More Than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh

>> Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Mary Balogh can be hit or miss for me (though the last couple of her books that I've read and reread have been all good), but when she's good, she's so good that I keep trying her. The latest I read was More Than a Mistress.

When Jane Ingleby interrupts a duel in London's Hyde Park, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, gets shot in the leg, and Jane, late for work at a milliner's workshop, loses her job. She is angry enough to demand a new job of Jocelyn, and he is angry enough to give her one--as his nurse. He vows to make her believe that starvation would have been a better option. However, the dangerous duke, whose will no one has ever dared cross, is soon vowing that just once in his life he is going to have the final word in his frequent verbal battles with Jane. And soon too he is offering her a different job--as his mistress.
Really, really nice! As a rule, I don't usually have a problem putting a book aside to go to bed, even with books I'm enjoying, but More Than a Mistress had me staying up way too late. My grade would be a B+.

Jocelyn and Jane's relationship was just engrossing. For some reason, I couldn't get a handle on where the story was going. I needed to know what would happen next, in what direction Balogh would take the story, and I simply couldn't stop reading.

I really liked what she did with Jocelyn. He seemed like a rigid, humourless bore at the beginning of the book, but Jane had the knack of making the much nicer person underneath that come out. Jocelyn had his ideas about what the master-and-servant and man-and-mistress relationships should be, but Jane kept changing this, refusing to conform to what he expected. It took a while, and the slightest suspicion had him putting up the "duke" mask back again, but by the end of the book, I'd become fond of this vulnerable, artistic man who had been molded by his father into his idea of what a Dudley should be. I loved the scenes in which he recognizes his desperate need for someone to love him and, more than that, someone to understand and like the real person inside him.

Jane was a good character, too. She did behave like a headless chicken a couple of times, but most of the story she was great, standing up to Jocelyn and not allowing him to bully her into submission. I liked that there was no hint of sacrifice in her becoming Jocelyn's mistress. She made her choice freely, recognizing that this was the most convenient thing for her, and a deciding factor was that it was also something she wanted. She never kidded herself about it, and I liked her for it, and for being sensible and negotiating like crazy for the best conditions possible for her employment.

This was an A read throughout most of the book, but I thought Balogh faltered a bit near the end. When Jocelyn found out Jane's secret, I thought he overreacted, and the ending, with the resolution of the big secret from Jane's past and it's threat to her and with Jocelyn's efforts to get her to marry him, wasn't up to the wonderful level of the rest of the story. Still, the rest of the book was enjoyable enough to make this a success.

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