Mary Balogh is a stalwart author in historical romance with whom my experience is very limited. Her Bedwyn Saga appears on NPR’s “Best Romances” list from several summers back, which I am still pretending to tackle in a very time-insensitive fashion. There are a total of six books in the series, and this review is for the first and last of them. If the rest of the books are like the first book, I will probably not read them, but if they’re more like the last one, I’d be more interested.
The entire “saga,” in traditional romance series fashion, gives each of a set of siblings or friends or otherwise connected people their own book. In this case, the Bedwyns are an aristocratic Regency family, where the eldest brother is the Duke of Bewcastle, so on the whole they’re very superior stock, if rather austere by reputation. A major point of conflict in both of the books I read is that, when you’re that high up the totem pole, the suitable marriage options are very limited, so if, for instance, any of the siblings marries beneath their station, it disproportionately lands on the others to keep the family reputation by marrying well.
Slightly Married launches immediately into that narrative, where Colonel Aiden Bedwyn returns from war with the promise of delivering a message of goodbye from a fallen fellow soldier to his surviving sister. Honor-bound, Aiden delivers it personally to Eve Morris, the residing Lady at Ringwood Manor. Unfortunately, the passing of her brother leaves her in the circumstance of potentially having to lose her home, unless — according to a peculiar line in her father’s (?) will — she marries. Feeling too chivalrous to be responsible for turning a lady and her dependents out of her home, Aiden proposes to marry Eve as a business arrangement: they don’t have to live together or perform any *other* duties of a married couple, but she will get to keep her house. Suffice it to say that, initially, most of Aiden’s family doesn’t take too well to the news, since although Eve was raised as a gentlewoman, she is the daughter of *gasp* a coal miner, and a Welsh one that that. So in addition to having to find their love for each other, they also need to contend with the condescension of the other Bedwyns.
I found Slightly Married to be, frankly, disappointingly bland. I’m no objector to a good marriage of convenience, but something about this one seemed extra crazy to me. I get honor and duty and all that, but coming home from war and proposing marriage to a stranger just because you feel badly about her losing her brother and her house is… a nice thing to do, but, damn, it’s pretty hardcore. It could have worked for me if it seemed like Aiden and Eve had any chemistry. I feel like typically when characters start acting crazy around each other, it’s at the very least because lust and curiosity have kicked in. Aiden’s predominant feeling toward Eve seems, truly, to be pity at the original time of his proposal, which is more sad than romantic. Further on, once they are already married and are “forced” to spend time together, the lack of steam and tension becomes more pronounced. Eve in particular starts internally monologuing about love, but that wasn’t otherwise apparent from their interactions, at all. Ultimately, this led to lackluster love scenes and a fairly unconvincing conclusion, neither of which I was very invested in.
However, from cross-referencing Mrs. Julien’s blog, I noticed that she has listed Slightly Dangerous as a “classic,” so, as long as I’m into the series, I figured I’d skip to the end and give it a shot. Dangerous gets around to Wulfric, the Duke himself, who, in the first book, was mostly a rather arrogant and condescending piece of work and not altogether a very appealing character. But, it is the way of romance novels to redeem the irredeemable, and so, Bewcastle has his story and, what do you know! It is very good.
It’s chock-full of what Mrs. Julien calls “comeheregoaway,” and while too much of that has turned me off in many, many past instances, it works here. It all comes down to the same struggle of heroine Christine also not being from an aristocratic background, and therefore being “unsuitable” for Wulfric, but the conflict was honest and direct because their feelings were all on the table. Christine KNEW Wulfric was into her, but was not willing to pursue her because of her station. And Wulfric KNEW Christine was intrigued by him as well, but thought him too arrogant and cold to be compatible with her in any way. Because this was evident to each other in their earliest interactions, overcoming the “conflict” wasn’t just a matter of speaking together and clearing up a misunderstanding; it required notable character growth. Wulfric’s first marriage proposal to Christine, approximately 50% in, plays out much like Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzie Bennett, because despite the “ardency” of his feelings, it would not have been a match that worked at the time, because his underlying presumption of her background and life as inferior still existed. The tension in the arc was ultimately very cathartic after so many losses after gains in progress.
I am not sure if completing the series with the other Bedwyn siblings’ books is very high on my priorities list at the moment, but as I said earlier, if they’re closer in quality to Slightly Dangerous, I’m more interested than I’d be otherwise. I’d give Slightly Married 2.5 stars, and Slightly Dangerous 4.