review with a few disclaimers.
1.) i fucking love romance novels. i don't give two shits if you don't, because i do and i will not be ashamed about it. i love cheesy romances and i love fast burns and slow burns and stupid plots and contrivances. when a man makes an ass of himself in the first few chapters of a romance novel i cackle audibly because i know his ass is about to get mr darcy'd. when i see a book at the store that is printed on the cheapest possible paper and has a photoshopped cover with a shirtless man i rub my horrible little hands together in glee. i consume these books like a cartoon dog with a t-bone steak. i've tied my napkin around my neck, i got my fancy little fork and knife, and i'm ready to fucking EAT.
2.) i especially love it when romance novels have fat protagonists. finally, i get to project on characters too! the skinny cishet white girls got to do it for so long and now it's my turn! i get to pretend i have a chance with a regency gentleman! sure, they haven't caught onto the fact that you can be fat and not white at the same time, so it'll probably be a couple of decades before i can go full immersion, but that's alright. i can be patient. (this is a lie). anyways, fat girl protagonists! the arguement's been made that we don't need more fat representation where their entire character arc revolves around insecurities, and generally i agree, but also, i'm a fat girl who's insecure about being fat. i genuinely can't relate to characters who are all self love all the time. sure, it'd be nice if their WHOLE arc wasn't about insecurity, but i'd like a mention. honestly, i think the answer to this is just having more fat characters. there's no problem with having only insecure characters and only confident characters if you just have both. as is the answer to most problems with representation, yknow? add more. can't hurt!
3.) i didn't watch the bridgerton tv show. my apologies to shondaland productions, i just can't do tv shows unless i'm watching them with a friend. (and all my friends told me in no uncertain terms that they would not watch bridgerton with me. except for midi. love you midi!) it took extreme concentrated effort to watch moon knight, and that shit came out one episode a week. (also yes, marvel, cringe, however i'll defend moon knight to the death. it's actually good. you should watch it.) also, i hate all things that are popular on principle because i'm some sort of insufferable hipster, and i already used up my Damn OK I'll Swallow My Pride The Show Is Good points for the past two months on arcane and the owl house (both excellent shows, unfortunately for me). i'll probably watch the third season when it comes out though, becauuuuuuuuuuse...
4.) you read the title! i'm madly in love with nicola coughlan! listen to me. look me in the eyes. nicola coughlan is gorgeous. the reason i read this book was because i saw a picture of her in a beautiful yellow dress and i blacked out and woke up at a barnes and nobles checkout with romancing mr bridgerton in my hands. (this review is about the book romancing mr. bridgerton, by the way. i just realized i didn't say that anywhere.) everyone in these books say that penelope looks bad in warm colors and everyone can SUCK IT because she is KILLING IT. she's so pretty. the yellow dress with the daisies? holy shit. the pale green dress with the shawl? oh my god. the pink and yellow dress with the jacket? AAAAAAAAAAA! i read this book because of nicola coughlan. i'll probably rope a friend into watching the tv show with me when season 3 comes out. that's all there is to say.
alright, here's the actual review. i fucking loved this book. it was good! i'm eating crow here admitting this! it was really good!
romancing mr. bridgerton is about colin bridgerton and penelope featherington, third children of both of their families. the whole gimmick of the bridgerton series is that violet bridgerton, who was insane for this one, had eight children, and. well she named them in abc order. to which i have to agree with lady whistledown here. one WOULD think that intelligent parents would be able to keep their children straight without needing to alphabetize their names. anyways there's anthony, benedict, colin, daphne, eloise, francesca, gregory, and hyacinth, and i did NOT have to look in the family tree in the back to remember that and you CANNOT prove anything. anyways. violet the mighty wants all of her kids married off and happy now that her husband's dead, which is a good goal for the regency era, and the main eight books are what this is about. there are other books, like the prequels and the whistledown series and the smythe-smith books, but that's the long and short of it. romancing mr. bridgerton (henceforth referred to as rmb, because i'm not typing all of that) as previously mentioned is about colin and penelope. penelope's been a minor character up to this point, as has colin, to be fair, and now they get their own story! love that for them. penelope's been head over heels in love with colin since she was sixteen and he fell off his horse in front of her, but has given up on the idea of finding love since she hit twenty-eight and became a spinster in the eyes of society. which is bullshit, by the way. twenty-eight is YOUNG. also the thought that twenty eight is old makes me scared for MY future. anyways. colin on the other hand is thirty-two (but...not a spinster? the regency era was weird) and has always thought of penelope as eloise's best friend, and then suddenly, after returning from a trip overseas, gets knocked on his ass ONCE AGAIN, THIS TIME NOT BY A HORSE, BUT BY LOVE. excellent. this is exactly my shit.
anyways, i've mentioned lady whistledown, so i should probably explain that too. lady whistledown is an anonymous gossip columnist that everyone in the ton reads. she's witty, she's funny, she's voiced by julie andrews, and she knows everything about everyone. what makes her special is that she doesn't retract anyone's names. she puts you on blast to EVERYONE. how fitting, then, that part of the plot is the whole ton, spurred on by a bet from lady danbury, is trying to unmask her!
(and from here on out there are spoilers. you have been warned.)
how unfortunate though, that penelope is lady whistledown! and how deeply unlucky it is that colin hates lady whistledown!
oh, and also she'll be ruined forever in the eyes of society if she's found. there's that too. onto the characters!
1.) let's start with penelope, our main gal. penelope is a very sweet but very practical character. she's been in love with colin since she was sixteen- but knows that there is no chance that her feelings would be returned. she's a spinster- but not by choice, like her best friend eloise bridgerton. eloise has had proposals and men interested in her, and more importantly, the support of her family in her choice to marry for love. penelope, on the other hand, has never had anybody interested in her (bitch, me too, the fuck-), and has an overbearing and critical mother, two already married older sisters, and a younger sister who's far more popular than she ever was. but she holds onto her dream of colin being in love with her until the day she walks in on colin announcing to two of his brothers that he would NEVER marry her. this is the first time she manages to stand up for herself in the book! she tells him that she never said she wanted to marry him, or told anybody that she wanted to marry him. and then anthony walks her home. it's not a triumphant scene, to be clear- you can feel that penelope is on the verge of tears the whole time. she then tells anthony that colin should travel, because she thinks it'll be healthy for him. she's heartbroken, but not bitter about this. (she's better then i am. i would throw eggs at his house.) she accepts the fact that she will most likely not marry for love, if she marries at all, and focuses on what makes her happy instead.
this is, if i'm going to be honest and uncomfortably personal, pretty much exactly how it feels to be fat and insecure about yourself, which penelope is. (which, hey, side note, julia quinn? i understand this book was published in 2002, but why does she have to lose weight to be considered pretty? its a small mention, but dude. Dude.) she's a very good representation of this, to be honest. when i read dumplin' by julia murphy, which is also about a fat girl who's trying to regain her confidence, it felt like the protagonist's thoughts about her body and how other people saw her had been taken directly out of my head. i feel the same way with penelope. the way she quietly resigns herself to only dreaming of love, the way she prided herself on at least never crying in public, her misery when her mother forced her to wear clothes that she hated, the way she knew that the only reason colin ever danced with her at balls was so that she wouldn't feel bad about nobody else asking her to dance. she literally says about herself, five pages into the book, "she tried to remind herself that beauty was only skin deep, but that didn't offer any helpful excuses when she was berating herself for never knowing what to say to people. there was nothing more depressing than an ugly girl with no personality. and in that first year on the marriage mart, that was exactly penelope was." and like i get it! when you're fat, its so hard to not think of yourself as just so ugly that nobody could ever possibly be interested in you. penelope is a character that is intimately familiar with the insecurity and shame that feels like a requirement to exist in public when you're fat. there's a lovely scene about this where penelope and her younger sister felicity attend the annual smythe-smith musicale, despite knowing that it's going to be bad. as penelope tells her sister and lady danbury, the reason she comes every year, despite this, is because there's always one girl in the quartet who knows how bad they are, and is embarrassed to be there. she attends for her, because she knows what it's like to be humiliated and alone in public, and she sits in the front every year so that she can smile for that girl and let her know she's not alone.
which is why penelope takes so much solace in her second persona, lady whistledown. penelope's joy is in writing, and she publishes a whopping three times a week with all the hot gossip of the ton. which, god almighty, girl. i can't open clip studio paint on a good day. not the point. anyways. lady whistledown is bold, cutting, witty, and most importantly- everyone loves her. or at the very least, pay attention to her. she's everything penelope isn't. through her, penelope gets to be someone else for a bit, a much needed respite. unfortunately, people Really want to know who lady whistledown is, and lady danbury sets a bet: she'll give one thousand pounds to whoever manages to unmask lady whistledown. i looked that up, and it would be £88,710.80 in 2021. and then i converted it to dollars because i'm american and it's $105,775.57 if i did my math right. girl. you have that kind of money and you're spending it on THIS? damn. penelope, realizing that the search is getting dangerous after two people are injured, and growing tired of the persona after writing for a solid decade, promptly retires. but after her former bully, cressidia twombley, tries to claim that she is lady whistledown, penelope comes out of retirement to denounce her. unfortunately, this is how colin finds out about her being whistledown...
penelope of course does have flaws, as any well written character should. she takes pride in her work to the point where she makes rash and hasty decisions when cressidia claims her work as her own. she's nosy- a requirement for her work as lady whistledown, but also leads to some conflict between her and colin when she accidentally reads his private journal. she's vicious as lady whistledown towards those she sees as deserving targets, even herself- especially herself. (though, she never goes after certain people, such as the smythe-smith girls- she doesn't want anybody to go through the public humiliation that she does. it's part of what gets her caught as lady whistledown). she's stubborn to the point of refusing to see compromise. she holds a grudge like nothing else (and i can't blame her. if the opportunity came to publically shame the kids who bullied me in elementary school i would take it without hesitation. i am not god's strongest soldier.) i love it. a lot of romance novels will try to minimize the main character's flaws so that the reader can project on them more. PLEASE let these bitches be messy. its so much more fun!!
anyways, penelope's arc in the book is about becoming the person she truly is on the inside- the boldness of lady whistledown, but the dreams of penelope featherington. her status as a spinster is important here, as it gives her the freedom to do what she really wants. what's equally as important is her friendship with lady danbury, an older woman who is bluntly honest and often verbally brutal towards others. lady danbury, during the musicale scene, confesses to penelope that she attends for the same reasons, that she too, was once humiliated and alone. she starts to see herself in penelope, and makes it her project to see her happy. penelope finds that she can be herself around lady danbury, and consequently grows bolder and more outspoken in front of others. which is fucking amazing! love that for both of them! as lady danbury says, it really is wonderful to see that you're not exactly who you thought you were. equally important is her friendship with eloise bridgerton- the two have resolved to be spinsters together forever, and even after the two of them get married, as shown in the second epilogue, resolve to be old crones together anyways. eloise is a little distant in this book, though, mainly because she's going through her OWN romance, but that's going to have to wait until i read to sir phillip, with love. (don't ask me when that is. i have to wait for my library to get more books.) she has strong, complex relationships with both of them. she ALSO has a complex relationship with her mother- that's right, penelope is ALSO for the mommy issue girls!! portia is not great, emotionally speaking, to penelope. despite being infamous for being a matchmaking mama, she never seems to really try with penelope. sure, she shoves her into the way of third tier suitors, but she seems to care more about her older sisters and felicity than penelope. while she tried desperately to turn her sisters into diamonds of the first water, she didn't even try with penelope. in the duke and i (which i did read, review on that sometime later) the only word she can think of to describe penelope is...penelope. when colin proposes, she thinks he's proposing to felicity because she can't comprehend that he might love penelope. and yet, despite all this, penelope still at least cares for her mother. she hides the issues of lady whistledown that might hurt her mother's feelings, and when her mother is struggling financially, secretly gives her some of the money she's earned as lady whistledown. they have a strained relationship for sure, but it's suprisingly heartwrenching.
ultimately, penelope is a very complex but sweet and unique character. she's prideful, she's vicious, she's sweet, she's insecure, she's encouraging, she's practical, she loves with her whole heart and soul. she's got so many multitudes. i love her so so much.
2.) so what about colin? colin is the third bridgerton son, after anthony and benedict and before daphne. he's also a complex character, but for very different reasons than penelope. see, colin's lived a blessed life- he's a bridgerton, he doesn't have to worry about money, he's charming, everyone wants him to marry their daughter. and as much as he knows he's lucky, counts his blessings, knows his priviledge- he's disatisfied with himself. he's disatisfied with his whole existence. which is a wild trait for a love interest in a regency romance novel to have!
the main word used to describe colin in-universe is charming, and much as he hates it, it fits! he is charming! he's not broody, or dark, or a rake (i'm still...not too sure on what that is, to be honest. i assume it's an old term for fuckboi), or mean. he's a charming guy! he's funny! the first glance we get at him is when penelope's bonnet flies off her head and smacks him in the face and makes him fall off of his horse, but he's not even mad about it. he just laughs! and that's what makes penelope (and half of the ton, i'm guessing) fall in love with him. he's nice. more importantly, he's nice to penelope. its what makes her fall in love with him, beyond the initial crush. because he's nice to her. he's mischievous, even! this isn't to say that he has no bad traits, of course. much like penelope, he's prideful and stubborn, and unlike penelope, he's got a bad temper. it's actually pretty surprising- he's pretty easygoing most of the time, but when he's angry he's terrifying. it's not an abusive anger, though- it's an anger that comes from wanting to protect those in his life. you know that old test that when you're on a date with a man, you spill coffee on his shoes, and if he reacts angrily you leave him because that's a man who'll get angry at every mistake you make? if you dumped coffee on colin's shoes, i don't think he'd be mad, but if you dumped coffee on someone he cared about's shoes, he'd get mad. when he fights with eloise (because he thinks eloise is lady whistledown at first, it's a Whole Thing) and penelope about being lady whistledown, he's angry, but the anger isn't really about them- he's worried about what people will do to her when they find out she's lady whistledown. his anger is rarely directed at anybody other than himself. but i think the most important trait to colin is that he's a writer, too. he travels a lot, and on these travels he keeps journals describing the places he goes and the people he meets there. it's a cute way for him and penelope to bond, too- he values her feedback on his writing more than anything. it's what he's most proud of in his life. and it's also connected to his existential dissatisfaction.
because colin, as much as he knows he lives a charmed life (well, he knows after penelope chews him out for complaining about it in front of her, who has no prospects and is a spinster), is dissatisfied. he hates being described as charming. he hates lady whistledown because he's scared that the only way he'll have a legacy is when he's mentioned in her papers as charming, hates that others think he has no substance to him. he's jealous of anthony, who'll be remembered as the head of their house, and he's jealous of benedict, who'll be remembered as an amazing artist, and he's jealous even of penelope, when he finds out her secret. he's jealous that she had a purpose, and a passion, and she pursued it wholeheartedly, which he could never do. he's scared that he has no achievements. it's why he travels so often. he has to get away from what everyone else thinks of him. i really like the way this is handled, because it's penelope who helps him climb out of his dissatisfaction, by telling him to publish his journals and editing them for him. she helps him realize what his dreams are. the most romantic scene in the book, to me, is when penelope is about to be revealed to the ton as lady whistledown and she's scared, not for himself, but for him, because this reveal could mean that he won't be able to publish his journals. he tells her "they were never my dreams until i met you." she is his real dream, the answer to his disatisfaction- the dream of getting to spend his life with someone who knows him and loves him wholeheartedly.
the main concept that connects penelope and colin is "everybody knows you/knows of you, but nobody really Knows you." their true selves are unknown to everybody, until they start sharing them with each other. penelope is known as an unfortunate wallflower, a quiet spinster who nobody is interested in, who people bring up only to mock. nobody knows her; not her mother, not her sisters, not even her closest friend, eloise. but colin knows her dry wit, her confidence, her writing, her second self as lady whistledown, her dreams and her ambition. and once he knows her, he can't imagine not loving her, can't imagine why nobody else does. colin is known as a charmer with no real substance to him- but penelope sees all of him, even his ugliest parts, like his anger and his dissatisfaction, and she loves him regardless. she starts loving him truly, beyond the crush and the infatuation, not just when he was kind to her, but when she reads his journal for the first time and sees his inner thoughts- when she starts to know him. it's also their dreams- penelope dreams about acceptance, about being seen, about being loved for who she is. colin dreams of recognition, of rememberance, of legacy. and they give those dreams to each other. they are each other's real dream- being in love with someone who knows you, and getting to spend the rest of your life with them. ultimately, this is the story of colin and penelope finding out who they are, and then falling in love with each other because of it.
honestly, what i hope they keep for the show the most is the fact that penelope straight up falls on her face when colin proposes. that's adorable.
IN CONCLUSION, THIS REVIEW HAS GONE ON FOR LONG ENOUGH
it's a 10/10 for me. listen. i wrote the last half of this review half asleep, and my eyes hurt like a motherfucker, so i'm going to keep this conclusion very short: read the book. i'd reccomend it. there's a lot i didn't mention in here that i could also go on about for hours, like how daphne and colin's relationship is really sweet, how eloise and penelope clearly care for each other a lot, lady danbury, just lady danbury- but honestly, i don't have the time. i'll write that some other time. the book is good! fucking read it! i might just actually watch the third season when it comes out. also, i'm gonna read and review the rest of the bridgerton books now, so watch out for that. alright. have a good day. peace out babey !!