Author: Mary Balogh
Rating: 4.5 stars
Type: Novel in Series
Received from Publisher
Blurb: A Survivors’ Club Novel
The Survivors’ Club: Six men and one woman, all wounded in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendship forged during their recovery at Penderris Hall in Cornwall. Now, in the fourth novel of the Survivors’ Club series, Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, has left this refuge to find his own salvation—in the love of a most unsuspecting woman.…
Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, was devastated by his fiancée’s desertion after his return home. Now the woman who broke his heart is back—and everyone is eager to revive their engagement. Except Flavian, who, in a panic, runs straight into the arms of a most sensible yet enchanting young woman.
Agnes Keeping has never been in love—and never wishes to be. But then she meets the charismatic Flavian, and suddenly Agnes falls so foolishly and so deeply that she agrees to his impetuous proposal of marriage.
When Agnes discovers that the proposal is only to avenge his former love, she’s determined to flee. But Flavian has no intention of letting his new bride go, especially now that he too has fallen so passionately and so unexpectedly in love.
Review: Every reader should enter the rarefied world of a well-written historical romance– rife with drawing rooms, quizzing glasses, and the coming-out balls of the haut ton. Mary Balogh is the quintessential Queen, with her genteel yet sumptuous novels that embrace the everyday life of the English aristocracy. The past becomes part of the setting itself as you travel via coach on the streets of London, sit in private boxes at the theater, and shiver in the large, drafty rooms of private country estates. At the beginning this book appears to be one more story about manners and romance in the English countryside; but as it unfolds. it becomes a moving novel about two lonely people yearning for connection.
This story begins with a harvest dance at Middlebury Park, the home of Vincent and Sophia Hunt, the Viscount and Viscountess of Darleigh. Flavian Arnott, Viscount Ponsonby, was a close friend invited to the dance. Flavian and Vincent had both been wounded in the war–Vincent was blinded and Flavian suffered a grievous head injury that led to brain damage, memory loss and a stutter.
Also attending from the nearby village was Sophia’s dear friend, the Widow Agnes Keeping. Agnes was also damaged in her own way. When she was very young, her mother had abandoned the family for another man, leaving her to understood on a deep level that passion sometimes demanded a grave price. She had always determined that love should not be the cause of any more pain in her life; indeed, her first marriage to William Keeping was a shallow marriage of convenience that left her merely content. Uncomfortable living with her father and his new wife and step-children, Agnes moved to Gloucestershire to live in the village with her older sister Dora.
Meeting at the dance, Flavian obliged Sophia and asked her friend Agnes to dance. It was very pleasant and would have come to nothing if not for the second dance. The one Flavian chose to ask her for on his own. The waltz. Within its short timespan, Agnes fell in love with Flavian–and Flavian noticed her. For Flavian to actually notice someone was an amazing feat, since his wounds and subsequent recovery had caused him to ignore most things around him.
That small kernel of attention stayed hidden in his memory and reappeared several months later in the spring when he returned to Middlebury Park for the annual meeting of the seven members of the Survivor’s Club. At this point Flavian is concerned with other matters. His family is pressing him to marry his ex-fiance Velma, who has become available again. He has avoided all of this by not returning home, staying in London and consulting with specialists for his recovery. A lot of the gaps in his memory surround Velma, their engagement, and her subsequent abandonment after his return from war, and his confusion only makes him have headaches any time he presses his mind to remember.
So, relaxing at Middlebury Park with his friends for three weeks is a delightful interruption. He once again finds Agnes a refreshing change, and as they drift closer together in gatherings and incidental meetings in the neighboring park, Flavian realizes that an escape is to be had from his problems. He can marry Agnes!
However, Agnes is hard to convince. She’s desperately trying to keep passion and love out of her life, and she’s just settled into what she assumes will be the pattern of the rest of her life. Living with her sister in a small village, whiling away the hours. When her feelings for Flavian flame up and she has a chance for passion, she’s afraid. She suspects that it’s not love he is seeking, but a refuge. She is vaguely aware of his former fiance, but has no true idea of what’s going on at the present time. When Flavian goes quickly to London and returns with a marriage license, she takes a leap and agrees to marry him.
You can imagine what happens next. His family is horrified, not only by her lack of station but by his refusing to marry Velma; his former fiance and her parents are horrified and feel betrayed; and Agnes is mortified when she realizes the truth and thinks that she was used only as a weapon to spite Velma. This is where you would think that the novel would dissolve into regular expectations, but it doesn’t. This is where Mary Balogh begins to make the book shine. The characters must work hard to fix this conundrum they’ve made. Feelings must be assuaged; situations lived with uncomfortably for a time until they are made to work. The characters at the end of this book are far different from the people they are at the beginning; and the reader is a much more enlightened person for having made the journey with them.
I think you’ll enjoy this book. While the sex scenes are passionate, the character-driven scenes are also emotionally riveting. The background is flawlessly done and the writing is exquisite. Thanks again for such a delightful read.