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REVIEW: A Chance Encounter by Mary Balogh

Dear Ms. Balogh,

A Chance Encounter by Mary BaloghA friend loaned me A Chance Encounter, one of your earliest books. Given that the book is twenty-five years old and does contain a few elements that I associate with romances from that era, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I know some of your traditional regencies are being reprinted and hope that this one will eventually join them. It may be slightly outdated, but it is also enormously engrossing.

The opening of A Chance Encounter bears some resemblance to that of Pride and Prejudice. The town of Granby is agog to learn that a wealthy young man, William Mainwaring, is about to begin residing in the manor house he inherited from his uncle. Not only that, Mr. Mainwaring is bringing company with him.

In very little time, Granby is rife with speculation as to what William Mainwaring looks like, whether he is married or single, and what kind of balls and parties his presence in Granby might occasion. One thing is certain, Mrs. Rowe decides. Her daughter’s Cecily’s wardrobe must be updated in honor of Mr. Mainwaring’s arrival. And Miss Rossiter, Cecily’s companion and former governess, should obtain a new dress too.

But Elizabeth Rossiter does not want a new frock. She is perfectly comfortable in her gray dress, and for all that she is twenty-six and well born, she has no interest in catching an eligible man’s eye or indeed, in marrying. Elizabeth prefers to blend into the background. And she is trying her best to do just that when William Mainwaring and his friends pay a return call on the Rowes, and among the party is the man she once loved.

Robert, now the Marquess of Hetherington, was a penniless younger son when Elizabeth met him during her one season in London. At first the two became friends, and then they became smitten. Exactly what it was that separated them isn’t revealed until late in the book, but it’s clear that neither one is interested in rekindling the relationship.

Yet despite her polite coolness to Robert, and his own coldness to her, Elizabeth is unhappy to see Robert turn his charm full force on her charge, Cecily. She does not want to see the girl’s heart broken, and grows even more agitated when she learns that Miss Norris, one of William’s guests, has every expectation of a betrothal to Robert.

Meanwhile, William Mainwaring begins to open up to Elizabeth, and she realizes that he is not toplofty, but merely shy. He begins to charm her by coming out of his shell, and Elizabeth realizes that she could easily grow to care for William, and that William is developing feelings for her.

But how can she allow herself to love William, when Robert is his friend? Is she truly over Robert, and if not, would it be fair to encourage William? Yet if she discourages William, will she be cheating herself of the happy future she could otherwise have?

A Chance Encounter is written in omniscient third person viewpoint and while we get much access to Elizabeth’s thoughts, there is almost none of the hero’s POV. You’ll notice that I have tried not to give away which of the two men Elizabeth ends up with, so I will just say that since we get very little of his POV, this character is not as fleshed out as Elizabeth.

Like Elizabeth, I had a tough time deciding which of the men she should be with. I wasn’t always crazy about the man she ultimately chose. And although by the end of the book I was fine with the choice she made, I felt for the other guy, too. My enjoyment of A Chance Encounter was therefore centered less on the development of the romance itself, and more on the characterization.

Many of the side characters in the town of Granby were delightful, from the tongue-tied girl Lucy Worthing, to the sparring Cecily and Ferdie, who might or might not marry someday, to my favorite, Mr. Rowe, whose fatherly banter with Elizabeth, whom he referred to as “Cinderella,” charmed me to my toes.

But what really made this book click with me is the restrained Elizabeth, who keeps her deep feelings below the surface. She is fiercely independent, but most of the time, not in a way that feels anachronistic. She also has a wry sense of irony, a stubborn will and a kind heart.

I loved watching Elizabeth grapple with the choices facing her, which were not just marriage to William or marriage to Robert, but also, a life as Cecily’s companion, or governess to some other family, or staying with her brother and sister-in-law. Because Elizabeth considered most of these options, often weighing them thoughtfully yet occasionally acting impulsively, she was a heroine whose depths absorbed me so much that I lost track of time reading the book.

As mentioned above, there are some old fashioned elements to this book, both in terms of the plot and in terms of the characters’ behavior. Unfortunately I can’t go into them in details because they involve big spoilers, so suffice to say that I felt some of what kept Elizabeth and the man she chose apart was contrived. I did like the plot twist in the middle of the book, though again, to say what it is would be to spoil it.

Readers should also be aware that the sex in A Chance Encounter amounts to no more than a couple of paragraphs, and that is not really surprising given that the book was first published in 1985. I didn’t feel this as a lack, though, because the book absorbed me so deeply. A Chance Encounter gets a B/B+ from me.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can only be purchased used and it is fairly expensive. Hopefully it will be reissued by Signet or Ballantine who is currently republishing formerly out of print Balogh regency titles.

  • ISBN-10: 0451159667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451159663

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.

21 Comments

  1. Tumperkin
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 14:52:18

    *burning with envy*

    These old Baloghs are like hens’ teeth.

    ReplyReply

  2. Ros
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 14:53:50

    Oh, I hope this will be reprinted – it sounds like just my sort of thing. Though I’m really crossing my fingers for Dancing With Clara.

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  3. Michelle
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 15:03:43

    Add me to the readers who love all those old Mary Balogh traditional regencies. While I recognize the cover, I’m not sure if I read this one.

    Ros, I’m pretty sure that Dancing with Clara is on the list of upcoming reprints. I’ve seen a list on Mary Balogh’s Web site.

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  4. Pat A.
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 15:18:24

    Chance encounter is the first Mary Balogh book I read. I found it in a USB about ten years ago. After reading it, I began searching and reading everything by her. I was hooked. I think it is a combination of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.

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  5. Janine
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 15:48:28

    @Tumperkin & Ros:

    I’ve been able to get my hands on a lot of out of print books (not this one yet, though) by putting them on my wish list at a book swap site and then waiting patiently for them to be posted into the system. Just a week or so ago I got a copy of Snow Angel, which I had read years ago (a friend loaned it to me) but never had a copy of.

    @Michelle: This one is the prequel to The Wood Nymph, in case that jogs your memory.

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  6. Janine
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 15:50:14

    @Pat A.: I haven’t read Persuasion, but I definitely noticed the P&P influence. I can see why this book could hook you into searching out her backlist.

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  7. Angie
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 17:14:11

    Mary Balogh was one of my very favorite Regency writers back when. :) I’m wracking my brain trying to remember whether I read this one. Probably, but I don’t quite remember. I’ll just have to try to find a copy and see.

    And BTW, there was plenty of explicit sex in romances in 1985, and even earlier; it just wasn’t in the sweet Regencies. The rule of thumb was that the skinny romances had no sex, or maybe a paragraph or two of euphemisms, while the fat romances usually let it rip. For a clear example of the latter, find a copy of Alyx by Lolah Burford, published in 1977; there’s a snowballing scene in, like, chapter three, somewhere around there. It’s not a great book — this isn’t actually a recommendation per se — but it definitely pushed the sex boundaries, even for the time. [wry smile]

    Angie

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  8. Janine
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 17:42:31

    Angie, I read a lot of 1980s books, including Alyx (Boy, that was one strange, disturbing book– and I was only fifteen or so when I read it). And you are right that the single titles often had several sex scenes. But the sex scenes in most of the ones I read were short, as I recall. That is not to say they weren’t daring — anal sex was not unheard of back then (though not in trad regencies!). But from what I recall, most sex scenes the early to mid 1980s didn’t go on for pages, and that’s what I was thinking of when I made that comment about the amount of sex in A Chance Encounter. I had to be a bit oblique because I didn’t want to spoil the book.

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  9. MaryAnn
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 17:52:44

    I haven’t read this yet but it sounds great. I love the heroines in Balogh’s trad. regencies.

    Also, if anyone else who lives in Portland is interested in this book, the Mult. Co. Library has it! So no need to pay through the nose to get it online.

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  10. Janine
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 17:58:01

    @MaryAnn: Oh that is great that your library has it! If you read the book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  11. Eva_baby
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 20:06:58

    I luckily got a hold of a bunch of old Baloghs. This isn’t one of them, darnit! I did get Dancing With Clara and LOVED it (but I can totally see why some people find it problematic)! But my other favorite was The Lady With The Black Umbrella which seems very Un-Balogh because there is no angst anywhere in the book. It is straight light, comedy and the heroine Daisy is a hoot.

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  12. Janine
    Mar 18, 2010 @ 20:58:46

    @Eva_baby: I have The Lady with a Black Umbrella on the TBR shelf, though I haven’t read it yet. It’s not connected to any of her other books, is it?

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  13. MaryK
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 08:50:25

    Wow, that’s some friend to lend you an out of print Balogh!

    ReplyReply

  14. Janine
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 14:43:24

    @MaryK: Yes, she’s a great friend. I am very fortunate in my friends. More than one has loaned me an OOP, hard-to-find book. Although I’ve been known to loan out my OOP Baloghs to good friends as well.

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  15. eva_baby
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 15:14:29

    @Janine: I don’t believe Lady With a Black Umbrella is part of a series.

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  16. Janine
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 16:21:40

    @eva_baby: Thanks, that is good to know. I love the title, Lady with a Black Umbrella. It reminds me of the title of the Chekhov story, “The Lady with the Dog.”

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  17. Susan/DC
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 17:05:02

    I’ve got what must have been a book club version of “Chance Encounter” because it’s a HB with a different cover. I got it cheap from an Amazon auction (back when they still had book auctions) and liked it enough to then go out and spend way too much for “The Wood Nymph”, which I then couldn’t finish. I didn’t care for the heroine of WN and thought Elizabeth was a much worthier and more interesting character.

    As for “Lady with a Black Umbrella”, I loved Daisy’s take on “The Merchant of Venice” when she sees it for the first time. It’s a sweet book.

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  18. Silvia
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 18:12:19

    “Lady with a Black Umbrella” is a favorite regency of mine. Definitely not one of Balogh’s tragic heroines, but an entertaining romp. The opening chapters are really irresistible. (Daisy saves the hero from a beating by wildly attacking with her black umbrella. And then pays his tab at the inn – including the whore’s wages. The hero is NOT appreciative. hee!)

    I haven’t gotten my hands on “A Chance Encounter” yet, but I’m definitely interested in it now.

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  19. Janine
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 20:47:04

    @Susan/DC: I have a review in the works for The Wood Nymph as well. I have more I’m dying to say about that book but should probably save my comments for that thread. I’d love it if you would post some more detailed comments about it when that review posts (should be sometime next week) because I really want to discuss that book with someone!

    Anyway, I do agree that Elizabeth is a wonderful heroine. I just wished that the hero had been a bit more fleshed out and also, that what kept them apart hadn’t been so contrived. The grade reflects a combination of my enjoyment and the flaws I noticed, but from a pure enjoyment standpoint, the book was deeply satisfying to me and much of that was due to Elizabeth.

    I also really enjoyed the omniscient narration describing the townspeople’s gossip and speculation. I think Balogh handles omniscient voice so well in this book.

    I’m curious, for you Susan and others who have read the book, how did you feel about the hero Elizabeth ended up with? Would you have preferred to see her with him or with the other guy? I wasn’t honestly sure for a good part of the book but by the end I was happy with how things turned out.

    Elizabeth and her husband play a key role in The Wood Nymph, BTW. That book serves as a kind of epilogue for them.

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  20. Janine
    Mar 19, 2010 @ 20:51:00

    @Silvia: All these recs for Lady with a Black Umbrella make me want to read it next! If I’m not careful, I could be reviewing Balogh’s backlist for months to come. She has written enough books for that…

    ReplyReply

  21. REVIEW: The Wood Nymph by Mary Balogh | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Apr 01, 2010 @ 14:01:22

    [...] I reviewed one of your older traditional regencies, A Chance Encounter. I enjoyed that book immensely, [...]

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