Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: The Trysting Place by Mary Balogh

Dear Ms. Balogh,

For two whole weeks everything that happened in the Maynard household revolved around one fact: Felicity was coming home.

So begins The Trysting Place, one of your early, out-of-print trad regencies (and a prequel to The Notorious Rake). I loved the opening of this story, in which we see eighteen year old twins Lucy and Laura acquiring new muslin dresses, Mrs. Maynard telling the housekeeper to use only the best linens throughout the house and Mr. Maynard seeing to his estate so that Felicity would be persuaded of its prosperity.

The Trysting Place by Mary BaloghFelicity has been absent from home for five years, and her parents and sisters are eager to see her. Meanwhile, Felicity (who in a title mishap, is referred to as both "Lady Felicity Wren" and "Lady Wren") is in her carriage, remembering her last few visits to her parents' home. Although she'd been grateful to see her family members doing well, Felicity had found those visits difficult, since the unhappy Felicity had had to convince her parents of her happiness.

Worse than that, Felicity had dreaded running into her old suitor, Tom. Tom and Felicity were childhood friends who fell in love, but one day, the beautiful Felicity was spotted at a ball by an elderly and rich man who proceeded to offer for her. Felicity's parents, on the brink of financial ruin, pleaded with their daughter to accept Sir Wilfred's suit, asking if she could bear to see her family in the poorhouse when she could save them. Though desperately in love with Tom, Felicity married Sir Wilfred.

Sir Wilfred had not been unkind to Felicity, but he was very possessive of her, so now for the first time in eight years she feels free. A wealthy widow, Felicity is determined to conquer society, to be happy, carefree and dazzling, and for that she will need a glamorous husband. The simple country life that would have contented her had she never married Sir Wilfred is no longer enough, and she is grateful she didn't marry Tom, who is surely a dull farmer now.

Tom is indeed a farmer, but even after eight years, he still carries a torch for Felicity. He knows he will always love her, that there is no other woman for him. But he also knows that the world is now Felicity's oyster and it is unlikely that she will return his feelings. He tells himself he will pay a single call on Felicity, and leave it at that.

Of course, things don't go according to Tom and Felicity's plans. Felicity finds Tom charming and dear-‘as a friend, or so she tells herself. And Tom finds that as long as Felicity cares for him, even if in a platonic way, he will gladly take what she is willing to give him until she marries another man.

When Felicity's twin sisters persuade Felicity to take them to London with her so they can have a season, Tom decides to accompany their party. He will look out for Felicity as long he can bear to do so, he tells himself. What he does not anticipate is Felicity's infatuation with Edmond, Lord Waite.

Felicity sets her cap for Waite, who is nearly betrothed to another woman and interested in Felicity only as a potential mistress. She can change Lord Waite's mind, Felicity is sure, if Tom will help her by making Edmond jealous-

I thought the beginning of this book was quite promising, since I started out feeling for both Tom and Felicity. I could see that Felicity had done a number on herself where Tom was concerned. While married to Sir Wilfred she could not have Tom, so she convinced herself that Tom would not have made a good husband for her. Her self-delusion had been a coping mechanism, so in the first third of The Trysting Place Felicity had my complete sympathy.

Fans of The Notorious Rake should know that Edmond, Lord Waite is portrayed somewhat differently from the way he comes across in that book; here he is colder and more high in the instep, which makes him a good foil to Tom. Tom is a wonderful character, warmer, more loving and far more devoted to Felicity than Edmond (based on his depiction in this book alone) could ever be, but Felicity is blind both to Tom's true value and to Tom's feelings for her.

Felicity doesn't understand her own emotions either, and so she gives the two men mixed signals and strings them both along. Somewhere along the way my patience with Felicity began to dwindle. I had tremendous sympathy for the suffering Tom, who was truly a jewel, and, because I had read The Notorious Rake first, though it was published later, I even felt some sympathy for Edmond. Felicity's confusing and tormenting of the two men went on so long that I became exasperated with her.

It was hard to believe Felicity could remain as blind as she was for as long as she did, so her portrayal did not ring true. It didn't help that she was also a virgin widow, which is not one of my favorite romance tropes. To top it all off, though twenty-six, she didn't have half the maturity of her eighteen year old sisters, and struck me as a flighty, neglectful chaperone.

[spoiler]At the end of the book, Tom assures Felicity that he will "see to everything" which could only mean her situation with Edmond. I was frustrated because I wanted Felicity to take responsibility for her own actions and clean up her own mess. Instead there's this:

"Oh, Tom," she said, grasping his arm and relaxing against it, "if you just knew how I have longed to lean on you entirely. I am not at all the strong, independent widow that many people take me for. Can I really leave everything to you? I don't have to worry any longer?"

[/spoiler]

London life is frequently contrasted with life in the country and found wanting in The Trysting Place. It is implied over and over that country life is more meaningful; one would get the impression from reading this book that with the exception of a few side characters, only superficial gossips and snobs inhabited Regency London, while people in the country had more substance.

Perhaps this was intended to reinforce that Felicity's valuing of London life with Edmond over country life with Tom is wrongheaded, but as a city dweller, I dislike these stereotypes. As an aside here, why is it that so many books hold up country life as somehow superior to life in a city?

It may sound from this review like I did not enjoy the book at all, but that would not be true. I loved the character of Tom and I loved the moving beginning of the story. I also enjoyed the secondary storylines involving Felicity's two twin sisters, Lucy and Laura. There was an especially nice chapter in which something happens to each twin which she does not expect.

Felicity's younger brother Adrian, a prankster, was also a delightful character. In actuality so many parts of this book were so very well written (I bookmarked several pages I liked with post-it notes) that my frustration stems from my feeling that this book could have been truly great.

We've all read books in which the hero takes for granted the heroine who has loved him for years, while being dazzled by a more glamorous beauty. The Trysting Place takes that trope and reverses the genders, and I think the results could have been amazing if Felicity had been portrayed more consistently and believably.

Weighing the weakness of Felicity's characterization against the strengths of Tom, the side characters, and the powerful opening scenes, I have decided that for me, The Trysting Place was a mixed bag and a C/C+ read.

Sincerely,

Janine

Book Link | Amazon

This is an expensive OOP book costing upwards near $30+ for a used copy.
Publisher: Signet (June 4, 1986)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0451143000
ISBN-13: 978-0451143006

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. 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.

24 Comments

  1. Miranda Neville
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 15:05:53

    Excellent review, Janine. The Trysting Place is not IMO one of Balogh’s best trads and you’ve articulated the reasons very well. On the other hand The Notorious Rake is one of my favorites. I always felt Balogh created an entirely new character for Edmond Waite, right down to changing his title. (In TNR he’s the younger son of a duke while in TTP he seems to be a peer.) I’m not sure why she even bothered to pretend it was a sequel – it can’t have been planned that way.

  2. Isobel Carr
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 16:13:52

    London life is frequently contrasted with life in the country and found wanting in The Trysting Place. It is implied over and over that country life is more meaningful;

    This is the case today in a lot of contemps and it drives me mad. Small town is almost always shown as better than big city. Whether it’s a character learning that their home town is best or that there’s something better than city life, this is clearly something that a lot of people either do believe or really want to believe.

  3. Susanna Fraser
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 16:27:15

    @Isobel – Ah, yes, the dreaded Hometown and Childhood Sweetheart Are Best plot. As someone who left a rural childhood home for a big city at 18 and have never looked back, I just can’t relate at all.

    Though I think for me it’s the “How dare you try to LEAVE?” aspect that bugs me just as much as urban vs. rural. E.g. with the comic strip For Better or For Worse, I was so annoyed that Liz came home (Toronto suburbs, IIRC) and married her childhood sweetheart rather than staying up north teaching on the reservation and marrying her cute cop boyfriend, which just seemed more like HER life and less like the life her mother wanted her to live, you know?

  4. Miranda Neville
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 16:34:50

    The town v. country argument is a long tradition in English literature and history. All that pastoral poetry. Shakespeare makes fun if it in As You Like It, with the sophisticated exiled courtiers pretending they just love living in the woods. In history we have the stalwart Tory country squires contrasted with the immoral aristocracy, hanging out in London. Country virtues seem to be a particularly English obsession. The French just know Paris is greatly superior to any place on earth.

  5. GrowlyCub
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 16:53:02

    I always felt Edmond was well rid of Felicity. :)

  6. Meanne
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 17:34:26

    Although this book pales in comparison to the stunning and amazing The Notorious Rake, I still remember enjoying it very much.

    I guess Tom was such a noble, self-sacrificing and to-die-for character that it more than made up for the weakeness in Felicity’s. As for her character not being very believable, I respectfully disagree. I can imagine that having to get married at a young age to an old man for your family’s financial sake and finally breaking free of that unhappy marriage after 8 long years can justify one to go crazy and decide to be selfish, thoughtless, and put one’s pleasure above all others. At least this was only temporary in Felicity’s part and she did finally get her act together in time to realize that Tom was the man for her and not Edmund.

    It could also be that my enjoyment of this book was influenced by the fact that I had just discovered Mary Balogh’s phenomenal older books and I believe this was the second or third book of hers that I read. So I was still in the honeymoon phase of loving ( in varying degrees ) everything that she wrote then.

  7. Annette
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 18:36:10

    I’m in the Balogh honeymoon phase right now, having recently read my first 5 or 6 of her novels. The Secret Pearl is my favorite so far. I haven’t read this one, but sounds like this is worth reading if only for Tom. I want so much to figure out Balogh’s secret to writing these wonderful heroes (and then apply it to my own writing, of course :)). They have been consistently so appealing and some truly swoon-worthy (ex. Adam Kent from The Secret Pearl). How the heck does she do it over and over again? Sounds like The Notorious Rake should be my next Balogh. Thanks for this review.

  8. Janine
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 19:29:52

    @Miranda Neville: Thanks. I agree that the Edmond of The Notorious Rake seems like a different character, and that The Notorious Rake is a stronger book. I liked it, though I didn’t adore it like many seem to.

    @Isobel Carr & @Susanna Fraser: I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of my frustrations with the contemporary subgenre. I have lived in the country and in the city and they both have strengths and weaknesses but human beings are the same the world over and I can’t believe that country life makes them somehow nobler or better.

    @GrowlyCub: Agreed, but what about poor Tom?

    @Meanne:

    Re. Felicity

    As for her character not being very believable, I respectfully disagree. I can imagine that having to get married at a young age to an old man for your family's financial sake and finally breaking free of that unhappy marriage after 8 long years can justify one to go crazy and decide to be selfish, thoughtless, and put one's pleasure above all others. At least this was only temporary in Felicity's part and she did finally get her act together in time to realize that Tom was the man for her and not Edmund.

    I agree with everything you said and regarding how an unhappy marriage can affect a person. That was not the part I found unrealistic. What I found unrealistic was that Felicity was a virgin despite eight years of marriage and that

    SPOILERS
    SPOILERS
    SPOILERS

    toward the end of the story, after she realizes Tom is the one she loves, she still doesn’t realize that he loves her. Instead, she thinks he went through with the fake betrothal and kissed her and everything simply out of friendship. And then she decides to elope with Edmond just in order to end the betrothal to Tom in a way that will make her, rather than him, look like the villain.

    I found all that patently unrealistic because how could she not believe Tom loved her after all he had done for her? How could she not at least consult him before deciding to run off with Edmond? And how could she have no sexual experience after eight years of marriage, even if her husband was in his sixties?

    I would have preferred that Felicity be a real widow rather than a virginal one and that she be more jaded and selfish, because as you say, selfishness after being trapped for eight years is perfectly understandable, and would have provided a better motive for her actions at the end of the book than selflessness. If Tom’s devotion scared her so that she contemplated Edmond instead, that would be more believable to me than the business about eloping with Edmond for Tom’s own good.

    END OF SPOILERS

  9. Janine
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 19:35:29

    @Annette: I did love Tom, he was a wonderful, devoted, caring man. I thought it was a feat that Balogh contrasted him with the handsomer, more glamorous, and titled Edmond and Tom still came out the winner.

    I thought Adam from The Secret Pearl was also portrayed inconsistently so he’s not among my favorite Balogh heroes.

  10. Tina
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 20:14:23

    I read this book last year during a major Mary Balogh glom and I had rated ad 3-stars. Loved Tom but Felicity was a somewhat problematic character for me.

    On the one hand she was married for many years and traveled to many countries and moved about in sophisticated circles. You’d think she’d be a bit more on the ball.

    But then you’d remember that she never had a season, married young for money and was kept very close by, by her much older husband. In that context, it made sense for her to make the mistakes she did. For all that she was much older and supposedly more wordly than her sisters, they seemed to have a maturity Felicity didn’t.

    While I could understand the contradictions in her character in a textual sense, I didn’t really like them. I actually wanted to shake her a few times.

  11. Jenny
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 20:50:20

    Thanks for the review! It reminds me that I’ve been meaning to glom Balogh’s earlier stuff for awhile now. Maybe I’ll swing by the UBS this weekend & see if I can dig any up.

    Does anyone know a good online database for trad regencies? I’m looking for a book I read ages ago & only remember vague details, but I think might be able to find it if I knew where to search.

  12. GrowlyCub
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 20:52:31

    @Jenny: Ask @JanetNorCal on Twitter, she knows a lot about trad Regencies.

    Janine, you know, Tom made zero impression on me… poor Tom. :)

  13. Sunita
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 21:14:43

    Great review, Janine! I have this book in my Balogh stack but I don’t think I’ve ever read it. The earlier ones are hit and miss for me, and I love The Notorious Rake so much that I wasn’t sure I wanted Edmond’s prequel. But despite the flaws, this sounds well worth reading.

  14. Isobel Carr
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 21:25:45

    I’m getting ready to glom Candice Hern’s old Regencies. I’ve read all her single titles, but I recently found a pile of Hern’s books at a local UBS and was overjoyed!!!

  15. Janine
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 02:17:45

    @Tina: It sounds like you found Felicity more believable than I did. The virgin widow trope is one I don’t have any attachment to because I feel it stretches credulity and doesn’t offer much payoff to a reader like me, who doesn’t have a preference for virgin heroines.

    @Jenny: Good luck! I have come by many of my older, out-of-print Baloghs through paperbackswap’s wish list feature, though I had to wait years for some of them.

    @GrowlyCub: Poor Tom, indeed! It was his devotion to Felicity despite his knowing that she was likely to marry someone else that made an impression on me.

    I should be clear though that when I say Tom came out the winner in comparison with Edmond, I mean the Edmond of The Trysting Place, not the Edmond of The Notorious Rake.

    @Sunita: I do think The Trysting Place is worth reading. I feel that way about many of Balogh’s trads. Sometimes a flawed book like for example, The Wood Nymph, can still fascinate. I didn’t adore Edmond in The Notorious Rake, but if the difference in his characterization bothers you, you can just follow Miranda Neville’s suggestion and think of him as a different guy who happens to share Edmond’s name.

    BTW, The Notorious Rake is slated to be reprinted in a 2-in-1 volume with its other prequel The Counterfeit Betrothal (haven’t read the latter yet but I understand Mary plays a role in that story). According to Balogh’s website, that reprint will be out in January of 2013. If we’re still both reviewing then, maybe we could do a dual/duel review of The Notorious Rake since you fall into the love it camp while I am in the “like it, but with caveats” camp.

    @Isobel Carr: I have never read Candice Hern. Maybe I should give one of her books a try.

  16. cayenne
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 08:51:36

    I foundThe Trysting Place incredibly frustrating, not least because I spent a lot of time & money unearthing a copy, and then found the book lacking. I’m one of Edmond’s fans from The Notorious Rake, which I read first, and I agree with Miranda Neville and Janine that’s it’s easier to see him as a different character with the same name, because he’s almost completely different in each book.

    @Annette, I like Adam Kent, too, though he’s also somewhat inconsistent; I found that book overall seemed to have a lot in common with No Man’s Mistress, and Adam with Jocelyn Dudley. I guess it’s possible that a writer with as long a career as Mary Balogh’s may recycle plot or character elements; they might have been early-career lessons, or simply elements that work. For me, I like her depiction of strong-but-tormented heroes and heroines, which is mostly why I don’t like Tom (he’s too accommodating, almost passive) or Felicity (too wishy-washy and indecisive).

  17. Janine
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 13:29:37

    @cayenne:

    I'm one of Edmond's fans from The Notorious Rake, which I read first, and I agree with Miranda Neville and Janine that's it's easier to see him as a different character with the same name, because he's almost completely different in each book.

    I wonder if it would feel less this way to readers who read The Trysting Place before The Notorious Rake. It’s hard for me to know, since I read the books in the reverse order.

    I like her depiction of strong-but-tormented heroes and heroines, which is mostly why I don't like Tom (he's too accommodating, almost passive)

    I wonder if that is the reason for Tom’s behavior in the last scene of the book, where

    SPOILER
    SPOILER
    SPOILER

    he insists to Felicity that since they are betrothed and just made love, he considers them married, and won’t allow her to take off with Edmond. Although it was a show of spine, it didn’t go over that well with me.

    END OF SPOILER

    Anyhow, while I agree Tom went along with Felicity’s plans a lot, I didn’t find him weak. I felt he loved Felicity so much that he was willing to be very generous with her, even if it hurt him.

    And I don’t find Adam from The Secret Pearl superior in this regard, considering the way he let Sybil (the wife) ride roughshod over his wishes over and over, without even true love for her as a motive.

  18. cayenne
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 13:46:14

    @Janine – to clarify, I don’t necessarily regard Tom as weak; passivity doesn’t equal weakness, but it does tend to make a fairly boring romance hero. And that last scene really struck me as wrong, too.

    I like Adam, but that’s what I mean by “somewhat inconsistent”.

  19. Janine
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 14:06:44

    @cayenne: Ah, I see what you mean. Tom didn’t bore me, I think because I had so much sympathy for him. He had Felicity snatched from him when they were young, and now he had to watch her pursue another man. But if I hadn’t had so much sympathy, I might have found him less compelling.

  20. Annette
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 15:11:09

    Ooh, I could analyze heroes all day. :)

    @cayenne and janine: Not to derail this review of The Trysting Place, but I don’t find Adam Kent inconsistent. He is consistently honorable, except for that powerful opening scene, and I can forgive him for that one indiscretion, knowing the context. I think the only reason his behavior with Sybil doesn’t seem to me to be letting her “ride roughshod over his wishes over and over” is that once you know the entire back story, then you realize her pain and emotional fragility as well as her not knowing the full truth of what happened (and thinking Adam is at fault). In that context, his guilt and desire to be kind to Sybil no matter what, is understandable. (Forgive me for the vagueness – I’m trying not to spoil things for future readers). Gah, he makes me go weak at the knees regardless of whether or not he has battle scars (another thing that gets me every time).

  21. Isobel Carr
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 16:18:55

    @Janine: I LOVE her books. I’m so annoyed that she’s not under contract right now I could spit.

    THE BRIDE SALE is her darkest and most angsty book (and a lot of people’s favorite). I really like them all. She writes CHARACTER-driven romance (which is my preference) and she REALLY knows her history. Can't recommended her highly enough.

  22. Janine
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 19:05:25

    @Annette: I have more reasons than just the one I mentioned earlier for feeling that Adam was portrayed inconsistently, but I’d rather not get into a lengthy discussion of The Secret Pearl on this thread.

    @Isobel Carr: Thanks for the recommendation. I added The Bride Sale to my wishlist.

  23. Susan/DC
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 19:21:37

    I’ve entered this discussion far too late to add anything — others have said what I want to say and said it better. Will therefore just say that “The Trysting Place” is important in my pantheon only because it introduces Lord Edmond Waite, and “The Notorious Rake” is one of my favorite books. It, and Balogh’s “Irresistible”, are among my most frequent rereads.

    Also want to say thank you to Janine for reviewing the older Balogh trad Regencies. I’ve enjoyed the reviews and the discussions.

  24. Janine
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 19:55:30

    @Susan/DC: Thanks Susan, that’s so good to hear. I have to admit I always feel a little guilty when I review out-of-print books that are so difficult to find at a reasonable price. I feel badly for readers who can’t get a hold of them and I hope that eventually all of Balogh’s trads will be reprinted. The reason I review these older Baloghs anyhow is that I enjoy reading them (even the weaker ones can be compelling) and discussing them. I have heard from a couple of other people that they appreciate these reviews and since I have many unread Baloghs in the TBR pile I plan to keep reviewing them from time to time.

%d bloggers like this: