The Sum of All Kisses
By Julia Quinn
October 29, 2013
Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, whose mother was a Smythe-Smith, is unhappy at the thought of two upcoming weddings, neither of which is her own. First, she will serve as maid of honor for her cousin Honoria when the latter marries the Earl of Chatteris (Just Like Heaven) at Fensmore, the Chatteris estate in Cambridgeshire. Two weeks later, she will be among those attending the wedding of Honoria’s brother, Daniel Smythe-Smith, Earl of Winstead, and Anne Wynter, former governess to Sarah’s younger sisters (A Night Like This). It’s not that Sarah isn’t happy for her cousins, but after three seasons, she expected to be married. Not only is marriage what a young woman of her class is trained for; but it is also the only way Sarah can escape participating in the dreadful Smythe-Smith musicales. She’s already pled illness as an excuse once and is doubtful that it will work again.
Lord Hugh Prentice may be the only wedding guest as reluctant to be present as Sarah. Hugh was never a bon vivant, and since the drunken duel with Daniel Smythe-Smith that left Hugh lame and Daniel an exile until recently, Hugh has become even more of a loner. Only Daniel’s insistence that Hugh’s presence at both weddings is necessary to persuade society that the duel is old news and Daniel and Hugh are friends has brought Hugh to Fensmore. The situation worsens from Hugh’s point of view when the illness of one Smythe-Smith cousin and the lack of social graces of another prompts Honoria to ask Hugh to sit at the head table as partner to Lady Sarah Pleinsworth.
Hugh and Sarah have a decided preference for avoiding one another’s company. He finds her overly dramatic, and he is aware that she dislikes him. Sarah holds Hugh responsible for the scandal resulting from the duel and for Daniel’s exile, both of which negatively affected all Smythe-Smiths and, in Sarah’s opinion, was responsible for her lack of marriage prospects. Still, neither of them is willing to do anything to detract from Honoria’s happiness, and so they agree to spend time in one another’s company. They may begin horrified at the thought of time together, but conversations, shared laughter, and a growing awareness of the other’s physical attractions soon has animosity turning to love. Unfortunately for the path of true love, Hugh is convinced that his lameness makes him less than the man Sarah deserves and his toxic relationship with his mad father creates further complications. But Sarah proves more resourceful than anyone expected.
Enemies to lovers is not a trope that I am particularly fond of, but Quinn makes it work well here. Sarah and Hugh do spend a lot of time together, and in addition to the banter at which Quinn excels, the emotional intensity between the two of them develops gradually. Their falling in love is based on more than wit and lust. Neither of these protagonists has the charm that often makes Quinn’s characters memorable, but they have their own strengths. Hugh had a truly horrific childhood, and I had no problem accepting his eccentricities given his abilities and his history, both of which set him apart from his peers. I warmed up to Sarah slowly, but by the second half of the book, I found her endearing. And I’m always in favor of a warrior heroine who saves the day.
I would like to have seen Hugh’s brother play a more visible role in the story since he clearly is important to Hugh, and the final few chapters are unquestionably melodramatic, a technique that will likely dismay some readers and delight others. But the epilogue is perfect in a Smythe-Smith book.
Overall, I’d rank The Sum of All Kisses as less satisfying than the first two books in the series. But this is Julia Quinn, and I’m a reader who has read every Julia Quinn book and has never read one that failed to give me enough Quinntessential moments to make me glad I read it. So—not Quinn’s best, but I still recommend it for JQ fans or for other historical romance fans who will enjoy Quinn’s humor with a touch of angst and a generous serving of sensationalism.
Let’s talk autobuy authors. Julia Quinn is on my list and has been since her pre-Bridgerton days. While I certainly like some of her books better than others, I can’t imagine not reading one. Once an author is on my autobuy list, it takes several major missteps for me to remove her/him. Do you have autobuy authors? What makes you delete an author from your list?