I read Mary Balogh’s Only Enchanting and Only a Promise fully intending to review them, but found that they mostly made me want to re-read The Proposal. I’m mostly reviewing The Proposal with some musings on Only Enchanting and Only a Promise thrown in.
Mary Balogh writes a lot of romance series, and her characters all inhabit the same world and randomly pop up in unrelated books. It’s good in one way, because it’s nice to see favorite characters, even if it’s only a glimpse. It can also be constraining. The Proposal is the first of Balogh’s current series – The Survivor’s Club, but the female protagonist, Gwendolyn, Lady Muir, is a familiar character from two previous series. The Proposal benefits from the world building Balogh has already done. We know Gwen and her world, but she still has depths and secrets unexplored. Hugh, Lord Trentham, is an entirely new character. Hugh is a commoner awarded a title because of bravery in battle. His father was a wealthy businessman, but in 19th century England, his birth is more important than his wealth or his accomplishments. Balogh loves putting people who don’t seem like a good fit together and making them become better people as a result.
The premise of the Survivor’s Club is six men and a woman who were physically and/or mentally brutalized by the war (Napoleonic) spent three years together recovering. Now they have gone on to their own lives, but meet once a year in Cornwall. In each book, one member of the club meets their eventual significant other, also a person damaged by life in some way, and they heal each other through sharing and learning to trust and love themselves and each other. The books are lovely, but as we move through the series I found the formula overwhelming the characters. In Only Enchanting and Only a Promise the couples in question marry and then get to know each other. I may have read them too close together to appreciate the differences in the stories. All I could see where the ways they are the same.
After a couple of re-reads, I think The Proposal is one of Balogh’s top 5 books. I feel like Hugh and Gwen earned a believable happily ever after. Hugh and Gwen are initially forced into company when Gwen injures herself in proximity to Hugh while both are visiting in Cornwall. Hugh, a reluctant hero, carries Gwen back to the Duke of Stanhope’s home where she must convalesce. they don’t like each other but are reluctantly attracted. As they get to know each other, they recognize their first impressions were about expectations. Fairly early in the book, Hugh proposes to Gwen and she refuses, but invites him to court her. I love that they continue to seek each other out despite a lack of external motivation to be together and in the face of the expectations of their respective classes.