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I see Hugo Prentiss as the linchpin for this series. He is the vital first piece that set into motion the series of events that led to Daniel's exile to the Continent, and his subsequent return, and Honoria, Daniel's sister, finding her happy ending with their friend, Marcus Holroyd.
As this is the third book in the series, we've already formed a bit of Hugo's image in our minds, and we need to decide if he is a character to forgive and accept. This is the same challenge that faces Sarah Pleinsworth, who saw how that drunken challenge broke apart her cousin's family, but Hugo was also damaged by his own actions -- his leg is permanently injured. Sarah is conflicted. She likes Hugo, but she feels obligated to hate him because of what he did -- but, there's also a part of her that sympathizes with Hugo, who seems to be holding the world together.
"You do not know me," he bit off. "You do not know what I think or what I feel or what measure of hell I visit each and every day of my life. And the next time you feel so wronged -- you, who do not even bear the same surname as Lord Winstead -- you would do well to remember that one of the lives I have ruined is my own."
- p. 69
In a sense, he is: Hugo's father, the Marquess of Ramsgate, continues to threaten Daniel's existence, and ever since the incident, Hugo has been doing penance for the fool-hardy duel. He doesn't see his actions as forgivable, or himself as redeemable -- so he set himself out as a sacrificial lamb to please his father (and protect Daniel).
This novel shows the contrast between two families: the Smythe-Smiths and the Prentisses. Hugo's father "loves" Hugo, but it's an oppressive and suffocating kind of "affection" -- the attachment of Hugo's father with Hugo reminded me of Annie Wilkes in Stephen King's Misery. He's become so hyper-focused on Hugo (and the family legacy) that he has become blind to everything else. He also cannot forgive or accept Freddie, Hugo's older brother (and his actual heir). The Smythe-Smiths, on the other hand, are such an open and forgiving family, as evidenced by their instant acceptance of (and sincere joy in) Daniel's marriage to the Smythe-Smith cousins' former governess. They are a family so loving and caring, that they have accepted Daniel's decision to rekindle his friendship with Hugo, and everyone is doing their best to help make Hugo feel welcome.
It's love taken to both extreme ends of the spectrum -- the dark, obsessive side is shown by Hugo's father, and the brighter, happier side is represented by the Smythe-Smiths.
Sarah is likeable, but a lot of who she is is so tied up in the Smythe-Smith quartet, and this is the one very small problem that I saw in the novel: Julia Quinn is so intent in showing the allure and humour of the Quartet that she doesn't fully realise the potential of Hugo's story. There's so much to be explored in this enemies-to-lovers story, and there's just such wonderful promise in Hugo and Sarah's characters, and to their story, but it isn't explored as deeply.
I have to say, though, that the parts that Quinn chose to tackle were done very well. I particularly appreciated the conversations between Sarah and Hugo -- and you could see the gradual change in their opinion of each other.
Even if their first meeting hadn't been a mind-numbingly mad disaster, they would never have been friends. Sarah Pleinsworth was one of those dramatic females given to hyperbole and grand announcements. Hugh did not normally study the speech patterns of others, but when Lady Sarah spoke, it was difficult to ignore her. She used far too many adverbs. And exclamation points.
- p. 34
* * *
"Forgive me," he said stiffly. "I was of the opinion that you thought my suffering was no more than I deserve."
Her lips parted, and he could practically see his statement running through her mind. Her discomfort was palpable, until finally she said, "I may have felt that way, and I cannot imagine I will ever bring myself to think charitably of you, but I am trying to be a less ..." She stopped, and her head moved awkwardly as she sought words. "I am trying to be a better person," she finally said. "I do not wish you pain."
His brows rose. This was not the Sarah Pleinsworth with whom he was familiar.
"But I don't like you," she suddenly blurted.
Ah. There she was. ...
- p. 133
(I still don't understand the Iris/Daisy angle and why she was so intent in getting a quartet together to play.) I did fall in love with Sarah's younger sister, Frances, and would love to read about her in a future Julia Quinn book.
"Sarah doesn't believe in unicorns, either," Frances said. "None of my sisters do." She gave a sad little sigh. "I am quite alone in my hopes and dreams."
Hugh watched Sarah roll her eyes, then said, "I have a feeling, Lady Frances, that the only thing you are alone in is being showered with the love and devotion of your family."
"Oh, I'm not alone in that," Frances said brightly, "although as the youngest, I do enjoy certain benefits."
- p. 126
While I was thinking about this review, it dawned on me that there is an innate optimism in all of Julia Quinn's stories. As I reader, I always feel assured that, when I start reading a Julia Quinn book, I know I will enjoy the experience. I also feel assured that everything will work out for her characters in the end. Beyond the optimism, a sense of joy also seems to be hard-wired in Julia Quinn -- and it filters through in her characters. You just can't help but smile when you read about Sarah and her sisters, and their entire family, for that matter. Her books are a true comfort read.
The Sum of All Kisses is Book 3 in Julia Quinn's Smythe-Smith Quartet. To find out more about Julia Quinn and her books, click below: