When Anthony Bridgerton's father was 38, he was stung by a bee and died. Anthony idolized his father, and his death affected him deeply. When Anthony decides, at age 29, that it's time for him to settle down and produce an heir, his father's fate is constantly on his mind. He is convinced he won't live to see 39, and so he's determined to marry someone he is unlikely to fall in love with.
Edwina Sheffield seems like the perfect candidate - stunningly beautiful and reasonably intelligent, but with nothing about her that affects Anthony on a deeper level. Unfortunately, Edwina has publicly stated that she won't marry anyone her older sister, Kate, doesn't approve of, and Kate loathes Anthony for his reputation as a rake. As they get to know each other, Kate realizes that Anthony is a better man than she first thought, and Anthony realizes that Kate is very much a woman he could fall in love with. But there's still the issue of Edwina, and Anthony's bone-deep belief that he will die young.
Looking over my records, this appears to be the third Bridgerton book I've read, although I only recall one of those other two books having a Bridgerton as one of the main characters. At any rate, looking over my reviews, I appear to have a somewhat rocky relationship with Quinn's books - they tend to generally be enjoyable and/or emotional reads for me, but they usually have at least one or two aspects that stick in my craw. Sometimes the emotional punch can override those problems and sometimes it can't. The Viscount Who Loved Me tried really hard but ended up falling more in the latter category.
In the first half of this book, Anthony was pretty awful. He behaved horribly towards Kate, despite needing her good opinion in order to stand a better chance of marrying Edwina. There was a scene with Kate's dog (a Welsh corgi!) that I think was supposed to be funny but instead just made Anthony look worryingly prone to excessive anger. I was reminded of Justin, my least favorite character in L. Rowyn's A Rational Arrangement.
The scene that really stuck with me, however, was the one where Kate accidentally overheard Anthony talking to a former mistress of his, as he attempted to rekindle their relationship in an effort to push Kate out of his mind. Anthony told her that the only reason for a husband to be faithful to his wife was if he loved her, and since he had no intention of loving whichever woman he married, he saw no reason he couldn't have a mistress. The scene ended with a clash between Anthony and Kate in which he humiliated her and behaved more like a villain than a romance hero.
Cheating is one of those things I have absolutely no tolerance for in a romance novel. Although Anthony didn't cheat, this scene did establish that he believed there were circumstances under which it would be perfectly acceptable for him to cheat. (And no, I don't accept "historical accuracy" as an excuse. There are lots of enjoyable historical romances where the heroes never once talk about the possibility of having a mistress.)
The way Anthony humiliated Kate at the end of that scene was a big issue for me as well. As much as I cheered at the way Kate's game of Bridgerton Pall Mall turned out, it was a small moment of victory compared to how terribly Anthony had behaved. But that eventually paled in comparison to the "if I don't love my wife, it's okay for me to cheat on her" bit.
It was like Quinn expected readers to forget Anthony had ever said that, as though reading his thoughts and knowing he wasn't even thinking about taking a mistress was good enough. Unfortunately, all I could think was that Kate couldn't read Anthony's thoughts, and so her behavior later on didn't make any sense. Yes, Anthony was a good brother and son. Yes, he was very kind as he comforted Kate during a thunderstorm (she was afraid of thunder and lightning), and it was a great moment for the two of them. But was it reason enough for Kate to back off and give Anthony permission to court her sister? I didn't think so. He'd made it clear that there was at least a possibility he'd cheat on Edwina, and it was odd that Kate seemed to have forgotten that.
It became even odder later on when
Anthony and Kate married (for reasons) and Anthony told Kate that he didn't have any intention of falling in love with her. I was instantly reminded of the scene with Anthony's mistress and, despite Anthony's statement that he would be faithful to her and their vows, I thought Kate would be reminded of that scene as well. I was wrong. It never came up again. Instead, Kate worried a couple times that Anthony secretly wished she were Edwina, someone more conventionally beautiful.
The book had some powerful scenes relating to the way a parent's death can affect a person, sometimes in ways they can't articulate or fully understand. And there were some lovely scenes with Anthony and his family, and Kate and hers. Kate and Mary, her stepmother, had a wonderfully loving relationship, and although Anthony automatically assumed that Kate must secretly be jealous of her lovelier younger sister (half sister? step sister? I don't recall), in reality Kate loved Edwina and genuinely wanted her to be happy. Unfortunately, I could never quite get past that scene with Anthony and his former mistress, and the fact that Kate seemed to have magically forgotten about it.
This was a difficult book to rate. The parts I had problems with were bad enough that I nodded in agreement with reviewers who DNFed the book. Later scenes grabbed my heart and squeezed it, and there were parts that had me in tears - had it not been for the earlier stuff, 4 stars might have been appropriate. I settled on 2.5 because, as much as I liked some of those later scenes, I deeply disliked Anthony in the first part of the book and would gladly have paired Kate up with Colin instead.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)