JOINT REVIEW: Remember Love by Mary Balogh
Janine and I have reviewed the last few Mary Balogh books together so we decided to continue that tradition with the newest release. ~ Kaetrin
Content warning: Fatphobia.
Kaetrin: Remember Love is clearly the beginning of a new series for Balogh – the first chapters introduce a huge cast of characters (so many names!!). I counted a potential of at least 6 more novels in the Ravenswood series.
Devlin Ware is the eldest legitimate son of the Earl of Stratton, owner of Ravenswood Park in Boscombe. There is an older brother, Ben Ellis (and I want his story so much now) who is illegitimate and was born before the earl’s marriage to Devlin’s mother. He came to live with the Wares as a very young child and appears to have been largely raised with the Ware siblings. Ben is now the steward at Ravenswood and he and Devlin run the estates for the earl.
The book begins in 1808 when Devlin is 22. The earl is vibrant and entrepreneurial, great at socialising and always the life of the party. Devlin is… not. Devlin’s next younger brother, Nick, has inherited their father’s affable flair but Devlin is more contained and introverted. He’s a serious young man and very self-righteous, valuing duty and integrity and service to those he loves. He’s not a stick in the mud though and he’s also not jealous of his brother constantly outshining him.
Janine: I thought what happens later revealed him to be a bit of a stick in the mud, actually. There was a rigidness to him.
Kaetrin: I guess it depends on your definition of “stick in the mud”. He was pretty rigid about duty but he was not humorless or lacking in emotion.
Janine: Yes, you’re right.
Kaetrin: Devlin is in love with their neighbour Gwyneth Rhys, daughter of Sir Ifor and Lady Bronwyn Rhys who own a property which borders Ravenswood. Gwyneth is 18. Nick, at 19, is closer in age to her and they basically grew up together. They are great friends and spend a lot of time with each other. It seems everyone thinks there is more going on than friendship – even Devlin, but Nick does not feel that way and Gwyneth has been in love with Devlin, for ages. Gwyneth thinks Devlin doesn’t see her; Devlin thinks Gwyneth doesn’t like him. Fortunately, that bit is quickly sorted out.
Devlin is a little shorter than Nick and less handsome but Gwyneth thinks he’s the bees knees. She longs for his attention and finally gets her wish at the annual Ravenswood fete.
Unfortunately, Gwyneth and Devlin’s romance is not as simple as all that; something is revealed at the fete which rocks Devlin to his core. The whole foundation of his world is damaged by it.
Janine: Since it’s in the blurb, I feel comfortable quoting this part: “he discovered his whole world was an elaborate illusion, and […] publicly called his family to account for it.”
Kaetrin: He reacts impetuously and publicly which causes a scandal and he is banished from Ravenswood. (I still do not have a good explanation on why that was necessary by the way. The one small conversation with the countess later in the book had insufficient detail for my liking.)
The story then picks up again in 1814. Devlin left Ravenswood and joined the military. Having spent 6 years fighting Napoleon, the wars are now over and he can no longer put off his duty. He was notified 2 years earlier that the earl had died and he had inherited the title. He does not want to go back to Ravenswood but he will do his duty. Duty is what has kept him going for the last 6 years. He has walled himself off from emotion and he no longer believes in or trusts love.
What Devlin finds at Ravenswood when he returns shocks him. His vivacious younger sister Philippa who is now aged 21 is a shadow of her former self. His younger brother, Owen, has all grown up and is about to leave for Oxford. Nick, having always planned to go into the military, is in Paris with his cavalry regiment. The baby of the family is Stephanie but she is now 15 and not a baby anymore. His mother is no longer the sparkling woman he remembers. She is quiet, composed and cold. She greets him as “Stratton” rather then “Devlin”. He calls her “mother” rather than “mama”. Their relationship is very strained.
Janine: His mother’s actions here didn’t square with the information in the conversation you mentioned earlier, I feel.
Kaetrin: No, they didn’t. *frowny face*
Ben had left Ravenswood with Devlin all those years ago for reasons.
Janine: This was connected to Devlin’s actions and I felt it was too good to be true for Ben not to hold that against Devlin even a little.
Kaetrin: Very convenient wasn’t it?
He has returned to Ravenswood with Devlin, a widower with a baby daughter, Joy.
Gwyneth is now 24 and as yet unmarried. She tried to fall in love or at least get close to it, with other suitors. She has had many very respectable offers of marriage but she could not say yes.
My favourite of Mary Balogh’s books is Heartless. There are some similarities to that book and this one. Like Devlin, Luke had been exiled from his family and returned home to do his duty after the death of his father. There is also a child called Joy (with the same kind of allusions of the emotion peppered throughout the story). Luke had favourite a sister who was deaf and he was extremely protective of her. Devlin has a favourite sister, Stephanie. Stephanie is not disabled – even though it is treated in the book as if she has a kind of disability – she is described as overweight. (More on this in a bit.)
Janine: I noticed a few similarities to Heartless too, and also some (spoilery, so I won’t describe them) similarities to Balogh’s most recent book, Someone Perfect.
Characterization-wise, Devlin reminded me a bit of Gil from Someone to Honor—both are dour, scarred and tough military officers whose smiles are rare.
Kaetrin: Yes, I noted that too but my connection to Heartless is stronger. I think Devlin is much softer than Gil though.
Janine: Agreed, and I liked Gil much better.
Kaetrin: Yes, me too.
Getting back to that thing I said I would talk about more… Oh dear. The fatphobia was strong in this book. I disliked that it was a thing at all. Stephanie and her “baby fat” and comments that she was not “a glutton”. There is a reference to some people just being bigger than others and it not being about what they eat or them being lazy but the whole thing was pretty distasteful.
Janine: I was also troubled by the way Stephanie’s size was handled. Had the book started when Stephanie was fifteen or so and had she had a governess who hounded her about her eating or fatness, I might have been okay with some of it. Society is disposed to judge women and girls based on their size—horrible but a fact. From an #ownvoices perspective on this issue, I feel a lot of us have internalized body shame and it takes some effort to shed it. Life experience can help, and I think there’s a place for examining that.
However, Stephanie was only nine in the 1808 section and yet she focused a lot on whether she would ever be slender enough to snag a husband. I don’t believe many nine-year-olds think in these terms unless they (or maybe a family member) have or are developing an eating disorder. Snagging a man when you are grown up isn’t a priority at age nine.
I don’t categorically object to reading about a child developing a mental health issue but it’s a delicate topic and should be handled sensitively. Without more context it was disturbing to see a child worry about catching a husband. It made me feel that the author was prioritizing setting up future books over careful handling.
Kaetrin: There were, arguably, some things that weren’t terrible about the representation but overall it left a sour taste in my mouth. I’ve been listening to the Maintenance Phase podcast and my sensitivities to fatphobia and the pernicious ways it creeps in are perhaps more dialled up as a result (though I don’t think that’s a bad thing.)
The biggest similarity with Heartless is that both male leads return to their homes walled off emotionally and are determined not to love. They will do their duty and they will show respect but they will not love. (And of course, they fail dismally at it.)
I can’t tell how much of my enjoyment of Remember Love harks back to my deep and abiding love for Heartless but I’m certain at least some of it did. Maybe even a lot.
There are differences too of course; they are not the same book. The conflict here is all around Devlin’s reaction to [redacted] 6 years earlier and his reaction to having been banished from his home, with more than a little war trauma added into the mix.
The 1808 section of the book is close to half of it. There is a lot of extraneous scene-setting, much of which was arguably not necessary.
Janine: The book begins with pages and pages of description of Devlin’s family’s house and grounds, and then the fete begins and we have pages more of names, descriptions, and occupations of the various guests…. I haven’t read such a boring beginning since the mind-numbingly detailed description of Jessica’s equipage in Someone to Romance.
Kaetrin: There were So. Many. People!
There wasn’t loads of time for anything very complicated to be dealt with in the 1814 section.
Kaetrin: I liked Gwyneth very much. I liked her bravery and her determination and her willingness to love Devlin regardless. I liked how she called Devlin on his nonsense and accepted him for who he was now anyway.
Janine: I liked all that too. Her Welsh background, harp playing, and wild child girlhood were also nice touches. And a dilemma she faced with regard to someone held my attention.
How did you feel about Devlin? I liked him somewhat better after he returned because he was more open to examining the past. I also thought his later dourness combined with the power with which he took charge made him more interesting. But he’ll never be one of my favorite Balogh heroes.
Kaetrin: Well, he was no Luke. But I liked his early sensitivity and I liked that his actions are neither lauded not pilloried. Rather, there is some nuance, even from himself, as to what happened and whether it was the right thing to do or not. And I liked that he was devoted to Gwyneth.
A sure sign I’m enjoying a book is that I get impatient to read and I was here. When I was reading I was eager to continue and reluctant to put the book down. But in hindsight there isn’t a lot to the plot, really.
Apart from the [redacted] there are hints about what the other siblings went through after Devlin and Ben left (with Nick leaving for the military as previously planned very shortly after) and there is a really nice egalitarianism about Devlin’s dealings with people and his understanding of his privilege.
I was annoyed by the way the examination of who it was who acted wrongly (Devlin or the person he called to account) proceeded. Early on there was ambiguity and ambivalence in some characters’ eyes, but as the book progressed, more and more people (and those who mattered most) said that Devlin had done the right thing.
I didn’t like the question of who was to blame. Two people can both be in the wrong even when they are on opposite sides of an issue, and I wasn’t ready to let Devlin off the hook just because someone else was even more in the wrong.
Kaetrin: I thought there was a fair amount of nuance overall to that discussion and I think the end result was a bit of “the victor writes history” but I didn’t end up thinking that Devlin’s method was right. In fact, I think there was a better path but he was too self-righteous to see it.
Janine: There was certainly nuance in the middle of the book and I agree with you on there being a better path. But I was annoyed by the binary nature of the question. The other party’s actions were very obviously wrong and had no justification. It would have been more mature for Devlin to only inquire about how badly his actions impacted the those who were hurt (so he could begin to make amends for his part of it), or to make a progression from self-blame to self-forgiveness.
Kaetrin: The first part was too long and the second part was not long enough. I would have liked more time spent with Gwyneth and Devlin. I thought Devlin recovered his emotions very quickly (unlike Luke in Heartless).
Janine: Yes, the pacing felt off. I wanted more of a glow to the happy ending, too, if that makes sense.
Kaetrin: I did not like the way Stephanie’s weight was a thing in the book at all.
Having said all that, I gobbled the book down and enjoyed the reading experience. Adding that all together, it brings me to a B.
Janine: I liked it a lot less. It’s a C- for me.