My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Julia Quinn’s funny and adorable Smythe-Smith Quartet comes to an end with book 4, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy. It was a pretty long wait, but I knew I can count on JQ to deliver something I’d enjoy no matter what. But boy was I wrong! I don’t even know where to start cause this book frustrated me to no end, even made me angry at times; emotions I generally don’t associate with a JQ book. I can’t remember I ever did and I’ve read her whole backlist to date.
For those who have never read JQ before, consider starting with the Bridgerton series because that is where the Smythe-Smiths were introduced. This is a yearly musicale of ‘legendary’ reputation with four Smithe-Smith cousins butchering Mozart enthusiastically. A musicale that has been going on for a long time and even though the ‘music’ in question is horrendous more often than not, everyone invited always attends for some odd reason. The cousins change as they marry. Married women can’t be in that musicale, only unmarried ones, in the hopes of making a good match, hence showing off their ‘talents’. Their mommas are always convinced, just as the girls, that they’re prodigies in the making! But, there would always be one unfortunate girl who is intelligent enough to know how bad they actually are and even though you’d feel for her, there’s nothing to be done as she has to go along with the flock, or so to speak.
The first 3 books in the series started off with a gambling scene in flashback. The 3 Hs of these books are unavoidably tied through this incident that took place some years ago. Marcus, Daniel and Hugh were buddies in university. Daniel was the rake of the lot, Hugh, the nerd-extraordinaire and Marcus, the voice of reason. A night of drunken argument over cheating was followed by a duel, a gunshot wound, which in turn saw Hugh with a grave injury to his one of his legs (in turn, he becomes lame), Daniel banished out of the country and Marcus... well, he tried his best to stop it but it happened anyway. You can’t reason with a drunkard, can you?
And so the journey for the Smythe-Smiths began...
In book 1, Just Like Heaven, Honoria Smythe-Smith, Daniel’s sister, finds herself in a dilemma. It’s not that she’s ugly or plain or an idiot, yet she couldn’t make a match for herself to settle down. She’s also one of those Smythe-Smith girls smart enough to know how bad the musicale were, so Honoria wanted to marry badly. Honoria’s jolliness enchants everyone, and men certainly show interest. But for some reasons, after sometimes, they just... flee every time she comes near them! Then we find ‘the cause’; Marcus, who was given the duty to take care of Daniel’s family. He has been attracted to Honoria for a longtime but being reserved, kept his feelings to himself. That doesn’t mean he has to sit there, watch her marry someone else! The whole thing was funny in a very endearing way. We are also introduced to some secondary characters such as Sarah Pleinsworth (Honoria’s cousin) and her ever confusing bunch of sisters, Iris, another cousin, Hugh and the big list of other Smythe-Smith momma’s and cousins. Daniel was not seen but at the end of the book when he returns. After a minor misunderstanding, he gives his blessings to Marcus and Honoria. It was because of Hugh’s thoughtfulness (and generosity, I have to add) Daniel and he were also on the process of an amendment, that was also working to lift the shadow of the scandal that has been hanging over Daniel’s family ever since ‘the incident’.
In book 2, A Night Like This, we find Daniel in pursuit of Anne. It was fun, I loved that book. It wasn’t just a fluffy, warm read but had its own darker aspects. The day Daniel returns is the day he also notices the beautiful and graceful Anne playing the piano with the Smythe-Smith cousins and falls for her on-spot. Actually it was love-at-first-sight, which worked for me just fine! As they grew closer, we learn of Anne’s secret past and her running from it. There were some superbly laugh out loud moments, something also JQ does the best. But the ending was also gripping, that worked to make Daniel and Anne’s relationship stronger than ever. We also learn a bit of what Hugh has agreed to keep his father’s men at bay to let Daniel live a normal life. The strain in their relationship, it seemed, was over on a note of forgiveness and understanding, with a desire to move forward.
Sarah and Hugh’s story was in book 3, The Sum of All Kisses. It was another heartwarming and adorable story, spinning around the theme of two people turning from enemy-to-lover. Well, that might be a stretch but Sarah did envision Hugh to be the worst of mankind since because of that ‘incident’ and subsequent scandal, her chances of getting a season, and finding a husband, was ruined. Obviously, Hugh had no idea he’d been the target of such hatred until they meet on the occasion of Daniel’s wedding. Sarah was pretty... er, forthcoming with her dislike of him, while Hugh also made it known just how much ‘silly, annoying female’ like Sarah bothers him. So yah, they didn’t start off on a friendly note. But then, things begin to change gradually as they begin catching each-other together due to different reasons, sometimes alone even. Hugh finds himself obsessed with the very same ‘annoying female’, even identifying her voice wherever he went whereas Sarah begins to see a different side of Hugh when he’d interact with her younger sisters. Things heat up for our Nerd Extraordinaire and Miss Melodramatic, which also, ends on a very positive note. Though Hugh’s crazy father had to be taken care of, it didn’t cast any negative shadow over their HEA.
Now Iris, the last remaining Smythe-Smith girl, was more of a wallpaper character, more remaining in the background. Yes, she was there in every story but she was just... as pale as her own reflection (she’s known for her pale skin and paler hair). Even then, sometimes one of her quips would just catch your attentions, and you’d want to know what’s going on in that head of hers. Her story proved to be an eye-opener in that regard. Book 4 also has a completely different storyline, because Sir Richard, the H, isn’t a friend of Marcus, Daniel or Hugh’s. He’s actually a friend of Winston Bevelstoke (story in a previous JQ series, The Bevelstokes), who has just landed in London in search of a bride. A bride, from whom, he’d also have to hide a grave secret. He needs to marry in about 3 weeks, no more no less, and according to Winston, he can search for one in nowhere other than the legendary Smythe-Smith musicale. The girls, again according to Winston, are desperate enough to certainly help Richard’s cause.
There should’ve been my warning bell when Winston made derogatory comments about the Smythe-Smith girls and Richard began contemplating how easily he can dupe one of them into marrying him ASAP. I should’ve known that this was going to be a mess. But I was so enjoying the usual fun of the musicale and poor Iris’ attempt at hiding her face behind her own instrument too much to give it a second thought. Well, I should’ve...
Though Richard’s head was full of that ‘secret’ he was hiding, from the first moment of the musicale his eyes were set on Iris. Mostly because of the fact that it was apparent she was the intelligent one who knew how horrible they sounded. He was also able to catch her eyes by staring at her for the most part of the musicale. Unfortunately for the most part, I found everything regarding Richard suspicious, even if it was something complimentary about Iris. Poor girl, she was so completely gobsmacked finding a handsome young man staring at her like she’s the only girl in that room. *sigh*
Though according to Richard, he found Iris’ coloring and wit charming, it was also apparent he wasn’t anywhere near as crazy about her. The way she deserved to be wanted and loved. But he has made her his target and was pretty sure can pull the whole thing off by acting as the ardent admirer. Which he set about to prove for the next week. He had only about 3 weeks in hand, so the wheels needed to be put into motion ASAP. It wasn’t that difficult because Iris was still too surprised to say or do anything else when Richard begins pursuing her very openly and apparently, pretty eagerly too. Somewhere in her mind, she knew that something’s not quite right, yet she was quite swept away by all that male attention from someone who’s not only handsome but also, quite smart. She liked their conversations, definitely liked whatever she saw in him. So, no, it wasn’t that tough for Richard. Yet, when by the end of the week Iris wasn’t falling down on her knees, grateful for his attentions, begging him to marry her (Sir D!ck thought that’s exactly what would happen since, you know, desperate and that), Richard thought it’s time for plan 2— which is pretty much compromising her. No easier way to make a girl run for the altar than a compromise of her reputation!
And that’s what D!ck does in the next scene, catching Iris in total surprise, kissing her somewhere someone is bound to find out. Unsurprisingly, they’re caught by Sarah’s mother and sisters and some other people I can’t remember now. The deed was done and Sir D!ck could now dance a jig. Iris looked confused, a bit wounded too because she still couldn’t understand the rush. She didn’t know Richard enough to consent to marry him... and God she wanted to be in love the way her cousins were. She knew very well that Richard wasn’t head over heels in love with her, not even close. Why then, now she has to consent to a marriage that might turn out to be a disaster? Worst still, to a man whom she regarded as someone special, and maybe, just maybe would’ve come to love given time, in a proper courtship? That’s what nightmares are made of!
Iris’ younger sister Daisy is the most vaporous of the bunch, and good God, she can get on one’s nerves without even trying really hard. She’s not only horrible with her own instrument (though not enough sense to get it), she’s chatty as hell, self-centered and equally spoiled. I don’t know how anyone could stand the girl but she was just a waste of space. Thankfully, after Iris’s marriage, the whole story moves to Richard’s estate in a faraway county, Maycliffe, so we don’t get to see her again in the story. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t miserable, just as much as Iris, maybe even more so. I simply couldn’t believe what was happening! Really, why Iris?
Before her marriage, Sarah stops by to give Iris some good wishes and sisterly advice. It was apparent that she was more of a sister and a friend to Iris than any of her own has ever been. Sarah’s obvious love for Hugh breaks Iris’ heart, though she’s no less happy for her cousin than she’d been before. Even if the thought makes her miserable for her upcoming marriage, Iris would put up a face and soldier on. She’d try her best to go through it without any more drama.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t say that Sir D!ck was happy and dancing the jig I previously mentioned. He was guild-ridden, heavy hearted for doing what he had done to Iris. It seemed he had some genuine regards for her, yet because of that ‘secret’, it had to be done this way. Even if it means making Iris miserable for the rest of her life. So, am I supposed to understand him and shower them with my congratulations? Blood well not! Every f*cking thing Richard thought had nothing to do with Iris’s well being or the state of her heart, or her feelings. It was all about his ‘secret’ and how it had to be done. That he had no other way. I mean, really jerk? You’re ruining a girl’s life, for what?
No matter how their marriage started out, Iris still hoped that once they get to know each-other a bit, things would change. And God knows she wanted her husband to touch her, to show her what it’s like to become a real woman. But sadly, from the get-go, Richard refuses to touch her more than necessary. Oh he’d kiss her sometimes, which effectively proved that he wanted her, but then, he’d just push her away. Iris becomes so confused that my head started throbbing. At first, she thought he didn’t want her because, well, she knew she wasn’t any revered beauty. Other than that, she had no idea. And it got old and nerve-wreaking after a while. Frustrating as hell, even for Richard. At first, I thought his ‘secret’ had possibly something to do with his inheritance. But soon, I figured it wasn’t the case. Then I thought, OMG, had he some kinda physical problems? From all the hard-ons he was getting just from kissing Iris, that also apparently wasn’t the case. Then WHAT??????
We find out as they step into Maycliffe and we meet Richard’s younger sisters.
Richard lost his parents young. He had no interest in taking care of his sisters at that age when he’s supposed to live the life of a young rake, so he just packed them up and send them off to their aunt’s. It was apparent Fleur, the eldest, didn’t like him all that much. Marie-Claire, the youngest though, was still gullible enough to harbor no ill feelings. Yet. According to Richard, he’s been trying his best to take care of them, and amend for the time he’d lost. Now, there’s a bigger problem ahead and Richard would to just about anything to resolve it, including ruining another girl’s life, something he’d already done.
Richard’s time with his wife was going pretty rough since they arrived at Maycliffe. His sisters weren’t present at that time, the aunt thinking the newlyweds would appreciate some private time. But Richard knew if he stayed alone with Iris without the ‘diverting’ presence of his sisters, he’d surely end up bedding her, his resistance wearing thin each moment. He even tries to divert Iris’ attentions by taking her to the village to meet his tenants as the new Lady Kenworthy. Yet he also knew it’ll not work. Iris isn’t an idiot, that she’s hurt and disappointed in him, bewildered by his actions. He wanted her, there was no doubt about it... Then WTF was the problem?!
I was dying to know this ‘secret’ of his because I couldn’t take it any longer. Aaaand, we’re treated with that bit of gossip as soon as the sisters return and Fleur starts acting like a b!tch towards anything and everything, which includes Richard and Iris. One day, Iris is taken aback when she’s forced to get involved in a quarrel between the brother and the sister… and learned that, yep, Fleur is pregnant and the father of the baby is nowhere in sight. He’s apparently now deceased. And THAT was THE secret of Sir D!ck! Richard’s plan was to pass off the child as his and Iris’ so that both his sisters’ futures aren’t ruined by this event. He ruined an innocent girl’s hopes and dreams by duping her so that he can keep his own sisters’ alive? Am I supposed to be amazed by this, hmm Richard? He knew what he was doing, he knew if the baby is a boy, he’d be Richard’s heir and their natural children wouldn’t even have a chance. He knew this was beyond reproach, yet he must do it for his sisters’ sake.
I didn’t know what struck me more incredulous, if was the fact that Richard was so selfish that he didn’t care for Iris’ feelings AT ALL, going as far as to force her to agree (since they’re married, Iris had no other option) to his plan or if it was the fact that after a while, it seemed that Iris would give in without putting up a fight. While I was contemplating this, instead, it was Fleur who refused to give in, not wanting to give up her child. She was adamant of becoming a new widow to have the child somewhere far away. But Richard would have none of it, and his plan will have to do!
I was so disappointed, frustrated and angry that I left reading for a while in search of some other diversion, especially when Iris didn’t even put up a fight about the matter. Yes she was angry, hurt beyond anything. But she was already falling for that D!ck (SERIOUSLY????), enough to give his plan a push, all the while looking like a martyr in this whole farce. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! Simply couldn’t! Iris, how can you freakin’ fall in love with an incredible a$$ such as Richard? HOW? Not only that, she tried her best to carry on with her daily routine, which I’d say is, at best, going through the motion. Unbelievable!! Every time she put up a face, try to have a civilized conversation with that a$$ as if he didn’t betray her and didn’t put her in a situation so life altering, and acknowledged to herself just how much she’d fallen in love with him, I simply wanted to scream like a banshee!!!
I didn’t care if Richard was stewing in the hell of his own making. Didn’t care if he had a permanent hard on yet couldn’t do anything about it. If he was so frustrated and guilt-ridden that he went on a drinking binge. I couldn’t bloody care less if he lost his schlong in the process!! I simply didn’t care about his sisters either, even if it makes me a bad person. And when it was revealed just how much of an idiot Fleur was... simply put, I wanted to beat that girl up, pregnant or not. She didn’t want to give away the baby, but she lied about the real father! God help me.
*breathing some air in*
Again, this was nothing like any JQ book I’ve ever read. I couldn’t even believe I was reading a JQ book since I don’t think I’ve hated a H as much as I hated Richard. He had no redeeming qualities and if you’re talking about groveling, there were precious few at the end, which didn’t do anything for me. He should be kissing Iris’ feet for the rest of his life. I hope he does.
Such a disappointing end to a fabulous series! 3 stars, but barely made it.