While I have read some very good books of late, they have been decidedly less optimistic in tone and I felt the need for change. Fortunately the Houston Public Library was able to come to my aid. Since the previous four books gave me the warm fuzzies, I figured this would hit the spot.
Ralph Stockwood prides himself on being a leader, but when he convinced his friends to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, he never envisioned being the sole survivor. Racked with guilt over their deaths, Ralph must move on . . . and find a wife to secure an heir to his family’s title and fortune.
Since her Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead is resigned to spinsterhood. Driven by the need to escape her family, she takes refuge at the home of her mother’s godmother, where she meets Ralph. He needs a wife. She wants a husband. So Chloe makes the outrageous suggestion to strike a bargain and get married. One condition: Ralph has to promise that he will never take her back to London. But circumstances change. And to Ralph, it was only a promise.
Yes, I figured there would be a high degree of angst, this being book 5 in the Survivors Club series (a group of friends who survived the Napoleonic wars at great personal cost). But based on past behavior I expected an unmitigated happy ending, which of course this being Balogh I got.
The survivor here is Ralph, but Chloe has survived more than her fair share of heartache. They are two abjectly lonely people, no matter how they fill their lives with people and things to do. And much of their romance and being in their heads was lovely. But damn me if this wasn’t absolutely depressing for the first three quarters of the book. Chloe and Ralph, along with us readers are ran through the proverbial ringer. There are no Big Misunderstandings, no Big Secrets, just two lonely and damaged people finding their way, often painfully, to each other. And then we see the turn, and for me at least I realized that that turn had been inexorable, it was only when mired in the midst of tragedy that there seemed to be no way out of the morass. I can only suspect that our two protagonists felt much the same way.
And damned if I don’t sound overwrought and melodramatic. I suspect it is just that Balogh makes me feel that way. The ending though was rather delightful, if wrapped up a bit too neatly. But I just didn’t care if it was overly perfect and overly neat, I wanted the sweetly sappy and romantic and that is just what I got. And I felt that Ralph’s PTSD was handled very sensitively and that while he found true love and happiness, it wasn’t that he was cured by true love.
This was another satisfying read by Balogh and I can’t wait for the 6th one to come available from the library.