Title: An Offer From A Gentleman (Bridgertons, #3)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publication date: 2001
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Will she accept his offer before the clock strikes midnight?
Sophie Beckett never dreamed she’d be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton’s famed masquerade ball—or that “Prince Charming” would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight.
Who was that extraordinary woman? Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other—except, perhaps this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid’s garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet, if he offers his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?
In a world filled with serious books, it’s nice to have fluffy fun like the Bridgertons books to turn to for a bit of escapism every now and then.
In the 3rd book in the series, it’s Benedict Bridgerton’s turn to find love. The Bridgerton family is famous for its eight astonishingly attractive children, conveniently named in alphabetical order. And while the book series started out of order by focusing on Daphne, oldest daughter yet fourth child, the rest of the series remains true to the alphabet. Which brings us to Benedict.
Benedict is the second son — no title, but from an esteemed family and with a very agreeable fortune nonetheless, so now that his elder brother the Viscount is happily married, Benedict is considered prime pickings for the society season.
Meanwhile, we meet poor Sophie Beckett, the unacknowledged illegitimate daughter of an earl. Taken in and raised by her natural father, she’s introduced to the world as his ward, but when the earl remarries, his new wife is shrewd enough to know the truth. Once Sophie’s father dies when she is fourteen, her stepmother Araminta is persuaded to provide a home for Sophie thanks to a strings-attached bequest, but rather than treating her with kindness, Araminta forces Sophie into the role of an overworked servant. Araminta’s daughters aren’t any better, although the younger of the two shows hints of friendliness, despite being too frightened of her mother to actually be nice to Sophie or defend her in any way.
Sophie’s luck finally changes when she gets the opportunity to attend the most anticipated party of the season, a masquerade chez Bridgerton. With help of the family servants, Sophie is dressed up in borrowed finery, dons a mask, and swoops into the ball, immediately catching Benedict’s eye. The two feel an instant spark and spend glorious hours together, only to be separated when Sophie must rush off at midnight, her only chance of making sure that she’ll be home and back in her servant’s clothing before Araminta and the girls arrive home.
Yes, it’s a Cinderella story! I had no idea when I picked up the book, but it became obvious right from the start. And while I might have moaned a bit, it actually became a really fun theme for the book. Author Julia Quinn is skillful enough to play with the underlying fairy tale and keep it fresh while weaving its traditional patterns into the story.
In fact, once we move past the ball and the couple’s inevitable separation, the story becomes even more interesting. The Cinderella-like aspects become quieter background elements, and instead we get to focus on Sophie’s struggles, as she’s treated horribly by Araminta and then thrown out, penniless, to fend for herself. Although she’s the daughter of a noble, she’s forced to seek work as a servant in order to survive, and she shows great strength and courage in dealing with her unfair lot in life.
Naturally, Sophie and Benedict do reconnect, as he rescues her from a threatened rape (what the synopsis above refers to, maddeningly, as “a most disagreeable situation” — argh!). There’s a lot of will-they, won’t-they shenanigans, flirtation, chemistry, desire… but also, an interesting dilemma for both characters due to their very different social stations. Sophie is a housemaid, so the most she could realistically hope for from Benedict would be to be established as his mistress. It’s expected that Benedict marry and produce children, and someone of his status could never marry a servant.
Despite her longing for Benedict, Sophie can’t allow herself to even consider becoming his mistress. She knows the pain of being an unwanted bastard child, and swears that she’ll never have a child under those circumstances. So is there any hope for these two crazy lovebirds? Well, of course there is! This is a romance, after all! Naturally, they’re going to find a way to make it all work out… and have some steamy, decidedly not-society-approved sexytimes too.
An Offer From A Gentleman is a fast, fun read, but doesn’t skimp on sentiment along the way. Beyond the core love story, we get to spend more time with Bridgerton family members, especially the big brood’s mother, Violet, who is wonderful in so many ways. She’s fabulous in how she treats Sophie and stands up for injustice, and I just loved her to pieces in this book.
Sure, I have quibbles… like wouldn’t it have been nice for love to be enough to get Benedict and Sophie to choose each other, without needing the big reveal about being an earl’s daughter to help smooth the way? Granted, not everyone is willing to accept a Bridgerton marrying an illegitimate daughter, but for most, Sophie’s blood connection to nobility raises her high enough to be tolerable — whereas if she were “just” a servant, they could never be admitted into society as a couple.
A few random thoughts on things that stuck out to me while reading this book:
- It’s funny seeing the previous books’ main characters (Daphne and Anthony) show up as background characters in this book. They’re married, they’re happy, they have oodles of children — and there’s just nothing else to say about them. So, according to these romances, you stop being interesting once you get married?
- The younger Bridgertons are growing up! Gregory and Hyacinth aren’t little children any more, but it will still be weird to see them as romantic leads in books 7 and 8.
- It’s really hard not to be mad at how badly poor Sophie was treated all her life, especially by her father. He made sure she had a home once her mother died, but never showed her any affection.
- Lady Whistledown continues to be funny and sharp. Here, her updates include news on the “maid wars’, in which Araminta and Lady Featherington steal each others’ servants back and forth.
- By including Sophie, we get more of a view into the life of a servant at the time. I was glad to break away from only focusing on the upper class, with servants only appearing when needed to serve.
- Is it realistic that Violet and her daughters would invite Sophie to join them for tea every day? Why Sophie and not other servants? Sure, Violet is discerning enough to realize that there’s something going on between Benedict and Sophie, but would a society mama really tacitly encourage this connection?
As always, as a visitor to the world of romance reading, I got all sorts of amusement from the romance-y writing:
There was a fire burning within her that had been simmering quietly for years. The sight of him had ignited it anew, and his touch was like kerosene, sending her into a conflagration.
Spoiler! Sophie ends up arrested (until the Bridgertons ride to the rescue). And in one shocking moment:
Sophie just managed to snap her mouth closed, but even so, she had to clutch tightly on to the bars of her cell, because her legs had turned to instant water.
What’s “instant water”? Is that like instant coffee?
When Sophie just happens to stumble across a pond where Benedict is skinny-dipping:
He heard a gasp, followed by a huge flurry of activity.
“Sophie Beckett,” he yelled, “if you run from me right now, I swear I will follow you, and I will not take the time to don my clothing.”
The noises coming form the shore slowed.
“I will catch up with you,” he continued, “because I’m stronger and faster. And I might very well feel compelled to tackle you to the ground, just to be certain you do not escape.”
The sounds of her movement ceased.
All in all, An Offer From A Gentleman is a light, engaging read, and just so much fun. And even though poor Sophie suffers, we know it’s all going to work out perfectly for her — because these books always have happy endings!
Will I continue with the Bridgertons series? Absolutely! After all, the score is now three Bridgerton siblings happily married — five more to go!