JOINT REVIEW: Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh (part the second)
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is what we decided to cut from the original review so as to save the spoilers for a later and separate discussion. The discussion below is FULL OF SPOILERS so be ye warned!! We are hoping readers who have already read the book will chime in with their thoughts in the comments. ~ Kaetrin & Janine
Kaetrin: Before we start, here is a brief recap of the plot:
Abby is the youngest Westcott daughter at 21. She has decided to eschew high society after the scandal of her father’s bigamous marriage to her mother. Lieutenant Colonel Gil Bennington is also illegitimate but is the son of a washerwoman and a viscount. He was raised in poverty and joined the army at age 14. His father bought his officer’s commission and since then he rose in the ranks on merit. He became good friends with Abby’s elder brother, Harry, and has accompanied him home from Paris where Harry had been recuperating after being wounded at Waterloo.
Gil is a widower with a young daughter. His former in-laws have been keeping his daughter from him and he is in a custody battle with them to get her back.
Abby, Gil and Harry are all staying at Hinsford Manor together for most of the first half of the book and it is there that Abby and Gil get to know one another and, eventually, decide to marry, partly (but not solely) to assist Gil in regaining custody of his daughter.
Janine: Before her death, Caroline, Gil’s late wife, told her parents that Gil had beaten her to justify her choice to leave, and her parents believed Caroline. Gil’s social class was lower than Caroline’s and her parents only consented to the marriage because Caroline got pregnant out of wedlock. Her parents held Gil responsible and were never thrilled with him, even before Caroline smeared him. I could understand them, even if I never warmed to them (not that we were meant to).
Kaetrin: Did you think they believed Caroline though? To be honest, I wondered if they were merely prepared to use that as a convenient excuse. My impression was that their main objection was because of his low birth and their view of him as a generally unsuitable son-in-law.
Janine: I did think they believed her. From their perspective, Gil was lower-born (which is often unjustly associated with rough), fearsome-looking, and he had compromised their daughter and gotten her pregnant out of wedlock, a huge no-no in the regency era. In doing so he also put her in a position where she had to marry “beneath herself” (as they would have seen it). For all these reasons, I think they would have been inclined to disbelieve him. Their snobbery undergirded this predisposition, I thought. I didn’t see why they would believe him over their daughter, when even without such circumstances, most parents tend to take their own children’s part in a dispute, and certainly to be on their child’s side in a marital conflict or separation.
Kaetrin: Caroline is depicted as very “wild” in the book so I had the impression that her parents well knew what she was like. Perhaps I’ve just read too many romance novels but as much as it was a big no-no I don’t think it was uncommon that people married because of an unplanned pregnancy. Caroline was very anti-aristocracy and very anti- her parents. Basically anything they didn’t want her to do she did and vice versa. So I leaned toward thinking the reason they didn’t like Gil was snobbery only and not because they actually believed he’d beaten her. Frankly, my impression of her father was that he would have been the one doing the beating when Caroline was younger and rebelling at every turn.
I will say that the way the news was delivered that Caroline had accused Gil of beating her had me gasping at first. I was initially worried (no doubt as I was intended to be) that Gil had actually slapped Caroline. It wouldn’t be the first historical romance I’ve read where that’s happened. And, after Marcel’s backstory in Someone to Care, I thought it was possible it was true. Mary Balogh is very much a risk taker I think. I was *so* relieved that Gil was merely relating an accusation rather than a fact. Gil is a big tough guy but soft as a marshmallow underneath and terribly vulnerable.
Janine: This, too, was revealed gradually and *so well*. I loved the way Balogh used Gil’s dog, Beauty, to show this. Beauty adopted Gil after a battle, and he fed her and she refused to leave. But his grumpiness about that is a shield for how much he loves the dog, the only creature who is as loving and loyal to him as he deserves. Beauty is outwardly a scary, ugly dog, and at first her name seems ironic. But she is beautiful on the inside, soft and sweet and gentle with children. As well as being her own self, she’s a symbol of Gil’s own hidden loyalty, softness and vulnerability. Again, so well done. Balogh deserves accolades for this book.
One of the few things that bothered me was that the circumstances of Gil’s conception required some hand-waving. There were two versions to the story that didn’t match and given Gil’s memories of his mother, I didn’t feel that misunderstanding his father’s intentions was in her character.
Kaetrin: I expect there will be some more about that in the next book in the series. I’m reserving judgement for now. But yes, the two versions don’t sit comfortably together even if Gil is a somewhat unreliable narrator. But Viscount Dirkson is to be Matilda’s hero so he can’t be the cad Gil believed him to be or we wouldn’t be likely to accept him. I’m ready to be convinced that he is hero material but I hope that Gil’s mother isn’t demonised in the process.
Janine: I really hope so, but I fear that her character may be, if not demonized, then thrown under the bus a bit. I liked her very much as portrayed in Gil’s descriptions of her; she was a great character in her own way. So I hope Balogh finds a way to thread the needle without taking anything away from Gil’s mother’s dignity.
Kaetrin: The custody battle between Gil and the Pascoes is what initially sparks the idea of marriage between Gil and Abby – even though it happens well into the book. I’m not entirely sure I’d describe the story as a marriage of convenience however. Janine?
Janine: Agreed. Or rather, it is a marriage of convenience, but it isn’t solely about that.
Kaetrin: Gil would never have considered marrying Abby if not for Katy. He does not believe he belongs in her family. They are all far about his touch.
I was a bit surprised at the dowager Countess’s reaction to Abby’s marriage – did you think it consistent with her previous character Janine? Was Gil so very different from Joel?
Janine: You make a good point, but I didn’t notice that while reading.
The same could perhaps be said about Abby’s mother, but I appreciated her reaction. Abby is her daughter, her circumstances improved due to Viola’s marriage to Marcel and better than Camille’s were when she met Joel. And Abby had married Gil in secret, and it appeared that Gil had, in Katy, a motive for marrying Abby that had nothing to do with her.
In addition, similarly to the way I felt about Gil’s reaction to his background, I appreciated Viola’s reaction. Too many romances today gloss over class obstacles as if they never existed. When they are acknowledged in a book, it both raises the stakes and makes it easier to suspend disbelief.
Kaetrin: Oh yes, Viola’s reaction made sense to me and as you pointed out their situation had vastly improved since Camille’s marriage. Also, Abby is the youngest daughter so I can easily see why Viola might be a little more protective of her. But she also softened fairly quickly once some obvious things were pointed out to her. But the Dowager came across to me as much more strict with Abby than with Camille and I wasn’t convinced the same things which applied to Viola applied to her.
Surprisingly, given that the custody hearing is the main source of tension in the book, it was also delightfully funny, courtesy of the dry humour of the judge. I laughed out loud quite a few times when I read those scenes.
Janine: This was the only scene in the book that didn’t work for me. I thought it was too silly and improbable (especially with the dog’s entry into the courtroom) and the humor undercut the necessary tension. I couldn’t help but compare this scene with the courtroom scene in Balogh’s Slightly Married, where a custody battle is also fought. The scene in Slightly Married had so much more dramatic tension to it, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in any Balogh book. I had hoped for something like that here, so I was a bit disappointed in the way this courtroom scene played out.
The behavior of Gil’s lawyer was also hard to buy. Why doesn’t he interview former servants of Gil’s and Caroline’s and get them to testify that they never saw Gil hit her? Why didn’t he inform Gil that he would need character witnesses earlier, so that Gil would have time to get them to the courtroom? Why didn’t he bring forth the evidence that Caroline had died in the company of another man? I also didn’t find it believable that the Pascoes would not have brought any character witnesses of their own.
Kaetrin: I was kind of expecting that Gil would develop a friendship with Abby and she would ask Avery and Alexander to intervene on his behalf (without any marriage) and of course the story went somewhere else. I was prepared to go with the rest of it because it’s fairly common in my experience with experts, be they legal or medical for clients/patients to feel like they’re being kept in the dark and outsiders like us readers to have all these questions and opinions on what ought to have been done instead. I decided that Gil’s lawyer wasn’t quite as good as advertised and, as for the Pascoes lawyer, I thought he was complacent and reliant on their higher social status and his opinion of Gil’s obvious (to him) poor character. My impression was that the Pascoes thought the hearing would be a walk in the park.
Janine: The Pascoes are certainly haughty enough to feel that way! It bugged me, though, that Abby didn’t ask her family to support Gil at the hearing and didn’t even expect them to. I guess if she had it would have sapped the dramatic tension from the lead-up to the hearing, and then we wouldn’t have had her surprise in the courtroom, too. So I understood Balogh’s choice there, but it still read as unlikely.
Kaetrin: There was a bit of hand-waving necessary for me there but I enjoyed the courtroom scenes so much I gave it a pass. I agree it was unlikely though!
Janine: All these were very minor blips for me. The book worked wonderfully well on the whole, and my A- grade feels right even with these things taken into account.
Kaetrin: The courtroom scene worked really well for me – I’ve met judges like that and appreciated the dry cynicism His Honour displayed. The only think that didn’t work for me was that I felt the book ended abruptly and I wasn’t quite ready to leave the characters yet. Overall though I just loved this book so, I’m sticking to my A- as well.