The Sum Of All Kisses, by Julia Quinn

>> Saturday, May 10, 2014

TITLE: The Sum Of All Kisses
AUTHOR: Julia Quinn

PAGES: 389

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in the Smythe-Smith series

Hugh Prentice has never had patience for dramatic females, and if Lady Sarah Pleinsworth has ever been acquainted with the words shy or retiring, she's long since tossed them out the window. Besides, a reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.

Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought that nearly destroyed her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn't matter. She doesn't care that his leg is less than perfect, it's his personality she can't abide. But forced to spend a week in close company they discover that first impressions are not always reliable. And when one kiss leads to two, three, and four, the mathematician may lose count, and the lady may, for the first time, find herself speechless...

The Sum of All Kisses was a pleasant, inoffensive read until the plot got extremely stupid and lost me completely.

This is the third in the Smythe-Smith series, and takes place in the same world as all Quinn's recent historicals. Readers of the series will probably recognise the Smythe-Smiths as the hosts of those infamous musicales in which the musically-challenged female members of the family torture the ton's ears. Those musicales are a recurring joke here, but not particularly significant. What is significant is what has gone on in the first books in the series.

Years earlier, Hugh Prentice drunkenly challenged his friend, Daniel Smythe-Smith to a duel, which went terribly wrong. Hugh's leg was badly injured and Daniel was forced to flee the country when Hugh's vengeful father threatened to kill him. Hugh's father pursued Daniel for years, hiring assassins and all sorts of over-the-top things, until Hugh managed to make him stop (more on how he did so later). Daniel was then able to return to England, and the first two of books in the series cover his and his sister's romances.

As The Sum of All Kisses starts, Daniel and his sister are getting married within a couple of weeks of each other, and Hugh has been invited to be in the party that will be travelling around the country and partying for the entire period. He's not too keen, especially as he still feels guilty about what Daniel had to go through because of him, but that guilt also means that he'll do what the man asks.

Also in the party is Sarah Pleinsworth, one of the Smythe-Smith cousins. Sarah detests Hugh for what he did to Daniel. She also (half-seriously) blames him for her own unmarried status. See, the year after the duel happened was when she and another cousin were supposed to come out, but the family had gone into a sort of mourning, so they had to wait another year. Well, they missed a season when 14 elegible bachelors (14!) got married.

Hugh doesn't like Sarah either. He finds her overly dramatic (and as you might see from the previous paragraph, he does have a point) and she's quite hostile to him. But as the weddings proceed, they're forced to spend time in close proximity, and their feelings start to change.

For the first three quarters or so of the book, the story was cute and I enjoyed it, albeit in a very mild way. Hugh and Sarah spend a lot of time together and Quinn shows their change of feelings in a nice, gradual way. Quinn's voice also works for me very well. It's very distinctive, and I find it quite witty and charming and it makes me smile.

Even during these sections, though, I didn't love the book. Sarah was a little bit blah, and Hugh bit of a cardboard cut-out character, the brave injured hero (his leg is still pretty bad) with a bad childhood. He's also a mathematical genius, but this was the obvious romance-novel thing of making him very good at doing arithmetic in your head. Of course. The sure mark of an author who doesn't understand maths in the least.

Honestly, I was a bit bored by the book. Not enough to put it down, but it took weeks to read. And then it all goes to hell. We get to the point where Hugh and Sarah are in love, they both know the other is in love, and there's absolutely no reason why they wouldn't get married. So how to fill the final 100 pages? Why, with an absolutely STUPID conflict.

So, Sarah discovers how Hugh managed to get his father to stop trying to kill Daniel, and basically freaks out. The next paragraph will be spoilerish. I don't think it's a huge spoiler, as I think people who read the first couple of books would know, but still, SPOILERS BELOW!

Ok then. Hugh knew his father's main interest in him was as a source of an heir, so he threatened to kill himself if anything happened to Daniel. Well, if your father is a cartoon-character, over-the-top, psychopathically insane character, that sounds like a pretty rational, clever way of going about it. It's not fully thought-through (were you not planning on having children ever, Hugh? Because you seemed to think you could marry Sarah without any problems, and as soon as she gave birth to an heir, you'd be worthless to your father). Ok, fine. But Sarah goes into meltdown, and I just did not get what the hell was going on. Then this mild, sweet story turns into some sort of crazy thriller. There's a lot of running around and Hugh's father behaving like a complete nutter in ways that make no sense whatsoever, and Sarah finding out a solution which still made no sense (once you have your first male child there's no threat whatsoever, you moron). But oh, it's all right, because Hugh's father (a complete psychopath, remember) has promised he'll respect the agreeement. Oh, for fuck's sake (I kept saying that every 2 pages or so as I read this section).

In summary, the last 100 pages or so of this book were a putrid mess and pissed me off. They insulted my intelligence. Since the first 300 pages were merely so-and-so, this results in a very low average grade.



Sun,  10 May 2014 at 10:02  

Thank you for the review. I was considering buying this one. Money saved.

Rosario 10 May 2014 at 10:15  

Hi Sun, I know other people have loved this book. They note they didn't love the ending, but it didn't bother them as much as it did me. To be honest, I don't quite know why I had such a strong reaction to it, but I did. It really, really pissed me off!

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