>> Thursday, October 17, 2013
TITLE: The Arrangement
AUTHOR: Mary Balogh
SETTING: Early 19th century England
SERIES: 2nd full length novel in the Survivor's Club series, related to The Suitor novella.
A mesmerizing story of passionate awakening and redemption, Mary Balogh’s new novel unites a war hero consigned to darkness with a remarkable woman who finds her own salvation by showing him the light of love.The Survivor's Club series follows a group of characters who came back from the Napoleonic wars having suffered pretty bad physical and/or mental damage, and became friends when they sought refuge in the same place. The Arrangement tells the story of Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, who was blinded in his very first battle, when he was still very young.
Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.
At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?
Vincent finds himself in a bit of a pickle. Having grown up in relatively straitened circumstances, he unexpectedly inherited a title and a big pile of money. This, however, happened while he was still recovering from his injuries, and his mother and sisters took over his new estate for him. They did it with the best of intentions, but the result is that he's never been able to feel like he was in control of his new life. It makes it particularly hard to resist their unceasing efforts to get him married, especially because Vincent knows that if he dies without issue they'll all be back in genteel poverty straight away. Again, this matchmaking is done with the best of intentions. They feel it's the right thing for him to have a young woman to love and coddle him, just as they do now (which, understandably for someone who's made huge strides in adapting to his blindness, drives him mad).
Best of intentions or not, they pile on the pressure until Vincent snaps, running away when it becomes clear the young woman who's been invited to his home, her whole family in tow, has been led to expect a proposal from him (her story is told in The Suitor). But that's not the end of the marital traps, and there's one waiting for him when he goes back to spend some alone time in the house he grew up in.
Sophia Fry lives nearby, having been taken in by her aunt when she didn't have anywhere else to go. The aunt and her family make it crystal clear that she's only there because they felt they had to take her in or be badly thought of by others. She's practically invisible, referred to as "the mouse". On impulse, she intervenes when her cousin very deliberately tries to lead Vincent into a compromising situation so that he'll have to marry her. For her troubles, Sophia is kicked out and has nowhere to go until, resigned to the fact that he's going to have to get married at some point soon and he might as well marry someone of his choice, Vincent proposes a marriage of convenience.
This was one I liked ok, but very definitely did not love. Mainly, this hinges on my mixed feelings about Vincent. On the positive side, I liked that Balogh's portrayal of his blindness does not come from the Catherine Anderson school of writing. She doesn't portray him as a victim. It's clear that dealing with his new circumstances has been and still is extremely challenging, and he still has moments when it hits him, and hard, that he's blind, and will never, ever see again. The focus, however, is on what he can do in spite of his blindness and even on what he can now do because of it. That last point is made somewhat clumsily, with a fight, but at least it's made.
The problem is, he was a bit of a doormat at the start of the book, and that's never addressed. I understand all the circumstances, but his mother and sister really do love him and want the best for him, and they seem like relatively sensible people, not stupid at all. I'm not saying he should have gone all imperious and ranted and raved at them, but an honest discussion? Tell them how he feels, that he does want to marry, and understands why they feel it's so important, but "please do not ever invite a random young woman to the house and all but promise her I will marry her"? That seems pretty reasonable to me, but he runs away instead. And then, the second time he's almost trapped into marriage, he basically lets himself be led by Sophia's cousin into a compromising situation, knowing all the while that that's what she's doing, and that all it would take to stop it is dig his heels in and say "Best not, Miss March, I wouldn't want to compromise you", or something innocuous like that. It was all a bit hard to swallow, especially considering that he was otherwise portrayed as a man with immense strength of mind.
The romance was similarly mixed. The relationship itself was one I really liked. It starts out with respect and liking, and for all the right reasons. They like each other for who they are, and each likes how the other treats them. Vincent likes Sophia because she doesn't treat him like a victim. In fact, she doesn't think of him as a victim, and finds the way he clearly doesn't think of himself as one attractive. So that was great, and resulted in a relationship that felt health and good. The problem was that the conflict, the reason Balogh found to keep them from just declaring their love and arriving at their HEA, was very flimsy. For no very good reason at all, they agree when they decide they'll get married that after a while, they'll live separately. And then they keep having small misunderstandings where each thinks the other still definitely wants that, and can't wait until they can be in peace on their own. It was just silly and contrived.
Still, for all of that, it was a very pleasant read. I enjoyed the secondary characters (there was a fair bit of seriesitis, but not as much as in other recent Baloghs) and the developments in Sophia's need for a family, and I even liked the hints for the next book in the series.
MY GRADE: A B-.