Series: Survivors' Club #5
Published by Signet on June 9, 2015
Genres: Historical Romance
Also in this series: The Proposal, The Arrangement, The Escape, Only Enchanting
Also by this author: The Proposal, The Arrangement, The Escape, Only Enchanting, The Heart of Christmas, Christmas Gifts, Christmas Miracles, Someone To Love, Someone to Hold
Ralph Stockwood prides himself on being a leader, but when he convinced his friends to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, he never envisioned being the sole survivor. Racked with guilt over their deaths, Ralph must move on . . . and find a wife to secure an heir to his family's title and fortune.
Since her Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead is resigned to spinsterhood. Driven by the need to escape her family, she takes refuge at the home of her mother's godmother, where she meets Ralph. He needs a wife. She wants a husband. So Chloe makes the outrageous suggestion to strike a bargain and get married. One condition: Ralph has to promise that he will never take her back to London. But circumstances change. And to Ralph, it was only a promise.
I love Mary Balogh’s romances. She writes with sensitivity and deep understanding about the challenges of building a lasting relationship, about the pain of growth and the joy of sharing one’s life with another. Her heroes and heroines sometimes face external obstacles, but usually the main focus is on their emotional obstacles – the things that keep them from fully trusting or committing or loving or accepting love. In The Survivors’ Club series, Balogh explores the difficulties facing the men and women forever changed by war – the Napoleonic Wars, in their cases, but their situations resonate with those of our returning soldiers today, wounded in body, mind, or spirit.
Ralph Stockwood, Earl of Berwick, is one of the Survivors – a group of six men and one woman who spent three years together at Penderris Hall, trying to recover from the wounds the war had dealt them. Ralph has recovered from his physical injuries, but even now carries the guilt of having persuaded his three best friends to go to war with him, only to see them killed in the same battle in which he was injured. As a result, he has cut himself off from emotional involvement and believes himself incapable of love. With or without love, however, he has to marry, and quickly. His grandfather, the Duke of Worthingham, is old and frail; as the only heir, Ralph must secure the succession.
Through no fault of her own, Chloe Muirhead has been involved in not one but two scandals, rendering her essentially ineligible for marriage; she, too, is leery of love. A marriage of convenience–of mutual respect but no love–seems the obvious solution for both of them.
It’s a timeworn historical romance trope, but in Balogh’s capable hands the story is anything but cliched. Both Chloe and Ralph grow throughout the novel, meeting unexpected challenges and facing their fears. They grow together, as you might expect, but also as individuals. To begin with, I wasn’t entirely sure I liked either of them: Chloe is too timid and Ralph too cold and distant. Almost immediately, though, both show glimpses of who they really are or could be, beneath the pain each is dealing with. Balogh quickly drew me in and gave me reasons to care about both characters, as well as the slowly dawning understanding and sympathy between them.
If I could change anything about Only a Promise, it would only be to add a few more scenes. For instance, I would dearly love to have been present at the tea party when Chloe met the Duchess of Bewick, the Countess of Kilbourne, Lady Aiden Bedwyn, and Viscountess Ravensburg, all of whom I know (and love) from previous books. I also would have preferred to see a little more of the Survivors themselves, as well (and their wives.) But even without those scenes, I really enjoyed Ralph and Chloe’s story–I devoured it in a single evening, then went back and re-read some of my favorite chapters.
Only a Promise is book five in the series. Only a Kiss, the sixth and penultimate book in the Survivors’ Club series, came out in September. In it, Imogen, Lady Barclay, finally get her second chance at love. (I’ve read it and will try to review it soon.) And the final book, Only Beloved, comes out on May 3. I can’t wait!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2015 Historical Romance Reading Challenge