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REVIEW: The First Snowdrop by Mary Balogh

Dear Ms. Balogh,

Your traditional regencies are books I often find interesting even when though they are not always necessarily romantic or sexy to me. That's because the characters have human flaws and weaknesses not often seen in many of today's books. Such is the case with Alex, Viscount Merrick, the hero of The First Snowdrop.

Here’s is a description of the book from your website:

When Viscount Merrick inadvertently compromises plain Anne Parrish, he is obliged to marry her. But he has no intention of living with her or even seeing her again after settling her on his country estate. When he arrives at his grandparents’ home more than a year later for the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, he is enchanted by his first sight of a lovely stranger. Then he realizes that she is his wife….

First SnowdropMerrick, riding alone when the weather turns bad, arrives on Anne’s doorstep seeking shelter from the snowstorm. Anne answers the door herself because she and her brother are about to relocate and have already let the servants go. Anne’s brother is at the pub and gets caught in the storm there, so Anne is alone with Alex, who assumes she is a housemaid. The shy, reticent Anne doesn’t say much to change his misapprehension.

Alex thinks Anne wants to sleep with him so he attempts to kiss her but when she shows some resistance, he immediately stops. When Anne’s brother Bruce shows up the next morning, along with his friend the local vicar, Bruce and the vicar pressure Alex into proposing to Anne, who has been compromised by his mere presence under the same roof.

Alex was about to propose to another young woman, Lorraine, with whom he believed he was in love. Since Lorraine is beautiful and vivacious while Anne is overweight and timid, Alex hopes Anne will refuse his proposal. But Anne, already smitten with Alex mostly on the basis of his good looks and the attention he has shown her, says yes.

After they marry Merrick convinces himself that Anne took advantage of the situation to mislead him and entrap him on purpose. He plots some kind of revenge, but the wedding night turns unexpectedly passionate and pleasurable. The next morning Alex abandons Anne on his estate. He sends her money over the next year and some months but wants nothing to do with her and doesn’t allow her to come to London even to visit a friend.

Meanwhile Anne restores the gardens in Alex's country home. She also loses considerable weight, acquires pretty clothes, allows her maid to style her hair beautifully and blossoms into a beauty, although her life is a lonely one and she wishes she had a real marriage.

In the spring of the second year of their marriage, Anne receives an invitation from Merrick’s grandmother, a duchess, to a family gathering in honor of the grandmother and grandfather’s 50th anniversary. Merrick forbids Anne to attend but his grandmother insists that the duke will send his carriage for Anne regardless so Anne goes, arriving two days ahead of the rest of the family.

Anne hits it off with Merrick’s grandmother and when Merrick arrives, he doesn’t recognize Anne right away. But although Anne is now a beauty, she is still shy and reticent, a bit intimidated by the husband who treats her coldly during the day and passionately at night, and for whom she still has deep feelings.

Alex feels guilty for the way he has treated Anne, but somehow that doesn’t ease his resentment at the way he ended up married to her. He is also jealous of the attention his cousin Jack gives Anne, and partly as a result of that he is alternately warm and cold, drawn to Anne despite himself, unhappy with his attraction to her yet needing her all the same.

As for Anne, she feels helpless to defy Alex until late in the book, but she comes out of her shell around his family, who adore her. Gradually she realizes she deserves more than Alex is giving her, but can she stop loving him?

Of the three of your older traditional regencies which I have read recently, A Masked Deception, Red Rose and this book, The First Snowdrop, this is the one I enjoyed the most. It was a reread for me and I think I even liked it a bit better this time than the first time I read it.

The premise of a pair of strangers trapped into marriage was engaging, especially with Alex’s conflict of having been about to propose to another woman. The characters were much more compelling to me here than in the aforementioned two books. Alex could be a jerk at times, but it was clear he had a good heart under there. Anne was weak-willed at times, and I wished she’d found her spine more times than she did, but I liked the way she came out of her shell and sparkled, and the way Alex’s family member appreciated her endearing qualities so that Alex began to notice all the things he’d overlooked.

Alex's grandmother insisted that Alex and Anne play the leads in a theatrical performance of She Stoops to Conquer which the duchess required her family members to perform, and the parallels between this play and the dynamics of Anne and Alex's relationships were entertaining. I also found a subplot about Alex's cousin Freddie, who was not too intelligent but was blessed with a loving heart, in contrast to the clever but less open-hearted Alex, very touching.

While I wish that Merrick and Anne had communicated better, and that Anne’s love for Alex had been the result of more than his good looks and their passionate wedding night, I still found the book an interesting character study. I was invested in their story and the emotional ending made me cry, so I’d give The First Snowdrop a B-.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

This book is out of print.

  • ISBN-10: 0451145933
  • Publisher: Signet
  • Date: September 2, 1986
  • For sale at Amazon and other used book places.

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.

15 Comments

  1. Michelle Butler
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 15:51:59

    Thank you for this blast from the past. I’ve read this trad but sadly barely remember it. I may need to pull it out to reread it.

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  2. Janine
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 16:20:16

    @Michelle Butler: If you do reread it, feel welcome to dig up this post and let me know what you thought. This isn’t one of my most favorite Baloghs but I don’t think it’s among her weakest either.

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  3. wendy
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 16:23:24

    I had forgotten this, maybe because I hate a weight loss/makeover story. He was obviously attracted to her as she was when he first met her, but now that she has lost weight, does her hair better and wears prettier frocks he’s REALLY attracted to her?

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  4. Janine
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 16:28:03

    @wendy: You know, I think in this book the focus was more on Alex being less ashamed of Anne after she lost weight and started dressing more fashionably. He was a fashionable aristocrat with town polish, and his first impression of her was that she was a drab country miss.

    His attitude was certainly unappealing, but it helped that he knew he was being a jerk and was ashamed of his treatment of Anne.

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  5. Vi
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 19:49:35

    Thank you for this lovely review. Balogh has such a huge backlis that’s difficult to pick a book to find and read. You have piqued my interest about the ending and now I must go and try to find it somewhere online, hopefully at an affordable price. Half.com, here I come.

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  6. anni
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 20:04:56

    I went on a bing reading of Mary Balogh’s regency romances, after coming across Secrets of the Heart. The First Snowdrop wasn’t my favorite but I loved how they finally end up together and I actually believed in Alex’s and Anna’s HEA.

    One of the things that really bothered me was why Alex assumed her to be a housemaid, even after noticing and mentioning her behavior to be odd. He had to remind her to do certain tasks, he finds her speech to be refined, yet still doesn’t second guess anything. Also, Anne has had a proper education, so why isn’t she aware of the implications of him staying the night? Maybe I missed that part but I would think there would be at least some hesitation to even allow him inside! I didn’t really care for the make-over but I think it was needed for Alex to start accepting Anna.

    Out of all the Mary Balogh’s regency romances I’ve read so far, none of them top Secrets of the Heart. IMO, she did an excellent job at the characterizations and setting up the background history.

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  7. Janine
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 21:49:47

    @Vi: I hope you can find it at an affordable price. I’ve gotten most of my old Baloghs from paperbackswap.com, but it requires waiting a long time for a wishlisted book to appear. Please do come back and let me know what you thought of the book if you read it and feel inclined to post.

    @anni: I totally agree about Alex’s assumption that Anne was a housemaid. Her answering the door doesn’t seem like a good enough reason for that.

    As for Anne, I think she did realize that Alex was compromising her. She was hesitant to let him in at first but it was a bad snowstorm and he might have died if she had not admitted him into the house. I think that was why she let him invite himself in.

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  8. Jennie
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 23:54:47

    I remember liking this quite a bit when I read it. I don’t disagree with your criticisms, but it passed the “emotionally moving” test for me, the way the best old Baloghs do.

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  9. Janine
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 16:37:48

    @Jennie: I think you may have liked this book a bit more than I did. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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  10. TKF
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 19:12:11

    Where the hell was her maid? Even if they’d let the servants go, she’d still need her maid to help her get dressed and undressed. These kind of plot shenanigans make me crazy.

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  11. Susan/DC
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 20:47:15

    Where the hell was her maid? Even if they'd let the servants go, she'd still need her maid to help her get dressed and undressed. These kind of plot shenanigans make me crazy.

    It’s been a long time since I read this, but I think she didn’t need a maid to help her get dressed/undressed because she was wearing old, simple clothing for packing up for the move.

    And, like Jennie, I found this one moving. It’s not my favorite Balogh, but she can involve my emotions in a way few others can. Not quite sure how she does it, although I think some of her skill is how she makes me believe that these are indeed people of that time and place, dealing with life as best they can according to the rules of the world they live in.

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  12. anita
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 01:50:08

    This was my first Mary Balogh and I absolutely adored it! She’s such a fine writer!

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  13. Janine
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:48:56

    @TKF: I believe Susan/DC is correct about the way Anne was dressed.

    @Susan/DC: I think Balogh’s skill in involving readers also has to do with the way she (especially in the trad regencies) doesn’t flinch from putting her characters in awkward or painful situations, and portrays their emotional responses so believably.

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  14. Janine
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 11:49:32

    @anita: Glad you enjoyed the book!

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  15. Annelie
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 13:40:00

    @ TKF
    Anne and her brother were very much impoverished and the little money they had was not used on Anne! The last year or so she didn’t have any personel servant. The clothes she wore that evening were really more suited to a housemaid than the daughter of the house. The only thing that made her discernable from a servant was her speach but as she was very shy she didn’t speak very much either. I’m very angry about historcal incorrectness, too, but the mentioned scene was not inaccurate but very believable.

    ReplyReply

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