JOINT REVIEW: Someone to Remember by Mary Balogh
Janine: In book six of Mary Balogh’s regency-set Westcott series, Someone to Honor, Matilda, the 56-year-old maiden aunt in the Westcott family, did something scandalous in calling on Viscount Dirkson with only her niece’s stepson, Bertrand, for company.
Matilda’s purpose was to inform the viscount that Gil, his illegitimate son, was in need of aid. We learned that Matilda and the viscount were romantically involved in their early twenties until something came between them. Now comes Someone to Remember, Matilda and Dirkson’s story.
As Someone to Remember opens, Alexander, Earl of Riverdale and son of Matilda’s cousin, Althea (this is one series where the diagram of the family tree comes in handy), and Wren, Alexander’s countess, call on Matilda and her mother to suggest that the family host a thank you dinner in honor of the viscount, who helped Gil when Gil needed it.
When he gets the invitation, Charles, the viscount, has to tell his heir, Adrian, that he has another son. Adrian isn’t happy with this news, but attends the dinner with Charles anyway.
At the dinner, Charles is aware of Matilda studying him and annoyed at her constant assistance to her mother. He feels she has sacrificed her happiness to serve her mother, and that she deserved better.
Later, they wind up chaperoning a group of young people in Kew Gardens and begin to converse about their past. Matilda and Charles were separated in large part by his wild reputation, a reputation he more than lived up to in the years after he was forced to give up Matilda.
Would he have led a different life had he and she not been parted? Would theirs have made for a happy marriage? Charles and Matilda are both haunted by this question.
I won’t spoil what happens after this, since the story is a short one.
Charles did not make a favorable impression on me. I think that if he’d just been a rake in the past, or just fathered Gil and refused to marry his mother, I could have still liked him, depending on how it was presented. One of these things could be viewed a sign of his raging against the loss of Matilda, but the presence of both made them seem more like evidence of a character flaw.
Kaetrin: I ended up liking him. He had made mistakes and had changed and I found I could forgive that. He scored many points with me for being so fiercely on Matilda’s side. He wanted her to have what she wanted and he wanted others to see her as a person rather than just a kind of prop. He disliked, intensely, the dynamic between Matilda and her mother, the subservient way Matilda fussed and how that was constantly rebuffed. He was very angry on Matilda’s behalf.
He had wanted her to be visible. They were a decent lot, the Westcotts, but they had one collective shortcoming that had irritated him all evening. None of them saw Matilda. Oh, they did not ignore her. She was a part of their family and was included in all their activities and conversations. But none of them saw her. None of them, with the exception of her mother, had seen her, lovely and graceful, eyes bright, cheeks flushed with animation, dancing a minuet. None of them knew her.
However, there was too much hand-waving about what went on with Gil’s mother. The story, told by Gil, in the previous book (which was obviously his mother’s version of events) was quite different to Charles’ and there was no effort made to try and square that circle. I wanted more. I wanted to understand their relationship better. Charles says he thought Gil’s mother truly believed he would marry her but he never intended any such thing. I was confused about how both of those things could possibly be true.
Janine: Agreed. That was another thing that made me like Charles less than I wanted to. He seemed like someone who had dodged his responsibility–even if his version was true, he should still have stepped up and married Gil’s mother, so that his son would not be labeled a bastard.
Charles struck me as someone who had extricated himself out of his obligation, and I felt that his version of events was a continuation of that practice, if not on his part, then on the part of the author. To be honest, with a backstory like that, I would have preferred to see his character taken in a straight-up villainous direction and given a genuine redemption arc.
I loved Matilda, though. I love the way we began to get more and more hints into her inner life in the earlier books, starting with Someone to Care. There’s a shyness about her and yet she finds a way to stand up to her family both in this book and in earlier ones.
Kaetrin: I loved Matilda also. Though I thought she deserved better than this book.
She about broke my heart with some of her inner thoughts.
“It is nothing short of a miracle that Viscount Dirkson even found out about the custody hearing,” Wren said.
But it had not happened by a miracle, Matilda thought as she picked up her own cup and sipped her tea. There was nothing miraculous about her.
She was merely an appendage of her mother as she fussed over her, making sure she did not sit in a draft or overexert herself or get overexcited, though her mother resented her every attention. Sometimes, especially lately, Matilda wondered whether her mother needed her at all—or even loved her. It was a thought that depressed her horribly, for if the love and care she gave her mother were pointless, then what had been the purpose of her life?
Matilda managed not to come across as Eeyore though. She insight into herself during the course of the story.
Janine: I liked that insight too.
Kaetrin: I also adored Matilda’s latent feminism. She really came into her own and I was so happy to see her take her power back.
Janine: Hmm. I guess I wanted more of that. What we got was good, but
Kaetrin: I liked him well enough but I can’t say he made a strong impression upon me. What I liked most about him and about the other young people in the story, was how much they responded to Matilda’s humour and how much they enjoyed it and encouraged it.
Janine: I liked Adrian for getting angry with his father. [A] I felt that Dirkson deserved it. And [B] It was a fresh dynamic in a story that I otherwise felt was cliched.
Janine: To mention a separate issue, the thank you dinner for Dirkson was a tortured contrivance—even Dirkson acknowledged that as Gil’s father, he didn’t need to be thanked for merely doing what most fathers would have done for their children.
Kaetrin: I agree. The beginning section of the book felt clumsy. I usually sigh happily at the beginning of a Balogh book. Something about the language and anticipation of a good story I think. But here, I found myself a bit frowny because the story felt very underdeveloped to begin with.
As the story progressed however, I started to get into it and once Matilda and Charles began to spend time with one another, I felt that familiar Balogh happiness.
Janine: I was pulled in from the beginning, but beyond the characters’ age (both are 56) and the subplot about Charles’s decision to reveal his having fathered Gil to his other children, which provide some freshness, there was little new here. The events that separated Matilda and Charles were familiar. And for the most part the novel glosses over the conflict that the rift between Charles and Gil could have presented to Charles and Matilda’s courtship.
Kaetrin: Definitely agree. There was little conflict. I was expecting perhaps that the story would move towards healing the relationship (or, perhaps, it would be better said, creating a healthy relationship) between Gil and Charles and that readers would thus see Charles and Matilda settle into their relationship. But it just ended.
Janine: My biggest issue with Someone to Remember was its brevity. Although the back cover plainly states that this is a novella, I was confused by the packaging. In my print ARC, the novella is 149 pages followed by 107 pages of excerpts from earlier books in the series. And while the price is lower than the usual price for one of Balogh’s novels, $5.99 for the ebook is far above the typical price of a novella.
Kaetrin: You don’t even want to know how much this book costs in Australia Janine.
Janine: You’re right, I don’t want to know! The packaging led me to expect a novel. I didn’t realize was reading a novella until I had finished and was upset enough to reread the back cover and check to see if I had missed something. I had, but by then it was too late to reframe my reading experience.
Because of the total number of pages (excerpts included), I thought that more of a conflict would develop and when Matilda’s story ended less than 60% of the way into the ARC, Someone to Remember felt truncated on top of underdeveloped. I wanted more of a storyline for Matilda, but had I known going in that I was about to read a novella, I might have reacted differently and enjoyed it more.
Kaetrin: I saw on my ereader that the page count was 191 which was short anyway, but I was gobsmacked when the story ended at page 61%. I felt Matilda deserved a full novel. I wanted her story so badly. I was all #TeamMatilda and #JusticeforMatilda. I still am. It’s just that there’s no longer quite the victory cry behind the tone anymore.
Matilda was the best of the book but there wasn’t enough of her and there wasn’t enough for her to do.
Janine: Yes, I felt the same. The book needed more of a plot, something that would show Matilda taking a more active role, so that she could be a true hero. I found myself imagining a plot in which one of the young ladies in the book was wooed by a cad and Matilda and Charles, after their own shotgun wedding, drove after the younger couple to prevent the elopement, working out some residual issues of their own in the process.
When I write the heroine a different story in my head, I know that there’s a problem.
Kaetrin: I would have been all over that!!
For all that Someone to Remember was my least favourite of the series so far, I still nearly wore out my highlighter when I was reading it. There were many things to enjoy. Just not enough of them. Balancing all of that out, I’m landing at a C. Janine?
Janine: I was thinking of giving this a slightly higher grade, but the process of writing this review has spotlighted more issues for me. Balogh always sucks me in and she made Matilda even more luminous here, but that wasn’t enough. I’m going to go with a C/C+, because of how much I loved Matilda.