First Comes Marriage, by Mary Balogh

>> Monday, August 01, 2011

TITLE: First Comes Marriage
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

COPYRIGHT: 2009
PAGES: 416
PUBLISHER: Dell

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First in Huxtable quintet

Against the scandal and seduction of Regency England, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh introduces an extraordinary family—the fiery, sensual Huxtables. Vanessa is the second daughter, proud and daring, a young widow who has her own reason for pursuing the most eligible bachelor in London. One that has nothing to do with love. Or does it?

The arrival of Elliott Wallace, the irresistibly eligible Viscount Lyngate, has thrown the country village of Throckbridge into a tizzy. Desperate to rescue her eldest sister from a loveless union, Vanessa Huxtable Dew offers herself instead. In need of a wife, Elliott takes the audacious widow up on her unconventional proposal while he pursues an urgent mission of his own. But a strange thing happens on the way to the wedding night. Two strangers with absolutely nothing in common can’t keep their hands off each other. Now, as intrigue swirls around a past secret—one with a stunning connection to the Huxtables—Elliott and Vanessa are uncovering the glorious pleasures of the marriage bed…and discovering that when it comes to wedded bliss, love can’t be far behind.
First Come Marriage begins the Huxtable series, in which a young man from an impoverished but genteel country family unexpectedly inherits an earldom. I've already reviewed the second in the series, but the first one slipped through the cracks. Great excuse for a reread!

Vanessa, a young widow, lives in the tiny village of Throckbridge, as do her two sisters, Margaret and Katherine, and her 17-year-old brother, Stephen. Nothing much happens in Throckbridge, so when a handsome nobleman arrives, speculation about what he might be doing there sweeps the village.

The nobleman is Elliott, Viscount Lyngate, and he's some big news for the Huxtables. A distant cousin of theirs has just died, and this means Stephen has inherited the man's title. He's now the Earl of Merton, and Elliott, due to his connections to the previous Earl's family, is now Stephen's guardian. His task now is to take the unsophisticated country boy and train him to take over his duties. This will require taking Stephen with him to London, but when his sisters make it very clear that he's not going on his own, Elliott sees no choice but to bring the entire family with him.

The easiest way to do this without any improprieties would be for Elliott to marry to one of the sisters, and since he needs a wife anyway, and is a cold, love-doesn't-exist type, that's exactly what he decides to do. The natural choice is the eldest, Margaret. However, Vanessa is NOT going to have that. You see, Elliott didn't make the best of first impressions in the village. The night he arrived, before he revealed what he was there to do, Elliott attended the local assembly. In a scene that owes much to Pride and Prejudice, he came across as disdainful and supercilious. Vanessa doesn't want to condemn her sister to a marriage to someone that cold and horrible, and since she already has had a love match herself, even if it did end quite tragically, she decides to (very forcefully) volunteer for the role.

First Come Marriage is, then, a story about two people falling in love while in a marriage of convenience. It's about Vanessa seeing beyond Elliott's cold facade to the vulnerable man he really is. The way their relation develops is fantastic, as Vanessa doesn't let herself be cowed bye Elliott, but neither is she petulant or aggressive about what she sees as his shortcomings. In the end, Elliott doesn't magically turn into a sunny, charming sort of guy, but there's no doubt at all that he loves Vanessa deeply.

Vanessa does take some convincing, though. It takes quite a lot of work for her to believe that Elliott can love her even though she's (to her own eyes) not pretty. And this is not one of those stupid "oh, no, my breasts are too big and my lips are too full, how could any man love me?" things. I found Vanessa's insecurity about her looks believable and it didn't annoy me at all. After all, she had parents who, with all the good intentions in the world, kept harping on it, and I had no trouble at all seeing how that would have happened. And the fact of the matter is that Vanessa isn't as beautiful as her sisters. Elliot isn't attracted to her at the beginning, it takes a while for him to develop an attraction to her (a very strong one, too), and that is based on who she is, rather on how she looks, which I found even more romantic.

An excellent start to a most excellent series.

MY GRADE: A B+.

1 comments:

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