>> Thursday, May 17, 2012
Lady Gwendoline Muir has experienced her fair share of tragedies in her short life: she lost her husband to a freak accident, and developed a limp after falling from horseback. Still young, Gwen is sure that she's done with love, and that she will never be married again.The Proposal both starts a new series, and tells the long-expected story of a character from One Night For Love and A Summer To Remember, who apparently didn't get her book due a change of publishers. The new series is called The Survivors' Club, and it's about a group of people (six men and a woman) who survived the Napoleonic wars with a variety of injuries, mental and/or physical, and were taken in by the Duke of Stanford to recover in his Cornwall estate.
Gwen tries to be content with her life as it is, and to live through the happy marriages of her brother and her best friend, Viscountess Ravensberg. She's happy for them, and for years that is enough for her... until she meets Lord Trentham - a man who returned from the Peninsula Wars a hero, but is unable to escape the bite of his survivor's guilt. For he might just be the man who can convince her to believe in second chances.
The book starts a couple of years after the war, when all are well on their way to recovering. Every year they meet back at the estate to catch up and take a breather from normal life. Hugo, Lord Trentham, missed last year's gathering due to his father death. He's been mourning and hasn't been quite ready to take on the responsibility of running his father's business empire, but after a year, he feels he should just take the bull by the horns. He'll also need to marry, which his friends tell him shouldn't be difficult. He's a war hero, so celebrated he's been given a title for it, and he's rich. All he needs to do is propose to the first personable woman he sees the next morning.
The first woman he sees the next morning turns out to be Gwendoline, Lady Muir. Gwen is in Cornwall visiting a one-time friend who's just been widowed, and she's unfortunately discovered the woman has become a total nightmare over the years. Out walking on the beach, Gwen twists her already bad ankle when she attempts a difficult path up the cliff. Hugo happens to be there, minding his own business, and feels obliged to rescue her.
Their first meeting doesn't go well. Hugo thinks Gwen is a silly, spoiled aristocrat, Gwen thinks he's rude and rough. But when Gwen is installed at the Duke's estate while her ankle heals, they discovered that as much as they tell themselves they don't like each other, they just can't stay away.
This is a story with no villains. In fact, there are not even any antagonists (there's a character who I thought was going to take on that role, but he's given short thrift), but there's still plenty of stuff going on that made me turn the pages. Balogh caught and kept my attention through having fantastic characters, each of whom had very real issues they needed to work through.
I loved Gwen. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't one of those people who have been clamouring for her story. Actually, I'd completely forgotten her existence. But she is truly a fantastic character, self-aware and honest about herself, with fears and vulnerabilities, but brave enough to change her life.
Hugo is interesting as well, a war hero who just wasn't suited to be the killing machine he became and is now feted for. For Hugo, the war has left very real effects on his psyche, and this shows in some very poignant ways. Both he and Gwen are victims of survivor's guilt, for very different reasons, and I liked how being together allows them to move forward.
These two are genuinely grown-up characters who actually talk to each other. This doesn't mean there's no conflict at all, because even though they talk, they each have their fears and insecurities. For instance, Hugo has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about class, but he doesn't just silently make his assumptions and let Gwen guess what the problem is. Nope, he makes his assumptions and tells Gwen what he's thinking and why, and she therefore can tell him (and show him) just how wrong he is. The conflict is there, it's just dealt with in a very satisfying way.
In addition to the romance, I thought the secondary characters were great. I especially liked what Balogh did with Hugo's stepmother. There's an element there that will remind readers of A Precious Jewel, and I liked how Balogh dealt with it. The characters from previous and future books were very well-integrated. Those from past books I wasn't too interested in, so I was perfectly fine with them being relatively unobtrusive. Those from future books, on the other hand, I'm really interested in knowing more about, as they all sound quite intriguing. Balogh left me wanting more on that end, which was probably her intention all along!
MY GRADE: A B+.