Minx by Julia Quinn takes the reader to England of 1816, where a young woman named Henrietta Barrett (known to most as Henry) lives on an estate called Stannage Park in Cornwall. In her early twenties, she has been running the farm and the estate since her aunt died when she was a teenager. Lord Stannage, Aunt Viola’s husband, lost interest in running the farm after his wife’s death; Henry took it upon herself to take over and was quite successful. When Stannage dies, a distant cousin named William Dunford is told that he has inherited the property, and he sets on his way to visit his new estate.
Henry, of course, is very upset, and she fears that Dunford will take all this from her. She loves working on the land and had hoped she could live there forever. She decides that she’ll have to do whatever it takes to convince the new Lord Stannage that it is not worth taking on the estate, wanting to make him believe how difficult it is to run a farm such as this.
When Dunford arrives, he meets the servants first, then finds Henry in her mannish outfit, trying to handle a huge pig. She’s covered in mud and slop and does not look much like a woman at all. He doesn’t know what to think, but the more he gets to know her, the more he is intrigued. Henry is quite surprised to find how young Dunford is - only a few years older than she is – as she had been expecting a much older man to take over the property.
Henry does all she can to make Dunford believe how horrible owning the property will be. She feeds him porridge for lunch, telling him how they must conserve what food they have. She informs him that there is not enough water to take baths. She even makes him get up at 5:30 in the morning, telling him that this is what they do on the farm (she doesn’t quite convince him of that, however!). She constantly deceives him, and he believes her, not realizing right away that she is trying to convince him to go back to London where he belongs.
Despite what goes on between them, the two eventually become friends. He finds her uniqueness refreshing, and she sees how handsome he is and how special he makes her feel. When Dunford comes upon a brilliant idea and tells her they are going back to London to visit with his friends, she is at first reluctant to go. But she eventually gives in, and off they go to spend some time with Dunford’s close friends and to indoctrinate Henry in London life.
While Henry begins to enjoy her stay in the big city, especially after meeting Dunford’s friends, she feels that maybe it’s alright to feel and look feminine and begins to feel the confidence that she has lacked while living on the farm. Dunford’s friends see how obvious it is that the two have feelings for each other, but when Dunford finds out he is Henry’s new guardian, he is not quite sure his feelings are appropriate under the circumstances. Nevertheless, Henry is the hit of the season, and like an Eliza Doolittle, she blossoms into a beautiful young woman, gaining many potential suitors to the chagrin of Dunford.
While I enjoyed reading Minx overall, I did have a few reservations about it. The book seems to go on far too long, and it could have been cut by at least fifty pages. On the other hand, the book has a somewhat “cozy” feel to it because of the slow pacing of the story, which justifies the length.
Another problem is that the two main characters change their feelings for each other much too easily without much of a transition from one state to another. I didn’t buy how fast the two became friends after Henry tries her hardest to get rid of him. For someone who hates the idea of being dependent on a new guardian and losing land that she has cultivated on her own, I think she changes sides much too quickly, it doesn’t seem to be in character.
Another possible flaw is the ending. The book may have been better off ending with the wedding, but the author puts in yet another stumbling block for the two lovers to work around. At this point in the novel, I think a reader would be ready for the book to end, and it was frustrating for me as a reader to continue on with this frustrating plot. Some readers may agree, but others may enjoy this last twist in the story, giving this novel a feel unique among average romance novels. One could say it is not altogether predictable, which can be a good thing. One does get a good sense for the Cornwall countryside, and some of the scenes of life on the farm are a riot. The recurring inside jokes about Henry’s rabbit will make readers smile.
Minx isn’t a perfect novel, but it is still worth the time spent reading. Readers will probably enjoy getting to know Henry, who is not a typical heroine of a typical Regency romance.