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REVIEW: Dark Angel by Mary Balogh

Warning: The following review contains some spoilers.

Dear Ms. Balogh,

Cover image for Mary Balogh's Dark AngelYour books have been an acquired taste for me. My early experiences of them were like my first taste of sushi. They too, seemed like something unusual, intense and raw, to which my palate was unaccustomed. At first I wasn’t sure they would appeal to me, since the protagonists are so often emotional or filled with trepidation, and since it’s not uncommon for the heroes to have names like Rex, Edgar, Archie or Freddy — names that don’t call to my mind much glamour. There’s also the tendency your characters have to think in circles, repeating certain sentences over and over.

But after several tries, I got the hang of reading your books. It takes a certain degree of patience and tolerance for human vulnerabilities and even weaknesses, yet that is also what I find most rewarding about the best of your novels. They can be stories of heartfelt redemption and moving forgiveness.

I’ve now come to appreciate the insight you have into your characters, and the freshness of many of your plots. I still have much of your backlist to catch up on, and not all of your oeuvre has worked for me, but I have kept a dozen or so of your books, and very few authors have come close to matching that.

Among those dozen or so books is Dark Angel, originally published in 1994 as a traditional regency, and now reissued in a 2-in-1 volume with Lord Carew’s Bride. It probably sounds fanciful to say so, but if good books are gems, I like to think Dark Angel is a ruby — a hard, cool stone of a color we associate with both hearts and wounds, with gleaming facets and warm depths.

As a friend of mine once pointed out, the plot of Dark Angel is a bit reminiscent of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (the French epistolary novel which has been adapted for the big screen at least three times, as “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Valmont,” and “Cruel Intentions.”). Here, too, women become pawns in a dangerous game of one-upmanship, although the motives of the game players differ.

The novel begins with two young ladies conversing in a carriage as they enter London. Jennifer Winwood and Samantha Newman are cousins, about to make their debuts in society, but in different circumstances. Eighteen-year-old Samantha is nervous about whether she will have any beaux. Twenty-year-old Jennifer is relieved to have no worries on that score. Jennifer is betrothed–albeit unofficially–to Lionel, Viscount Kersey, and has been since she was fifteen.

Jennifer’s debut has been delayed due first to the death of Lionel’s uncle two years earlier, and later to her own grandmother’s passing, but now, after five years of waiting, she is thrilled at the prospect of coming to London, where her betrothal will be officially announced. She could not dream of a handsomer and more wonderful husband than Lionel, and has no interest whatsoever in any other man.

What Jennifer doesn’t know is that two years before, when Lionel was attending his ailing uncle in Northern England, he toyed with the affections of a young countess married to a much older man. When Catherine turned up pregnant, Lionel abandoned her to face the fury of her husband. But Catherine’s grown stepson, Gabriel, came to her aid and accompanied her to Europe, to offer his support until after the birth of Lionel’s daughter.

Now that Catherine no longer needs him, Gabriel has returned to England. Gabriel’s father passed away during Gabriel’s absence, and the young man is now Earl of Thornhill. But Gabriel’s reputation has been all but destroyed. His stepmother never named her seducer, and when Gabriel left England with her, it was widely assumed he himself impregnated his stepmother, and that his actions brought about his father’s death.

Thus, Gabriel is paying for Lionel’s sins. And since to duel with Lionel would only bring further scandal to Catherine’s name, Gabriel has ruled out slapping his glove in Lionel’s face. Nevertheless, he loathes Lionel with the heat of a hundred thousand suns, and would like nothing more than some kind of vengeance.

On their second day in London, Jennifer and Samantha go for a stroll in Hyde Park, and come into Gabriel and his friend Bertie’s view. Gabriel and Bertie admire the beauty of the two young ladies, while Samantha and Jennifer also notice the men. Jennifer compares Gabriel’s attractive darkness to Lionel’s angelic, golden beauty:

“Yes,” she said, “he did look like the devil, did he not? As Lord Kersey looks like an angel. You were quite right to say they are handsome in quite opposite ways, Sam. That gentleman looks like Lucifer. Lord Kersey looks like an angel.”

That Lionel is not an angel of light and Gabriel not a prince of darkness is only the first irony, and also the first of many mistaken impressions Jennifer and Samantha have. But soon enough Gabriel proves he is no angel, either. When he sets eyes on Jennifer again at her come-out and learns she is affianced to Lionel, he decides that she will be the perfect means to revenge.

Gabriel, who like many of your characters, is so lifelike and believable, tells himself he will be doing Jennifer a great favor by enticing her to some indiscretion or scandal that will humiliate Lionel publicly. After all, Lionel already has two mistresses, one of whom had borne him children, and Gabriel knows firsthand how unfeeling Lionel is. Though his conscience protests at the thought of manipulating and deceiving an innocent young woman, Gabriel drowns it in both alcohol and anger at the man who debauched his stepmother.

Jennifer is perhaps not the most powerful piece on this chess board, but she her painful vulnerability renders her very sympathetic. In her eagerness to get to know Lionel, whom she has loved for five years, she is disappointed when her betrothed does not steal a kiss or profess true love, and angry with Gabriel for depriving Lionel of a couple of opportunities to show her affection. Yet despite that anger, she is also susceptible to Gabriel’s overtures of friendship. People keep warning her that Gabriel has a terrible reputation, but she can sense he is not cad enough to have earned it.

Meanwhile, Lionel, a delicious villain if ever there was one, realizes what Gabriel is up to and has a play or two left to make. His pawn is Samantha, who is torn between loyalty to Jennifer and an unwelcome attraction to the golden, beautiful Lionel.

Who will win the “game” between the two men, as Lionel calls it? And what will happen when Jennifer realizes she has been played by them both? Can love emerge from these underhanded maneuvers?

Dark Angel is a rewarding book on many levels. The complex plot is deftly handled, and the themes of revenge vs. moral justice, deceit vs. conscience, naivete vs. cynicism, and immorality vs. redemption, are beautifully realized.

The characters feel so real, and the tension that comes from the reader’s knowledge of all that Jennifer is unaware of mounts and mounts until the story reaches its pinnacle in which one twist comes on the heel of another, and revelation follows revelation.

The second half of the book is so tightly packed with dramatic payoffs that I defy anyone to put the book down for very long during this section. I certainly couldn’t, even though I was rereading it this time and knew how things would turn out.

No book is perfect — Dark Angel did not make me fall in love with any of its characters, and I felt a bit of impatience in the first half — but I find it hard to care about that, since for me, this is surely one of the most original and satisfying books in the traditional regency subgenre. A-.

Sincerely,

Janine

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

43 Comments

  1. Ros
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 16:32:12

    I am really excited about the re-publishing of Balogh’s backlist. There are several books I’d love to get my hands on at a reasonable price.

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  2. willaful
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 16:39:39

    I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but that review struck me as kind of spoiler heavy. I suppose it wouldn’t have been possible to write at the depth you wanted without some spoilers, but perhaps a warning is in order.

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  3. bettie
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 16:39:39

    I haven’t been able to get into Mary Balogh’s books. It’s interesting to learn that I’m not the only one who had that problem. After reading your review, I’m thinking I should give her books another try.

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  4. becca
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 16:49:06

    I don’t care as much for Balogh’s more recent books, but I recall loving her earlier ones. I’ll have to look up this reissue, and see if it’s her writing or my life that has changed.

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  5. Tumperkin
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 16:53:51

    I too have a number of Balogh keepers and find her a very rewarding author. She has a quiet restrained style that I think might strike some readers as dull. But for me, she is a consummate storyteller who time again manages to find something new and fresh to say.

    I liked Dark Angel well enough but it’s a B for me – my all time Balogh favourite is Slightly Dangerous. I also love One Night for Love and Silent Melody.

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  6. Janine
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 17:23:03

    @Ros: I’m very excited about the reissues also! There are a lot of gems among her trad regencies and some of her other older books.

    @willaful: You didn’t sound like a jerk at all. Spoiler warning has been added!

    @bettie: It really did take me a long time to get into her books, and even some of the ones that most people love (like The Notorious Rake) didn’t do the trick. But she has such a wide and varied backlist that by giving her a lot of tries, I found the books that worked for me.

    @becca: The most recent Baloghs I tried, Simply Unforgettable and Simply Love, weren’t big hits with me. I think I’m generally more drawn to the angst of her earlier books.

    @Tumperkin: I wouldn’t have described her style as restrained myself, but I agree that Slightly Dangerous is fab! One Night for Love is the first Balogh I ever read so it didn’t take with me. I haven’t yet read Silent Melody.

    My keepers are too many to list but some of them are Dancing with Clara, A Christmas Promise, Snow Angel, Slightly Married, Slightly Dangerous, Thief of Dreams, Indiscreet and Longing.

    With regard to Dark Angel, I think one of my favorite thing about it is the plotting, which is rare for me to notice. Usually I’m much more focused on characters and prose, but in this case, the plot is so clever and twisty and satisfying.

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  7. Sarah
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 18:40:11

    Is this book a reprint?

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  8. Sarah
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 18:41:40

    @Sarah: Ok, for some reason I can’t edit my remarks to myself here at work, but I see from the comments it is. I’ll have to buy it. Thanks!

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  9. willaful
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 18:46:54

    Thanks Janine!

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  10. Brenna
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 19:21:15

    Love the Dark Angel. For someone who feels that Balogh’s older books were better than her current ones, I’m glad that it has been reissued so that people who have discovered Balogh recently can get to read it. This book is the beginning of a set of interrelated books or series that Balogh wrote back then (5 plus 2 more) which includes Lord Carew's Bride, The Famous Heroine and Christmas Bride (my other faves). Much, much better than her Slightly and Simply series IMO. Kept my copies and still reread them from time to time while I have given away all my Slightly books. Didn’t buy the Simply books, only borrowed them, but didn’t even get to finish the last two. If the rest of those books are going to be reissued, then Balogh fans will be in for a treat. I almost envy them.

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  11. willlaful
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 19:26:08

    The Plumed Bonnet is the fourth in this series and I believe it and The Famous Heroine will be reissued in another 2-in-1. Christmas Bride is the follow-up to A Precious Jewel, though is also connected to The Famous Heroine. (Hero of that is the “famous heroine’s brother.)

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  12. Kaetrin
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 19:34:01

    I love Mary Balogh so much I paid ridiculous prices on eBay to get copies of her OOP books, including this one. I think there are one or two that I’m missing so I’m looking forward to getting them as they are reprinted.

    I love her earlier traditional Regencies. I am no expert, but it strikes me that there’s not all that much that is “traditional” about them. They tend to have sex scenes (which I had understood wasn’t the norm in this subgenre – but maybe I’m wrong about that) and her plots are unusual. There aren’t many traditional Regencies that would cast a prostitute as heroine for example (A Precious Jewel).

    My favourites of her books are Heartless and Unforgiven.

    She is an autobuy for me and I hope others can discover the joy too!

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  13. TKF
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 19:36:49

    For someone who feels that Balogh's older books were better than her current ones, I'm glad that it has been reissued so that people who have discovered Balogh recently can get to read it.

    I love her older stuff, but the lastest series left me cold. I bought them all in a gulp, but didn’t finish them. They were just sort of dead on the page.

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  14. Janine
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 20:09:03

    @Sarah: To elaborate, Dark Angel was originally published in 1994 and Lord Carew’s Bride in 1995. There is now a new 2-in-1 reissue of both books bound as one book.

    @willaful: You’re welcome. I always hate being spoiled in a review, and I try to avoid giving spoilers when I write them, but in this case, I was so taken with the plot that it was hard not to give much away.

    @Brenna: I liked most of the Slightly books, but the two Simply books I read disappointed me. I have a lot of Balogh’s out of print earlier books on my TBR shelf and am looking forward to them more. I’m sure her current books appeal to many, but I love a lot of angst and heartaches in a romance, and I find that her older books are more my cup of tea.

    @willlaful: I am very excited about the 2-in-1 reissue of The Famous Heroine and The Plumed Bonnet but I wish they were coming out a little closer to this reissue. I gather they will be out in January of 2011.

    @Kaetrin: Yes, Balogh was a pioneer in including sex scenes in her trad regencies. With that said, there have been many popular authors that have come out of that subgenre, such as Loretta Chase, Jo Beverley, Edith Layton, Mary Jo Putney, and Carla Kelly.

    I haven’t read Heartless or Unforgiven but I have them TBR. It is good to have them to look forward to!

    @TKF: Sorry to hear that about her new series. I have been hesitant to read them after the first two Simply books didn’t appeal to me. I’ve heard good things about A Matter of Class, though, and the premise sounds good, so I may give that one a shot.

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  15. Joy
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 21:19:03

    I’ve been a fan of Balogh’s since the 1990s and read most, though not all, of her books and novellas. I loved this reissue and liked _Lord Carew’s Bride_ even more. I’ve come to the conclusion that the shorter traditional Regency and novella are really her best formats. These formats complement her strengths–the ability to get a lot of character development with a very organic plot, tightly written–while they prevent her weaknesses (characters who are overly self-analytical and the thinking-in-circles phenomenon, both of which tend to get worse the book is longer).

    Of all her recent work, _A Matter of Class_, a long novella, is probably the best.

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  16. Janine
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 23:26:50

    @Joy: You make some good points, Joy. I do agree that the short format suits Balogh’s strengths as a writer, although I have enjoyed some of her longer books as well.

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  17. Jennie
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 23:31:12

    Janine, thanks for the review. I read this a long time ago and remembered liking it, though it’s probably not among my favorite top-tier Balogh regencies. I agree with Joy that the shorter former really does play to Balogh’s strengths, though I do like some of her longer books as well (Longing, for example).

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  18. Janine
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 01:45:33

    @Jennie: We said almost exactly the same thing! I’d love to hear what your favorite Baloghs are, in case there are some I haven’t read yet.

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  19. mdegraffen
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 07:48:55

    I am a fan of Balogh but was hesitating on these “traditional” regencies since I thought they would be sanitized like other regencies I have read. It’s good to know that they push the envelope. I will be putting these on my buy list and look forward to finding reprints of her backlist.

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  20. Janine
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 11:58:06

    @mdegraffen: Oh yeah, they are definitley not “santized.” I hope you enjoy this one, and welcome hearing back from you or anyone else about it, whether or not you do.

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  21. willaful
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 12:04:43

    I agree Joy, the weaknesses in her work have become very apparent with the last few series’, though I always find her worth reading. I enjoyed A Matter of Class more than anything she’s written in years except for short stories and I am not usually a big fan of the short format.

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  22. Susan/DC
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 12:18:57

    What I find appealing about early Balogh is that at her best her characters feel authentic to the period in how they act, feel, and speak. This is not merely a matter of getting titles and such right but a sense of how they see themselves and their world and how they respond to others and present themselves within that world. When she’s not at her best, the dialogue and mannerisms can feel a bit stilted, but I probably have more of her books on my keeper shelf than just about any other author. Most of them are older titles, it’s true, but I also loved A Summer to Remember. I didn’t much care for its prequel, One Night for Love (thought the heroine a bit too perfect), but Lauren, the heroine of AStR, is a major character and it added depth and helped me understand her in her own story to see her in the earlier book.

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  23. Janine
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 12:37:25

    What I find appealing about early Balogh is that at her best her characters feel authentic to the period in how they act, feel, and speak. This is not merely a matter of getting titles and such right but a sense of how they see themselves and their world and how they respond to others and present themselves within that world.

    That is a great point. It’s something I appreciate about her early books as well. I do agree that there’s been some change in that, for example, if we compare the way her “fallen women” are treated by others in earlier books like A Precious Jewel and Indiscreet, to similar situations in later books like Slightly Sinful (the heroine’s prostitute friends) or Simply Love (the heroine who seems to have no shortage of friends and allies even though she has borne a child out of wedlock).

    I wasn’t big on A Summer to Remember (I have forgotten everything but a swimming scene), even though I thought Lauren was the most interesting character in One Night for Love. But I loved Slightly Married and Slightly Dangerous, which are newer books, and also some parts of Slightly Tempted — less the romance, and more the sections where the heroine tends the wounded in the Battle of Waterloo, and the family’s grieving for the “dead” brother.

    Would love to hear what your favorites of her earlier books are, Susan. There are so many that I haven’t read yet.

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  24. eva_baby
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 14:32:59

    I love Mary Balogh. I missed some of her earlier out of print works so I am glad I am catching up with these. My absolute favorite of hers is Indiscreet.

    I did just finish Dark Angel and Lord Carew’s Bride. I must say I was very struck with the character who is the main antagonist. And MB does this masterful thing with him where you, the reader, are just like Samantha — sometimes you really are unsure of his motives. Is he really dishonorable or is he really sincere? She walks this great line with him and keeps you guessing somewhat — until the end of course. But excellent book.

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  25. Kaetrin
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 18:49:09

    I agree with some earlier commenters that the Simply series wasn’t quite as good as others but I loved the Slightly series – which were the first books of hers that I read and I thought that her more recent Huxtable series has, to date, been excellent. I listened to A Matter of Class on audio and liked it in spite of the narrator who didn’t do it for me.

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  26. Brenna
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 19:32:13

    Absolutely agree with Joy and the others who said that the traditional regency or shorter format suits Balogh’s strengths better and for the reasons given. Especially the thinking in circles phenomenon. Also, there seems too much balls and picnics to complete the longer format. With the trads, things were kept to a minimum. Yet, despite the shorter length, Baloghs trads packed a punch. I did like some of her longer books but not as much as the older ones.

    I don’t think her traditional regencies are sanitized. They might not have loads of love/sex scenes but Balogh oftentimes write about darker matters like infidelity, prostitutes, etc… Her the Notorious Rake has an antihero and the start of the book was anything but traditional.

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  27. Janine
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 19:41:58

    @eva_baby: Indiscreet is one of my favorites as well.

    And yes, Lionel is such a well-drawn character. His scenes with Samantha are so good. Glad you enjoyed Dark Angel.

    @Kaetrin: I really enjoyed the Slightly series as well. Have not read the Huxtable books or A Matter of Class, but it’s good to hear that you enjoyed them more than the Simply books.

    @Brenna: Yes, I have a friend who used to describe The Notorious Rake and A Precious Jewel as books that start with a bang — literally! One thing I love about Balogh’s plots is the way the characters sometimes put the cart before the horse and have sex before they really know each other. It makes for some interesting dynamics.

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  28. Jennie
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 19:55:01

    @Janine: After all this time, I have trouble remembering, unfortunately! I did really like Indiscreet, A Precious Jewel and The Secret Pearl. I haven’t read many of her latest books. I know I liked one of the Slightly books more than the others – I think it was Slightly Wicked. Oh, and of her early regencies, I really liked The First Snowdrop.

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  29. Janine
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 20:44:45

    Thanks, Jennie. I have read all of those! think Indiscreet was my favorite of them, and The Secret Pearl my least favorite. I liked but didn’t love the other three.

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  30. Pam P
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 21:45:00

    I did like Dark Angel a lot, but my favorite in this series was The Famous Heroine, then The Christmas Bride.

    Slightly Dangerous is a favorite (not so much the rest of that series), also A Summer to Remember, loosely connected. A Temporary Wife is another I just caught up with and loved.

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  31. Janet W
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 23:29:43

    “The First Snowdrop” is a fave of mine but oh my, the hero is so ghastly, for so long. It’s a tough one but it’s immensely rewarding too. “Snow Angel” is terrific: a couple who meet cute (think Cabin Romance) and then part only to meet again. Solution is perhaps a little too contrived but I loved both h/h.

    Janine, your review was masterful! I read Baloghs over and over again (I have them all except for “The Wood Nymph”) … but I gulp them down each time. I’m going to TRY to read “Dark Angel” slowly and watch for the surprises. I too thought “A Matter of Class” was terrific!

    p.s. The Welsh books are amazing: they soar and sing and demand a musical score :)

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  32. Janine
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 00:30:52

    @Pam P: I haven’t read The Famous Heroine yet and Christmas Bride is TBR. I liked The Temporary Wife very much but I think I liked The Ideal Wife, which has a somewhat similar premise, even more.

    @Janet W:Thanks for the kind words about the review. I love Snow Angel. Yes, it is a cute meeting but it’s also a poignant, moving story of a couple caught between duty/honor and love. Is The Wood Nymph very rare? I actually have a copy that I lucked into. It’s one of the ones I haven’t read yet.

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  33. Susan/DC
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 12:06:18

    @Janine

    I liked The Temporary Wife very much but I think I liked The Ideal Wife, which has a somewhat similar premise, even more.

    Timing is everything, and in part because I read ATW before TIW, I like it better. Also, while the basic plot point was the same, I found the hero’s motivation in ATW more believable than in TIW.

    I love Snow Angel. Yes, it is a cute meeting but it's also a poignant, moving story of a couple caught between duty/honor and love. Is The Wood Nymph very rare? I actually have a copy that I lucked into. It's one of the ones I haven't read yet.

    I also love SA for precisely the reasons you mention. It’s both a lovely romance and an example of what I meant in my original post about how these two characters are authentic representations of their time. The issues facing them, particularly the issue of how to balance individual happiness versus responsibility to family and social class would quite likely play out differently today. Tempting Harriet has a number of the same issues, although the plot and characters are different (even if both heroines are beautiful young widows).

    As for The Wood Nymph, I have a copy but have only read a few pages. The hero was the loser in a love triangle in an earlier book, A Chance Encounter, which I liked. I began TWN but didn’t care for the heroine (liked the woman he lost better), but I need to go back and give the book another chance.

    Agree with you on the Slightly books. I loved the description of the heroine when she learns of her brother’s death in Slightly Married — Balogh is absolutely perfect in her description of the emotional and physical response. I adored The Notorious Rake and the unconventional first encounter of the H/H. I also loved Irresistible and return often to my favorite scenes, although I know many prefer Indiscreet in that trilogy.

    I’m always happy to discuss Balogh’s books. Happy reading!

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  34. Brenna
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 19:01:35

    Janine, have you read Heartless? I rather thought it was a bit similar to The Temporary Wife (love this book) but in a longer form. The hero & heir, having sort of exiled himself from his family due to quarrels and finally coming back to estate with wife in tow. And rediscovering and regaining back the love and trust of his siblings. Being longer than the Temporary Wife, Balogh added some more twist in the form of an evil villain, which the other book did not have. And what did those who have read the Secret Pearl (the first chapter of the book was also unusual for a trad or romance) and More Than a Mistress think about the two books? I though these two were rather similar though I liked them both.

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  35. Vicki
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 19:48:16

    I can truly say that I have never read a poorly written Balogh book. I have read some where I didn’t really get into the plot and some where the characters didn’t appeal, but never one that was badly written. Secret Pearl is the book that started me reading romances again after a very long hiatus. The book was so tortured and romantic, I simply couldn’t resist. I love that Balogh’s characters are not always perfect, in fact they are rarely so. They are messy and complex and sometimes not nice at all, but they are almost always interesting. In books like Dark Angel, Tangled, Heartless, she shows us damaged characters facing difficult situations and she still manages to make us care about them. Even her villains quite often become heroes in another book. Her books may unfold a bit more quietly than most, but they often have huge emotional impact. I hope she stays as prolific as she has been recently, the romance world needs her.

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  36. Janine
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 20:56:27

    @Susan/DC:

    I liked The Temporary Wife very much but I think I liked The Ideal Wife, which has a somewhat similar premise, even more.

    Timing is everything, and in part because I read ATW before TIW, I like it better. Also, while the basic plot point was the same, I found the hero's motivation in ATW more believable than in TIW.

    I think you are correct about timing. I read The Ideal Wife first, and for that reason, The Temporary Wife, though good, felt like a bit of a retread. But also, The Ideal Wife was the first Balogh I enjoyed wholeheartedly, and although I haven’t revisited it, I still have my copy. I remember being delighted with the humor in that story, the irony that the hero thought he was getting his concept of the ideal wife, but got something else altogether. Yes, the motivation probably was more believable in TTW, but I’m willing to go with an outlandish premise in any book, so long as it’s the premise and not something that happens later in the story. And in TIW, all the humor flowed from that outlandish premise, so I was doubly willing to accept it.

    Totally agree with you on Snow Angel and Slightly Married, and thanks for the other recommendations!

    @Brenna: No, I haven’t read Heartless, but I have it TBR and since a few people have recommended it to me, I’m really looking forward to it. I also haven’t read More than a Mistress.

    The Secret Pearl didn’t work so well for me because I felt that Adam was presented as a near-saint when some of his actions were less than saintly. The first encounter with Fleur, then installing her, a woman he had slept with, under his wife’s roof and as his daughter’s governess, and then, practically stalking Fleur, all seemed to me like actions of dubious motives. I would not have had a problem with that in itself, if I hadn’t felt that I was supposed to view him as noble and self-sacrificing. To me, he was all over the place as a character, and I also didn’t buy it when at the end of the book he said that he and Fleur fell in love at first sight. Their initial sexual encounter didn’t strike me that way, and I would have been much more accepting of it if Adam hadn’t tried to pretty it up after the fact by calling it true love.

    A lot of people love The Secret Pearl, but you can probably tell it’s not one of my favorites.

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  37. Janine
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 20:57:58

    @Vicki:

    I love that Balogh's characters are not always perfect, in fact they are rarely so. They are messy and complex and sometimes not nice at all, but they are almost always interesting

    “Messy” is a great description of Balogh’s characters. She has an unusual psychological acuity with which she captures the conflicted jumble of emotions that human beings frequently experience. It is what makes me interested in her books as well.

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  38. Brenna
    Mar 06, 2010 @ 21:33:37

    Janine, maybe timing does make a difference. I read Temporary Wife first before the Ideal Bride (not a favorite) and I just love the former. I did like Heartless though. I read More Than a Mistress first before a Secret Pearl and if I have to choose, while I did like both, I would give MTAM a slight edge. It is a lighter version of the Secret Pearl. And it has got some comic parts in the form of the Duke’s sister and the dialogue between the H/H were droll sometimes, which I enjoyed. Seeing what you didn’t like about the Secret Pearl, maybe you will like this one. Warning though, it is also about an heiress who ran away thinking she has killed or hurt someone, went to London and ended up being employed by a Duke. The difference is that she has a very feisty and stronger character than Fleur. I did like her because she cannot prevent her breeding, character and intelligence from coming out most of the time even if she was employed as a nurse and was supposed to be meek. It was fun watching the Duke, family and friends not quite know how to handle her when she forgot that she was “supposed” to be a lowly servant and not their equal.

    SusanD/C, I too absolutely adored The Notorious Rake. It was so different from what I thought should be a traditional regency. I thought Balogh took risks with that book and succeeded. Her Christmas books are also very good like the Christmas Belle and Christmas Promise.

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  39. Silvia
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 02:42:16

    I checked this book out after your review, and did really appreciate many aspects. Sometimes Balogh will go places in characterization that most romance novels wouldn’t — like a “hero” who ruthlessly manipulates the heroine and knowingly damages her good name in order to revenge himself on someone else — and it’s a refreshing chance of pace! I enjoyed the concept, the effective villian, the hero’s self-realizations, and how the heroine wasn’t stupid enough to throw away her reputation on purpose. (It seems like the last 4 regencies I’ve read have the women too ~overcome~ to care about their lives, and willing to bear breasts and more in public, as soon as they’re kissed. And I’m supposed to root for this moron?!)

    But oh man, I was very bothered by one part — so much so that it kind of tainted my enjoyment of the HEA.
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    It grossed me out that the hero would insist they have sex right away (a.) before he’d confessed the full truth and (b.) before she’d forgiven him. Just, why? If this was still when he was being a heartless ass — okay, then the author could have him redeemed later and sorry for his behavior. But this was supposed to be after he’d had The Realization and started his redemption. So, wtf?

    That whole, “oh we have to screw ASAP to make our marriage work, even though you hate me” thing just makes him a creeper, after what he’d done to her and so soon after the caning, and with her present shaky mental state. The ending would have worked for me so much better if he hadn’t pressed the physical aspect of their relationship until everything was aired out in the open and she’d come to terms with the situation. Instead it ended up feeling like yet another violation. How am I supposed to believe he’s really changed and recognizes why hurting her to achieve his aims had been Not Okay, when he’s still acting without regard for her feelings?

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  40. Janine
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 13:34:55

    @Silvia:

    Thanks so much for coming back to discuss the book. It is always great to hear reader opinions, whether or not we agree.

    I checked this book out after your review, and did really appreciate many aspects. Sometimes Balogh will go places in characterization that most romance novels wouldn't -’ like a “hero” who ruthlessly manipulates the heroine and knowingly damages her good name in order to revenge himself on someone else -’ and it's a refreshing chance of pace! I enjoyed the concept, the effective villian, the hero's self-realizations, and how the heroine wasn't stupid enough to throw away her reputation on purpose.

    Agree with all of the above.

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    This was a reread for me and I can’t recall how I felt about the sex the first time I read the book. This time, it did bother me, but not to the degree it bothered you. I think I saw Gabriel’s actions as partly stemming from a fear that Jennifer might never ever have sex with him, a normal marriage, including children/heirs, if they didn’t establish from the beginning that sex was part of their marriage.

    Remember, he wasn’t planning to ever come clean about his motives with regard to the plot, because he thought that if she believed he did it because he wanted her, she would be happier than if she believed he’d just been using her and she was only a means to an end. So, in his mind, not coming clean was for her sake, not his. I don’t think he knew she would ever figure it out, necessarily, or that he thought that far ahead.

    I think I gave Gabriel some leeway because he’d been to some degree forced into the marriage–maybe not quite as much as Jennifer, but it clearly wasn’t his choice to get married right there and right then. So I felt that his mental state was somewhat shaky too, not just Jennifer’s.

    But I also saw this as a bit of a contrivance to get the characters into bed sooner, because (A)Jennifer doesn’t fully forgive him until the last page, so there would have been no sex at all in the book otherwise, and (B) the sex was a way to show them ultimately growing closer and forging a connection. I think without it they might have just avoided each other as much as possible and lead separate lives.

    All that’s not to say that it didn’t bother me at all–it bothered me a bit, and there was another thing toward the end that bothered me as well, esp. the first time I read the book. This was that the letter from Gabriel’s stepmother convinced Jennifer that he wasn’t guilty of fathering Catherine’s child. I wasn’t sure it should, since Jennifer believed Gabriel wrote the incriminating letter about her. I thought she might think he was capable of forging a letter to look like it was from Catherine. In a way, the sex actually made that more believable to me, because it made Jennifer want to believe Gabriel more than she might have wanted to otherwise.

    For me, these were minor things I was willing to overlook because I enjoyed the book so much. I didn’t mention them in my review because (A) I saw them as pretty small glitches and (B) they come toward the end of the book, and therefore constitute spoilers. Originally this review ran without the spoiler warning, so I tried to avoid spoilers when I wrote it.

    I do understand why it bothered you to the degree it did, though.

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  41. Ariel/Sycorax Pine
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 14:36:36

    I was just about to sit down to write my own review of this double-header when I happened upon yours. Delightful. (So of course I have linked to it from my review!) I think where my level of satisfaction differed from a lot of people’s is in my feelings about Kersey as a villain – for me he was too *un*ambiguously evil to be truly satisfying.

    But, to grapple with the spoilery question at hand…

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    I also was seriously bothered by the ethics of Thornhill “claiming his marital rights” once a night – but no more. The purpose obviously seemed to be to prove that when given the option to withdraw from sex on the +1 encounters, Jennifer never did. Her body was ahead of her mind in accepting her feelings for Thornhill. But nonetheless, to a modern eye, the logic of “I am forcing you to have sex with me once a night *for the good of our marriage* – because that’s the kind of sacrificing, responsible guy I am” seems pretty tenuous and violating. More of a narrative device, as you say, than a psychologically sound maneuver for marital happiness.

    But I think this uncomfortable schedule he sets out for her is also part of one of my favorite aspects of the novel, which is the tumultuous, unhappy way Balogh presents even the pleasure of that wedding night. It is all about Jennifer’s feeling that she has lost control over her feelings (which remain, she thinks, with the man she hasn’t been able to marry) and her body (which belongs, in explicitly legal as well as physical ways, to her husband, according to the uncomfortable conventions of the time).

    In my review, I talk about my favorite passage, in which she has an epiphany about the total and permanent loss of her privacy that take place once she can no longer feel that she owns even the *inside* of her body. This is fascinating *because* it is uncomfortable to her and to our modern sensibilities. Perhaps his rule of once-per-night ownership can be seen as part of this larger theme Balogh is treating? As something she intends us to feel uncomfortable about in her hero? If so, this strikes me as a very Judith Ivory-esque move.

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  42. Janine
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 00:06:30

    @Ariel/Sycorax Pine: Great comment, Ariel! Re. Lionel, I have left a comment on your blog.

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    In my review, I talk about my favorite passage, in which she has an epiphany about the total and permanent loss of her privacy that take place once she can no longer feel that she owns even the *inside* of her body. This is fascinating *because* it is uncomfortable to her and to our modern sensibilities. Perhaps his rule of once-per-night ownership can be seen as part of this larger theme Balogh is treating? As something she intends us to feel uncomfortable about in her hero? If so, this strikes me as a very Judith Ivory-esque move.

    I think that Balogh uses the technique of the uncomfortable sex scene in many of her trad regencies. Even when her characters marry for convenience and barely know each other, they generally don’t put off the wedding night. And then there are the two books with prostitute heroines, A Precious Jewel and The Secret Pearl, which begin with sex scenes that are discomfiting to say the least.

    I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I think unsettling sex scenes (I’m not speaking of rape, but rather, of sex that takes place before the characters fully know each other or what they are getting into) can be a very effective way to keep readers turning the pages. When the internal conflict plays out in the bedroom, the scenes become reflective of the characters’ relationship dynamics and it also makes us want to see how this conflict or tension will be resolved.

    Of course, it is a fine line to walk, but yes, I do think it is intentional on Balogh’s part to discomfit the reader with some of her sex scenes in her earlier books. And although not all those sex scenes work for me, many of them do.

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  43. REVIEW: Red Rose by Mary Balogh | Dear Author
    Sep 15, 2010 @ 15:02:02

    [...] been reading your earlier traditional regencies lately, with varying degrees of enjoyment. So far Dark Angel and A Chance Encounter are the two I have enjoyed most of the ones I've read this [...]

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