A Matter of Class, by Mary Balogh

>> Friday, November 09, 2012

TITLE: A Matter of Class
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh

PAGES: 2009
PUBLISHER: Vanguard Press

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance

Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by title, a factor that pains him and his father within the Regency society that upholds station over all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.

Though Reginald Mason, Senior, wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Reginald Senior serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.

So begins an intoxicating tale rife with dark secrets, deception, and the trials of love—a story in which very little is as it seems.
The families of Bernard Mason and the Earl of Havercroft have lived in neighbouring estates for decades, ever since Mr. Mason bought his property, after making enough money to leave behind his early life. Mr. Mason started out in life as a coal miner, and the Earl was shocked that such a man would dare to buy the property next door to his. He forbid his family to ever speak to anyone in the Mason household, and for over 20 years, the families have completely ignored each other.

At 24, Reggie Mason has become a complete wastrel. He does nothing useful with his life and his gambling debts are getting out of hand. His father is sick of it, and he presents Reggie with a ultimatum: get married to a young woman of Mr. Mason's choosing. But that's so unfair, Reggie protests. At least he hasn't caused the sort of scandal that Havercroft's daughter Annabelle has, running off with the family coachman. And of course, on hearing that, Mr. Mason has a bright idea about who to get Reggie married to.

I'm reluctant to say too much about the plot, as this is one Balogh book where the concept of spoilers is actually relevant. However, in order to properly discuss what worked and didn't work for me, I'm going to have to go into some detail (although trying to stay relatively cryptic!). So be warned if you continue reading this, you might enjoy the book more if you don't know some of these details!

Anyway, with no choice in the matter, Reggie and Annabel become engaged, and their families finally start to mix (with no little reluctance, on Havercroft's part). But as we follow them in the lead-up to the wedding, we start getting flash-back scenes, starting when Reggie and Annabelle were children. It quickly becomes clear that, contrary to what their parents think, this is very definitely not the first time these two have met, and there might be more to things than first meets the eye.

What Balogh tries to do here is clever, but it didn't quite work for me in its execution. I had a niggling feeling that Balogh hadn't played fair. I like a twist, but it didn't feel quite natural that, having been in the relevant characters' heads, certain information that would have been pretty prominent in their minds had been withheld from us. Balogh has these people thinking in a way that they wouldn't have, really, in those circumstances. Even more importantly, I felt that I didn't really get to see Reggie and Annabelle fall in love (possibly because of the restrictions the coming twist placed on the author), and as a result, the romance wasn't as satisfying as it might have been.

So, for me, the experiment didn't quite worth. It's probably worth a try if you normally like Balogh, though, since quite a few people whose taste is usually in line with mine did enjoy it. Just get it out of the library, it's way overpriced for a hardcover.



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