My Rating: 4.5 / 5
Amazon Rating: 4.20 / 5
I have to admit that I have not been a great fan of romantic fiction in the past. Apart from a brief flurry of hormone-driven reading in my teens, I have tried to steer clear of a genre that can be so cliché-ridden that it makes my teeth grind. I’m trying to think of the last romance novel to grace my bookshelf . . . I guess that it was probably Bridget Jones’ Diary, which I don’t think is actually classified as a romance, but is as near as I’ve got in the past twenty years or so. However, Jan was convinced that we would enjoy this book, and I have come to trust her recommendations . . . mostly! So, with some trepidation, I picked up my inter-library loan and prepared to dive in.
Lauren Edgeworth was a contented young woman until her fiancé’s first wife, who had been presumed dead, interrupted her wedding. Being a logical person, Lauren took this public humiliation as convincing evidence that she should prefer to remain a spinster. However, family commitments have brought her to London where she is shocked and confused to find herself pursued by Kit Butler, an infamous rake. Kit has recently lost his elder brother and must now return to the family home in order to take his place as the dutiful heir, complete with an arranged marriage that he wants to avoid. To fulfill a wager, Kit determines to win Lauren’s hand in marriage, but the lady is steadfast in her determination to remain unmarried. Finally, they make a deal: she will pretend to be his betrothed so that he can break his engagement and, in return, he will give her a summer to remember, full of excitement and adventure. As the summer progresses, and Lauren becomes fully integrated into his family, Kit comes to regret that theirs is not a real engagement, but respects her right to decide her own fate . . . while Lauren starts to question her determination to remain unmarried, but believes that Kit would be happier with his former fiancée, the outrageous Lady Freja Bedwyn.
So, was I converted to romance fiction? I’m not sure I would go that far, but I was certainly converted to Mary Balogh’s writing. Set in the Regency period, this has a definite feel of Jane Austin, with a suitably stubborn and independent heroine. The setting is conveyed brilliantly, with such a wonderful turn of phrase that I found myself giggling in delight at many of the scenes. For example, when we meet Kit, in the very first scene, he is bare-chested . . . in public . . . fighting no fewer than three ruffians . . . who had been harassing a milkmaid . . . oh, the scandal! This scene gives us a great insight into Kit’s character, whilst being very funny and setting up the society that the characters inhabit. This is vital, because their reactions, decisions and behavior are all driven by the social etiquette and expectations of their time. Although Lauren makes some very modern decisions, she is still bound by manners and her place in society, and must act accordingly. After all, this is a society that is shocked beyond belief that . . . Brace yourself! . . . Lady Freja wears her hair unbound and loose around her shoulders!!!!! . . . sorry if you fainted away there, but the truth had to be told!
As AnimeJune notes in her very funny review, many aspects of the plot are fairly conventional. Some might find the pace a little slow, but this fits with the historical setting and provides us with the breathing space needed to appreciate the complex characters, both lead and secondary, who populate this world. Just as Lauren comes to understand the friends and family that she encounters whilst living in Kit’s home, so we also move beyond our initial impressions and appreciate the real motivations behind their behaviors. In fact, one thing I really did like was the absence of overwhelming passion and the irrational behavior often associated with it. This is a story of deep, intense feelings, most definitely, but they are tempered by rational decisions driven by the best of intentions. The leads fall in love in spite of themselves: this not only makes the story much more believable, but also increases our involvement with them.
"The people we love are usually stronger than we give them credit for. It is the nature of love, perhaps, to want to shoulder all the pain rather than see the loved one suffer. But sometimes pain is better than emptiness."
With such profound understanding of the human condition, Mary Balogh held me enthralled to the very end of the story. I do have one criticism: due to the fact that many of the characters are ‘titled’ they often have two ‘names’: for example, Christopher (Kit) Butler is also Viscount Ravensburg. This means that it can be a little confusing to work out who is who and their relationships to one another, but this really is a minor quibble for a book that was almost perfect. The characters are believable and engaging, while the dialogue is witty and funny. Like Kit and Lauren, I felt some regret when the summer ended, but I shall remember it.