Sunday, May 17, 2009

At Last Comes Love by Mary Balogh

Margaret Huxtable has given her youth in order to keep her promise to her dying father to hold the family together until her sisters and brother have grown up. She gave up the chance to marry Crispin Dew, the man she loved, and suffered the pain of learning that he married someone else. But now her siblings are grown up, and her sisters are married.

She is thirty years old and has decided that it is time she married too since the alternative is to be a spinster sister dependent upon her brother and sisters for the rest of her life. She knows whom she will marry. The Marquess of Allingham has asked her several times over the past few years, and each time she has refused. Now she will accept. She has made that decision before setting off for London and the Season. But in London she meets the now-widowed Crispin again and she learns a painful truth about the Marquess of Allingham-just after salving her pride with Crispin by telling him that she is betrothed. She finds herself in an embarrassing situation at Lady Tindell's ball, the first she attends. And then, as she flees the ballroom in near-panic, she collides with the very notorious Earl of Sheringford.

Duncan Pennethorne is the Earl of Sheringford, but his is only a courtesy title. While his grandfather, the Marquess of Claverbrook, lives, Duncan is dependent upon him. And his grandfather has just cut him off without a penny five years after terrible scandal banished him from London and polite society. For private reasons of his own, Duncan is desperate for money and the home he has always considered his own. And so he returns to London to plead with his grandfather.

There is only one way out for him. He must marry someone respectable, someone of whom his grandfather approves, before the marquess's eightieth birthday--which happens to be in two weeks time. There is no time to lose. Duncan attends the very first ball following the ultimatum, though he has not been invited. He is desperately looking over the likely matrimonial prospects when someone who is not looking where she is going collides with him. One might call it fate...
I've been following Mary Balogh's latest historical romance series featuring the Huxtables. Her latest entry, At Last Comes Love was released on April 28th and I picked it up on release day. Balogh happens to be a personal favorite -- not so this series. I'm following it and will finish it. It is Balogh after all. But are these books keepers, books that I'll re-read? Not for me, not this time. Why? So far, although I didn't love the first book in the series, First Comes Marriage, I did enjoy it. Not so with the second installment, Then Comes Seduction, where I had some problems connecting with the heroine as well as with the premise.

Throughout At Last Comes Love, I thought this was the best of the three releases in the series. Margaret is my favorite Huxtable sister and from the beginning I thought deserved happiness and true love. Her experiences with Crispin Dew, the man who broke her heart, were severe enough to make Margaret an intriguing heroine--a woman who sacrificed her love for her family and lost--and for the most part, her character lived up to my expectations. She is portrayed as an honest, direct type of woman who doesn't let life beat her. After her initial moment of cowardice, which was motivated by pride, Margaret comes through.

Duncan Pennethorne is not your usual Balogh hero. He is not the man of impeccable honor or even the charming rake that frequent her books. He is a truly ruined man, one who has committed not one, but two unforgivable immoral acts unpardonable in society's eyes. He is an unhappy man who has made tough choices.  Those choices have affected him and all those around him and will continue to do so in the future.

Duncan was a perfect match for Margaret. They both worked hard at solving their differences and at learning to trust and love again under very difficult circumstances. Margaret's family, while attempting to be supportive and under the guise of taking care of her and her best interests, came off as patronizing and at times hypocritical and judgmental, in my opinion -- especially after some of their own recent experiences. After trusting Margaret to make decisions for them throughout their lives, they didn't trust her to make decisions for herself. Good thing Margaret had a mind of her own.

Balogh's books are mostly character driven, and she usually manages to weave the plot and the characterization almost seamlessly, it's what I love about them. In At Last Comes Love, I didn't find this to be the case; it almost felt as if I were reading two different stories.

In one, the hero and heroine were in the get to know each other, know thyself phase and Balogh did a gorgeous job of it as always. I loved both characters -- their attempts at honest self-analysis and their slow, meandering journey towards love, Balogh style. Plus, (for me this is a plus) as in many of her books, she explores what seem to be her favorite subjects: what makes a man of honor, a woman of character, and in the end is love fated or is it all a matter of chance?

In the other, there was this whole plot with a secret/mystery and a villain that felt forced and that progressed dramatically towards the end of the book. By the time the climactic scene came along, I couldn't believe that was the end of it -- I kept expecting one more secret to pop out of the bushes. The worst part for me was that at the end everyone went into happy-joy mode and I didn't believe that all those involved could be so accepting of the circumstances, nor did I buy the resolution in this case.

The last quarter of the book featuring a not-so-likable child, a contrived and forced conflict and some very one dimensional villains, made this book a frustrating reading experience for me. After having enjoyed most of the book, I was left less than satisfied at the end.

The next installment in this series, Seducing an Angel, Steven Huxtable's story, releases May 19th. I am looking forward to reading all about cousin Constantine Huxtable; his is the story that intrigues me the most in this series. I'm giving this one a C+

Visit Mary Balogh here. Read an excerpt for At Last Comes Love here.

6 comments:

  1. Great review! I've never read anything by Mary Balogh but I've been curious about her writing. Going by your review, this series doesn't seem like a good place for me to start reading her, though. I still want to give MB a try, so what would you recommend?

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  2. Thanks, Brie. My favorite Mary Balogh books are The Secret Pearl and A Summer to Remember. I personally like most of her books and her style, but it's a matter of taste, I know she's not for everyone. I do hope you give her a try. :)

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  3. Good review Hilcia. I've read only one or two historicals by Balogh and haven't been wow-ed, so I don't think I'll pick up this book. Although, it's an interesting story and different :)

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  4. Thanks,nath. Balogh is definitely not for everyone. I've found that readers either really like her or they don't -- there doesn't seem to be an in-between with her. Her books don't contain lots of sexual scenes and focus more on the journey to romance. They are slow paced and as I said, meandering, so yes, not for everyone. :)

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  5. I really don't mind the sexual scenes. For me, it's more her writing style. I have to say, it feels a bit monotonous. You know, the voice...

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  6. I know exactly what you mean, nath. Her style is definitely not for everyone, I happen to like it, but I know lots of people who just can't read her. :)

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