JOINT REVIEW: Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh
Kaetrin: I admit the Westcott family tree is a little confusing to me at times so I appreciated that Balogh went back over the relevant history just enough for me to remember who Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, was to Wren, the Countess of Riverdale and why they had been estranged from one another for many years. I always knew who Elizabeth, Lady Overfield was though. She is Alex’s sister (Wren’s husband and the Earl of Riverdale, who inherited the title after the bigamous marriage of his uncle was discovered posthumously, rendering the earl-presumptive illegitimate).
Janine: I remembered Colin quite well from Wren’s book, Someone to Wed. That was such a lovely scene when Alexander found him, and reminded me very much of a similar one in Indiscreet, which is one of my favorite Baloghs.
Elizabeth was also very memorable, from that moment when she hid behind the tree Anna had climbed to watch Avery’s duel in Someone to Love.
Kaetrin: Someone to Trust picks up just about at the end of the previous book, Someone to Care. The whole family are at Brambledean, the Riverdale family seat, for Christmas, and Marcel and Viola get married. Colin is in attendance but feels somewhat de trop because he is unfamiliar with everyone there and the Westcotts are obviously all very close. Elizabeth is naturally kind and, seeing his discomfort, makes a special effort to help Colin feel welcome.
Elizabeth and Colin quickly develop a close friendship but it is not immediately romantic. For one thing, Elizabeth is nine years Colin’s senior. Colin, at 26 (to Elizabeth’s 35) is just beginning to think it is time for him to consider marriage but Elizabeth is, he believes, far beyond his touch. She is kind and generous and he sees her as beautiful because of her character as well as her physical charms. Elizabeth is attractive but she has never been one for the gentlemen to sigh over so she thinks Colin is far beyond her too – he is much younger of course, but he is also very very handsome.
Through the course of the story Colin asks Elizabeth to marry him many times – most of those early offers are jokes or, at best, only half-serious. Mostly, those jokes are shared between them but even so, both Colin and Elizabeth take small hurts, her from him asking and him from her refusal.
Janine: I read this a bit differently. I thought only the first couple of offers were mostly joking, but the rest I saw as serious on Colin’s part, though Elizabeth read them as jokes. When it became clear that she did, Colin pretended she was right.
In fact, I saw Colin as in love with her from the first chapter of the book. Though he did not know it himself, his desire to marry someone like her revealed it. And certainly toward the end of the holiday visit, when he asks her to reserve a waltz for him at every ball of the season happen during the season, it was evident that he had fallen hard for her. Though of course, because of the upbringing he had, Colin doesn’t know to label his feelings as love.
Kaetrin: Elizabeth is a widow but before the death of her husband she was separated from him due to his alcoholism and the violent temper he exhibited when he was drinking. There are recollections in the text of particular instances where Desmond Overfield caused significant injury to Elizabeth. While they are not graphic or at all torture porn-y, it will be triggering for some readers. I should also mention that Elizabeth has a history of pregnancy loss and this too could be an issue for some. I found it difficult to read but was able to do so because the text does not dwell on the topic. Really, it is the kind of thing which leaves a long shadow so more was entirely unnecessary to convey what needed to be said.
Janine: Yes. I thought Elizabeth’s resilience was a strong point in her characterization. Though she was more vulnerable than her serene exterior indicated (at least to Colin), she had overcome a lot and discovered a core of strength in the process.
Kaetrin: It has been seven years since Desmond died in a tavern brawl, a year after she had left him. She sees that the rest of the family are moving on with their lives and she still has hopes for children, so she decides to seriously consider marriage herself. But of course, Colin is not a candidate.
The story then skips ahead to the season and London itself, where Colin and Elizabeth meet regularly via their family and at various ton balls. At Christmas they had made a promise to one another to waltz together at every ball. Both of them are superb dancers and the enjoy their dances greatly.
As Colin and Elizabeth each pursue their plans to marry, they grow closer and those marriage offers become less joking and more serious.
Janine: This is where I saw Elizabeth as really yearning for Colin as much as he had been for her. She’d started to desire him after their first kiss in the snow over Christmas, but here her desire turns into longing.
Kaetrin: The differences in their respective quests become topics of conversation too, though not without pain.
“Your need is emotional,” he said, “yet you look for safety and dependability. My need is practical, yet I dream of love. I would like to be in love with the woman I marry. But there are so many other considerations that I suppose are more important. I dream of perfection, Elizabeth. You do not dream at all.”
Colin wasn’t being deliberately cruel here. He wanted Elizabeth to dream but is blinded a little to the pain of his words by his own privilege.
She felt stricken. Of course she dreamed. Oh, of course she did. Did he not understand that even her modest hopes might be beyond her grasp if no one offered for her? No one upon whom she could depend, anyway.
Of course, because this is a romance, she does dream, a little and there is a HEA so those dreams do come true. But for a woman of her age and history, in reality of course, her match with Colin was most unlikely indeed.
Janine: The way the age difference was dealt with bothered me. As a baron without younger brothers or (as far as we know) male uncles or cousins descended from his father’s side of the family, it would have been imperative for Colin to have an heir and preferably a spare for the barony. Yet although Elizabeth is thirty-five and has never carried to term, this isn’t addressed at all.
And what we get instead is a lot of dwelling on the age difference and how they each are not worthy of the other because of it. Elizabeth describes herself as middle-aged so many times that I was surprised she didn’t call herself decrepit. And Colin sees himself as immature and callow relative to her. These self-images didn’t add to their appeal.
The “I’m not worthy” conflict has never been a favorite of mine, for two reasons: it hints at low self-esteem and is also hard or me to buy. I’ve never met anyone IRL who stayed away from the person they loved for that person’s own good. But in the romance genre it happens all the time.
Kaetrin: In all the circumstances, some of which would be spoilery, my impression was that Colin didn’t care too much about heirs or the barony. I think he’d have liked children but it wasn’t quite the obligation for him as it would be to someone like, Riverdale for example.
Janine: Your reasoning makes sense but was never stated in the book. I would have preferred for it to be said, or at least hinted at.
Kaetrin: Colin’s mother, Lady Hodges, who made a brief appearance in Someone to Wed, returns and takes a more prominent role in attempting to spike Colin’s guns. There were some moments in the book where my heart was in my throat and I really thought everything was ruined. I had mixed feelings about Lady Hodges. She is such an extreme character that it was difficult to take her seriously in some ways.
Janine: Personality-wise, she was an extremely believable narcissist, in her utter self-centeredness, her need to dominate everyone, her obsession with her beauty, and her attempts to control and ensnare Colin into her web, so that he could not escape her and her influence. These are all classic traits of narcissists.
But where I found it hard to take her characterization seriously was in her possession of an entourage. It was never clear to me why the attractive young men she surrounded herself with would want to be in the company of this sixty-plus-year-old piece of work. If she’d had wealth, wit, or charisma I would have understood it better. Narcissists are often charismatic, but I never saw magnetism in her characterization.
Kaetrin: It was difficult for me to understand why Colin wanted any relationship with her at all. Yes, she’s his mother but she has not been a good mother to him at all and she is a terrible awful person.
Elizabeth proses on about forgiveness. Some of her thoughts I agreed with, others I did not. It felt a bit preachy at times and perhaps a tad heavy-handed.
Kaetrin: The book lost some impetus toward the end however and it ended on more a whimper than a bang. While I believed that Colin and Elizabeth love each other deeply and dearly, they are never swept away by passion and my sense was that there was more friendship at the heart of their relationship than anything else.
Janine It was subtle, but I thought they were swept away during the scene that involves the proposal from Colin that Elizabeth eventually accepts, as well as in the previous proposal, but I agree that they were good friends as well.
Kaetrin: Up until the time they were finally married, near the end of the book, I was very satisfied with the romance but the denouement lacked tension or spark and so the HEA brought, in the end, more of a mostly-contented soft smile than the happy book noise I had hoped for.
Janine: Yes, the ending was a little too soft and slow.
Kaetrin: The age difference did not end up being such a big deal. Perhaps it ought not to have been. I don’t know quite what I was expecting there. Certainly Colin never thought it was anything of an impediment.
Incidentally, Avery is great here. I just love his languid, bored exterior and the danger that lurks beneath it.
Kaetrin: Yes! Avery is one of my favourite characters in the whole series.
I do like that the books in the series are each distinct in terms of heat and pacing. Someone to Trust was a quieter book than the previous one and less explicit too.
Janine: I think I saw it a bit differently, in that it wasn’t more quiet for me, but it lacked some of the magic that book had. If it hadn’t been for Marcel’s past I would have adored the last book. This one was less smooth for most of the journey, but when it came to the reveals about the main characters’ pasts, it was less jarring.
Kaetrin: I’d say that Balogh writes what needs to be told for the story to work but because the ending did not quite work for me, at least, it was not the romantic swoon-moment I wanted, I’m not sure I can sustain the argument very well.
Janine: Yes, I agree that the ending wasn’t swoonworthy. I think most of the endings in the series have not been. Viola wearing her gaudy necklace to her wedding in the last book is an exception.
Grade-wise, I sometimes wonder if I’m harder on Balogh than I should be precisely because I like her books so much. She is competing with herself at this point. This will not be among my top favorite Baloghs but it’s quite good.