Warning: may contain spoilers!
If you, like me, were one of the 82 million households that have watched Bridgerton on Netflix since its release in late December, then you might be curious about the series of novels that it’s based on. Julia Quinn wrote eight books between the years 2000 and 2006, and they’ve garnered widespread popularity. They were then made to be a Netflix drama, with romance, Regency Era intrigue and an unforgettable cast of characters.
The first book, The Duke and I, follows Daphne, the eldest Bridgerton daughter, and the Duke of Hastings. It serves as the source material for the show’s first season, so you probably already know their story. This book includes a controversial scene that many consider to be female-on-male sexual assault, so if that’s a trigger for you, consider skipping this one and starting with the second instead.
The Viscount Who Loved Me promises to be the main inspiration for the show’s second season, which has just been renewed. Many fans of the novels, including me, consider this to be the best of the series, and Kate Sheffield, Anthony Bridgerton’s eventual wife, the best love interest. The two start off with him deciding to marry her sister instead, but they slowly realize their love for each other. This book is funny and will leave you with all the happy feelings.
Next is An Offer from a Gentleman, highlighting Benedict Bridgerton and Sophie Beckett, who’s the daughter of an earl, but has been relegated to servant status by her stepmother. Benedict meets her as a maid, rather than a marriage prospect. For this reason, Benedict perhaps doesn’t treat her with the respect that he should, and in my opinion, he came off unlikable.
The show has already laid some of the groundwork for Romancing Mister Bridgerton. Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington have a best-friends-to-lovers type story, and mostly deal with the conflict of—episode eight spoiler!—Penelope being Lady Whistledown. If the show made you want to read one of the books, but not necessarily the whole series, I would recommend this one, as it ties up that story nicely.
Following Eloise Bridgerton, a standout character of the show, To Sir Phillip, With Love may not be exactly what you expect, as Eloise and Phillip fall in love through writing letters to each other. The backstory of this novel has been changed by the show, as Eloise has now already met her love interest—when he and Marina decide to marry. For that reason, this book may never be fully adapted, but it’s still one of my favorites.
When He Was Wicked tells Francesca Bridgerton’s story, and if you don’t remember who that is, don’t worry. She only appeared in the first and last episodes of the show. Because of that, you might be less eager to pick this one up, but it still tells a compelling story. Like To Sir Phillip, With Love, this book is more mature (not mature as in including-sexual-content, though there surely is that too), but as in a more grownup kind of love.
Though Hyacinth and Gregory Bridgerton are just children in the show’s first season, with time they will each have a turn at the bat in It’s In His Kiss and On the Way to the Wedding. Many years have passed and they are both ready for their own love stories. In my own opinion, it seems unlikely that Bridgerton will make it to seven or eight seasons, due to Netflix’s fondness for cancelling shows early, so these are the two that might get left behind. But they’re just as sweet, heartwarming and easy to read as the others.
It’s pretty clear that the show is changing a lot, and we have no idea where they’re going with it or how long they’ll have to do it, so it’s up to you which ones you want to read, if any. My personal recommendations for a taste of the Bridgerton series are books two, four and five, but perhaps those are my favorites because they’re the characters I enjoyed most in the show. All in all, the entire series is worth giving a try, and if the show does get prematurely canceled, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing the fates of the entire Bridgerton family.