The Proposal by Mary Balogh
Series: Survivors' Club #1
Published by Delacorte Press on 2012-05-01
Genres: Historical Romance
Source: the library
Also in this series: The Arrangement, The Escape, Only Enchanting, Only a Promise
Also by this author: The Arrangement, The Escape, Only Enchanting, The Heart of Christmas, Christmas Gifts, Christmas Miracles, Only a Promise, Someone To Love, Someone to Hold
Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy, especially since a freak accident took her husband much too soon. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.
Hugo never intends to kiss Lady Muir, and frankly, he judges her to be a spoiled, frivolous--if beautiful--aristocrat. He is a gentleman in name only: a soldier whose bravery earned him a title; a merchant's son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. He doesn't wish to court Lady Muir, nor have any role in the society games her kind thrives upon. Yet Hugo has never craved a woman more; Gwen's guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face have ruined him for any other woman. He wants her, but will she have him?
The hard, dour ex-military officer who so gently carried Gwen to safety is a man who needs a lesson in winning a woman's heart. Despite her cautious nature, Gwen cannot ignore the attraction. As their two vastly different worlds come together, both will be challenged in unforeseen ways. But through courtship and seduction, Gwen soon finds that with each kiss, and with every caress, she cannot resist Hugo's devotion, his desire, his love, and the promise of forever.
Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham, is a wealthy merchant’s son — and a highly decorated war hero, ennobled for his leadership of a “Forlorn Hope” (a seemingly hopeless assault.) Hugo is uncomfortable around people, particularly the gentry and aristocracy; he finds solace in the solitude of his newly-purchased estate, where he doesn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty planting flowers, raising animals, and helping out his neighbors. Gwendoline, Lady Muir, is the daughter of an earl and the widow of a viscount, completely at home in the glittering world of the ton. On the face of it, they have nothing in common.
But when Gwen sprains her ankle walking along the shore, Hugo reluctantly comes to her aid. As Gwen’s ankle heals, the two find themselves inexplicably, even uncomfortably drawn to one another. Gwen refuses Hugo’s eventual but awkward proposal of marriage, and in the next breath invites him to court her properly during the coming Season. But is attraction, even love, enough to overcome the differences between their worlds?
I’ve been waiting for years for Mary Balogh to get around to writing Gwen’s story. Gwen is a secondary character in One Night for Love and A Summer to Remember.* Gwen’s first marriage was marked by tragedy: first the loss of her unborn child in a riding accident (which also left her with a permanent limp), followed within a year by her husband’s fatal fall from a balcony into the hall below. Everyone believes the marriage to have been a happy one and Vincent’s death an accident, but Gwen’s reluctance to consider remarriage suggests that might not be entirely true. So it was with both interest and pleasure that I looked forward to the publication of The Proposal in early May.**
Interesting, sympathetic characters are a hallmark of Mary Balogh’s writing, and The Proposal does not disappoint in this arena. Gwen and Hugo are both well-drawn; their internal conflicts are in keeping with their personalities, as are their interchanges with each other. In addition, there are some appealing and/or intriguing secondary characters, including Hugo’s sister Constance and his fellows in the Survivors’ Club: a group consisting of several wounded veterans, the widow of another, and their host, the Duke of Penderris, whose son perished in the war. (There will be subsequent novels featuring other members of the Survivors’ Club.) Many of the members of Hugo’s family are less substantial; I found it difficult to keep track of who was who.
The class differences at the heart of this book also ring true, though their resolution seems a trifle facile, and there is more mingling of the classes than we often associate with early nineteenth-century Britain. If I have a complaint about the book, however, it’s that there is not enough conflict, particularly with regard to both Hugo’s war experiences and the truth surrounding the death of Gwen’s husband. While the potential for major confrontation exists for both situations, in the end, it fizzles out or is avoided almost altogether. The “villain” of the piece never completely merits that title, and although his misdeeds are laid out for the reader, he never gets his comeuppance, which I found somewhat annoying.
In the end, though, The Proposal stands as an enjoyable summer read. I wouldn’t rank it among Balogh’s best, but I don’t think her fans will be disappointed; there is much here to like. A suggestion for readers new to Mary Balogh: While The Proposal can stand alone, I recommend reading One Night for Love and A Summer to Remember first, both for Gwen’s back story and to fix her family relationships in your head.
* which preceded the obliquely related “Slightly” series featuring the Bedwyn family.
** I borrowed the book from the library; sadly, that meant I had to wait my turn for a copy!