With the second season of Netflix’s Bridgerton around the corner, impatient audiences might find themselves turning to the book series that started it all. As an avid Bridgerton fan myself, I’ve read the full series more than once and find myself surprised at how the order of my favorites has shifted as I’ve grown up. Though each book has many things to love about it, which one comes out on top? And why? I present my ranking of the Bridgerton books:
Honorable Mention: Violet in Bloom
Violet in Bloom receives an honorable mention because unlike the others it is not a full-length story, but rather a novella in vignettes first published alongside eight “second epilogues” for the main series — which are now included in print at the end of their respective novels.
The short story follows Bridgerton family matriarch Violet during her courtship and eventual marriage to her late husband Viscount Edmund Bridgerton. It is often stated across the series how much theirs was a love match, and just how deeply they cared for one another. So much so that when Edmund died at 38 years old, his young widow couldn’t bring herself to remarry.
The story is short and very sweet, but ultimately tinged with sadness because the reader knows that unlike the eight children they will eventually have, Violet and Edmund’s romance comes to an end before either of them sees the other side of forty.
8. It’s In His Kiss
The seventh book in the series is focused on the youngest Bridgerton Hyacinth as she navigates her fourth year of London’s social season. With six older siblings who all married for love, Hyacinth is not willing to settle for anything less than that — and fortunately for her, no one in her family expects her to. One thing she does know for certain though is whoever this love match of hers might be, it certainly isn’t going to be Gareth St. Clair, whom she finds absolutely insufferable. Famous last words.
This far into a series, there really are so many ways for a writer to convey that everyone in this family wants to marry for love, and fortunately Quinn recognizes that simply having Hyacinth attend the usual events of the social season would come across as repetitive. As a result, the story is infused with a family mystery that Hyacinth volunteers to help Gareth solve. That part of it was wonderful, as is the relationship that naturally blossoms from it. The reason it falls to the bottom of the ranking, however, is that delightful as Hyacinth is, the most memorable parts of the story all belong to Gareth. The mystery and the secrets that are revealed are all his. Hyacinth brings them to light, of course, but it does leave the whole thing feeling a little unbalanced.
7. On the Way to the Wedding
If you’re going to end a series, you might as well end on as dramatic a note as possible. The youngest of the Bridgerton brothers, Gregory, is convinced that when he falls in love, it will be all-consuming and all at once. Unfortunately for him, when this does happen, the lady isn’t particularly interested. Enter her best friend, Lucy Abernathy, who is used to living in the shadow of her more conventionally beautiful best friend, and who agrees to help Gregory win her friend’s heart.
Though that falls apart spectacularly, it doesn’t take long for Gregory to realize that love at first sight really isn’t as realistic as he’d led himself to believe and that he might actually — slowly — be falling for Lucy. Lucy returns the feeling but it matters little: she’s been promised in marriage to the son of her guardian uncle’s acquaintance.
Overall, Gregory and Hyacinth’s books feel a little disjointed for being so far removed from the stories of their siblings. They work just fine as a duology, but are a little out of step for the culmination of a whole series. What gives On the Way to the Wedding an edge over It’s in His Kiss is that the big climactic confrontation, the heart-racing drama at the end of it all, concerns both Gregory and Lucy equally, rather than leaning more towards one or the other.
6. The Duke and I
Ah, the one that started it all. The story that formed the basis for the first season of Netflix’s Bridgerton. Unlike the television series, which devotes time to the pursuits of the supporting cast, The Duke and I is relatively straightforward. There is no blackmail attempt from Nigel Berbrooke, no Prussian prince comes to sweep Daphne away from Simon. But such changes are to be expected when jumping from one medium to another.
Instead, what we get is a rather straightforward introduction to the family as seen through the eyes of Daphne Bridgerton and her fake-turned-real paramour Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings.
As far as novels on this list go, The Duke and I is pretty straightforward. The only reason it really ranks higher than the other two is simply because of how it introduces the reader to the larger world of the story and the people who inhabit it. The increasingly dramatic circumstances the other Bridgerton siblings will later find themselves in are nowhere to be seen here. Instead, it’s a pretty quiet story about two people overcoming the expectations of others and allowing themselves to fall in love.
5. When He Was Wicked
Romance novels tug at the heartstrings for a variety of reasons, but rarely do they manage to convey utter, irreparable heartbreak quite as effectively as When He Was Wicked. The sixth book in the series focuses on the sixth and most serious Bridgerton sibling, Francesca. A few offhand references in earlier books mention that Francesca marries a Scottish Earl but is widowed after only two years. The book follows her a few years later, ready to remarry not for any material concerns, and certainly not for love, but because she wants to have children. When her husband John died without an heir, the title passed to his older cousin Michael, who has been in love with Francesca since the day they met.
The beauty and sadness of this book comes from both Francesca and Michael each grieving John in their own way, while slowly finding themselves drawn to one another. Logical a conclusion as their inevitable relationship seems, both of them are too plagued with guilt to do anything about it right away. Michael hates that he has had to step into John’s shoes and occupy every societal place that once belonged to a beloved cousin. Francesca is heartbroken at the idea of ever falling in love with someone who wasn’t her beloved, dearly missed husband.
Like Francesca, this book is quieter, more thoughtful, and tinged through with a sadness that both the readers and the characters know has no easy answer. Francesca’s struggles are many, and continue right through the second epilogue. This is a romance, and we do get our happily ever after, but not without working for it first.
4. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
The payoff to end all payoffs, and it comes halfway through the series. Though viewers of Bridgerton got to learn who the mysterious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown was at the end of the first season, it actually takes until the fourth book before readers got their answer.
After three books of being the butt of the joke, intentionally or otherwise, Penelope Featherington gets her chance to shine. Now 28 years old and comfortably settled in the life of a spinster, she continues to harbor her crush on Colin Bridgerton, comfortable in her assessment that it’s never actually going to go anywhere. Things change when Colin returns home from one of his many trips abroad, and in rekindling his longtime friendship with Penelope starts to realize maybe what he’s feeling isn’t actually just friendship. Not anymore.
Unlike the other Bridgerton siblings, who were swept into romance head over feet, Colin and Penelope’s love story is far gentler. They have the benefit of a long history — for better or worse — and are instead drawn together by discovering common interests and realizing that when it comes to love, it’s better late than never.
3. An Offer From A Gentleman
In the interest of calling a spade a spade, An Offer From A Gentleman is a pretty direct retelling of Cinderella. That’s by no means a bad thing, I am all for a fairy-tale retelling done right, and in my opinion this one is done very right. But it is worth mentioning because it threw me off the first time I read it.
Following Benedict, the second-eldest Bridgerton, An Offer From A Gentleman begins at a masked ball at the Bridgerton’s London home. Benedict is utterly taken with a mysterious woman with whom he dances and feels an instant connection — only for her to disappear without a trace at midnight. The woman in question is Sophie Beckett, the bastard daughter of an earl whose stepmother has turned her into a servant in her own home after her father’s death.
Years after that fateful night, Benedict and Sophie bump into each other by coincidence at a house party where she is now working as one of the maids. Though she’s harbored memories and romantic feelings for him since they met, Benedict doesn’t recognize her. He does, however, find himself strangely drawn to this woman he’s saved from a terrible situation. With both the expectations of society and their own personal anxieties getting in the way, it’s a miracle these two actually get together. But they do. In spectacularly angsty fashion, of course.
2. To Sir Philip, With Love
Sir Philip is a tough one to love, but love him I do. What can I say, give me a broody, grumpy man with a rose garden and my Beauty and the Beast-loving heart is lost.
When Eloise Bridgerton sends Sir Philip Crane, the widower of a distant cousin a note of condolence on the passing of his wife, the small act turns into nearly a year’s worth of correspondence. Desperately in need of a wife to raise his two children, and figuring that at 28, Eloise is desperate, Sir Philip proposes that they meet in person. Eloise takes it upon herself to show up unannounced and without a chaperone, and things go about as well as expected.
Of all the books, To Sir Philip, With Love is probably the one that will need to change the most if adapted for television. For one thing, Book Eloise is not much like Show Eloise. The book paints her more as a practical, independent romantic who wants to find love on her terms, not as someone who shuns the very idea. But on a more serious note, keen watchers of the show will recognize the name Sir Philip Crane as having been mentioned at the end of the first season.
In the books, Marina Thompson — who in the series is a distant Featherington cousin — is a cousin of the Bridgertons, and does not appear in the book at all except in a flashback. A failed attempt to drown herself eventually turns into an infection that kills her anyway. As harsh and sad as it is on the page, it would be far worse for viewers who already know Marina to watch her undergo this kind of personal narrative onscreen.
That said, I still loved the story of Eloise and Philip finding true love with one another beneath the sense of duty they felt they owed to others and each other. They both carry a lot of unresolved trauma and grief and work through it together in one of the series most mature entries.
1. The Viscount Who Loved Me
Where to even begin with The Viscount Who Loved Me? The subject of Bridgerton’s second season is by far my favourite of the books. Then again, I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers story.
When Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton declares that he wants to find a wife, he does so with the firm assertion that he’s not actually going to marry a woman he is in danger of falling in love with. He has convinced himself that he will not live past the age of 38, the same age his father was when he died suddenly. In his endeavor to marry long enough to produce an heir, he settles on Edwina Sheffield as the ideal candidate.
Not having any of this is Edwina’s older sister Kate, who knows exactly the kind of man Anthony is and doesn’t want her sister anywhere near him. In trying to keep the two apart, she finds herself more and more often in Anthony’s company, and in spite of themselves, the two of them start to feel a little less than antagonistic towards one another.
The reason this book works so well is it is the perfect balance of plot and character. There is enough story to keep it moving offset with just the right kind of growth for the characters at the heart of it all. They are so used to being strong for everyone else in their lives that they carry that forward into their relationship with each other, and it’s as they fall more and more in love that their vulnerabilities begin to show. It is this delicate, heart-racing balance that I hope, more than anything, that the show manages to maintain, because it is where Kate and Anthony’s true strength lies.
The second season of Bridgerton premieres on Netflix on March 25, 2022.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Netflix.