Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet--Romance or Girl Utopia?

Utopia -- n -- any real or imaginary society, place, state, etc., considered to be perfect or ideal.

So tonight I finished Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts. There's an excellent review of it here at AAR. I loved that the reviewer called the series "wedding porn." Yeah, it's definitely that. All-in-all this proved to be an enjoyable, lighthearted series that celebrates love and the best of our WASP-ish wedding traditions. The books are heavy on various elements of weddings and the wedding planners who make them happen. The level of romance varies, and I think HEA is the lightest when it comes to the romantic relationship--in this case between Parker & Malcolm. That's actually a tad disappointing, because after the 3 previous books, Parker had the biggest buildup to be heroine in her own story. 

There's a sentence in that AAR review that got me to thinking:

Add that to the fact that four best friends are living together in a mansion (weren’t you planning to do that?), and you cover a lot of fantasy ground. 

Besides the excellence of Roberts' writing (let's just say that's a given and put that aside), ultimately I think what made this series so captivating for me wasn't the individual romances but the fantasy of four young women who have been friends forever, remain friends, and somehow at the end of the day find themselves living together in what I will call a 21st century commune. There's a throw-away line toward the end of Parker's book about how one day there will be a ton of children running around the Brown family estate. Sounds like a commune to me.

Anyhow, I got to thinking about that word "fantasy" which led me to thinking of "utopia." Here are some the elements of perfect and ideal found in the books:
  • Four women remaining such tight friends since the time they were children and enjoying a level of emotional intimacy that I suspect is actually rather rare. 
  • Heroes who do not seem to mind the relationship the women have. Additionally they seem willing and able to pitch in and help at events (setting up/tearing down) even though one assumes the business hires helpers for all of that labor.
  • Money does not seem to be a worry (Mansion, remember?).
  • Plenty of clients for the business. None of the clients seem to worry about money either.
  • Mrs. Grady is like the ever-present fairy godmother dispensing food and good advice at the drop of a hat. (I want one of those!)
  • Incredibly talented heroines who excel at what they do for the business. They solve every problem thrown their way. No disasters allowed here.
  • An awful lot of champagne is consumed, especially in book 4.

If you've read the books, you can probably think of more examples.

Let me be clear. I love the fantasy. I devoured these books. 

But in the end they weren't all terribly romantic and if it's romance you're expecting I'd say that the books are quite a bit more and quite a bit less, if that makes sense. Weddings are a celebration of romantic love. So all of the focus on the weddings reminds us of the ideal of romantic love, and not necessarily the gritty day-to-day reality of building and maintaining a romantic relationship over time. There's just enough about each of the four couples to convince us that each couple will enjoy a HEA, but probably not as much as a dedicated romance reader might wish for. Your mileage may vary, of course.


  1. Interesting post!

    I love the way that Nora Roberts writes friendships, particularly between females, but I think like so many other examples (TV shows like Friends, and Sex in the City) it puts up this ideal type of friendship that just isn't necessarily how it is for most of us.

    I have a close group of friends, but it is very rare for us to have full on conversations about our love lives, and whilst we used to work together we certainly couldn't still be doing so, and living together, etc etc.

    I haven't read Happy Ever After yet, but for the previous three books, I found them to be very comfortable reads - easy to read and put down again at the end.

  2. Very interesting analysis and take on this series!

    I actually haven't read any of these books yet - I was waiting for all four to be released and none of the reviews for previous books made me think I *needed* to run out and get them asap.

    You've piqued my curiousity now :-)

  3. Great analysis Phyl. I haven't read Happy Ever After yet, but going by the first three books, I would say I agree with you.

    I was having a discussion with a friend about the "chick-lit" wave and how it effects contemporary romance. And even though it seems subtle in these books, I feel that it's there. Yes, the friendship between the women is great (NR usually writes friendship & family relationships quite well), but in these books those relationships took 1/3 of each book, the business and individual skills took the other 1/3 and the romance that last 1/3. Not quite the romances I was expecting when I read that first book. This is good in my opinion, but not a great "romance" series.

  4. Phyl, you hit the nail on the head with your analysis here. I haven't read the last book yet, but after reading the first three... I know your assessment is accurate. However... I happen to love fantasy and romance and champagne so Nora can bring it on! ^_^

    Basically... I know this is fiction in its truest form. I can separate it from real life expectations and still enjoy it. Not that you're saying otherwise.. I'm just talking.

  5. My thanks to all of you! I don't normally put up this kind of "pondering" post, so I appreciate your comments.

    Marg, I agree that Roberts really does friendship well. And that's a large part of what makes these books so attractive. I'd probably love to experience the kind of friendship expressed in them, but it simply seems very unlikely given the way my life is today.

    Li, I'm glad you're a little more curious now. I do hope you'll eventually read them. They're very fun and entertaining.

    Hilcia, I agree, there is almost a "chick-lit" feel to them, and I contemplated using that label. Ultimately I decided not to because taken as a whole they're about 4 women who really do have it all together, as opposed to one angst-driven woman who seems the norm in chick-lit.

    Christine, oh yes--fiction in it's truest form (all that champagne!!!). It feels entirely real when you read it. Then afterwards, it's "hey! wait a minute..." (VBG)

  6. I just started reading this today! I hope I like Parker and Mal's story.


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