Mary Balogh’s lovely and touching Survivors’ Club series has what I am beginning realise is the central theme of many of her historical romances: Shuttered and broken people finding new lives and unexpected happiness. Who better to be given these second chances than soldiers and those who have seemingly lost everything? Six friends, five military men and one woman, and their host, formed a close relationship while recovering from their experiences in the Napoleonic Wars at Pendarris Hall in Cornwall. Now back out in the world, each book features a group reunion as the six protagonists find love. The stories I have read so far have a sincere sweetness and while the characters have all been through the wringer, the stories are not maudlin and Balogh shows a deft touch in sharing their trials without wallowing in them; moreover, despite the potential for drama, her leads act so consistently as mature adults, even ones befuddled by love’s appearance on their doorstep, that any potentially overwrought elements are managed well.
The Survivors’ Club Series:
The Proposal (Hugo/Gwen) – pleasant
The Arrangement (Vincent/Sophia) – very sweet, understated
The Escape (Benedict/Samantha) – meh
Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes) – Wonderful, read this one. Read it twice.
Only a Promise (Ralph/Chloe) – very good
Only a Kiss (Percy/Imogen) – meh
Only Beloved – sweet
One would think that the eponymous proposal would a small element in a book, but this book’s title is pretty accurate as to its content. The main characters, Hugo and Gwen, come from different worlds and this tension, “We can’t, can we? Maybe a little? No, it won’t work, but maybe it will” is central to the story.
Gwendoline is a widow in her early 30s settled down into a quiet, happy life as the family member beloved of adults and children alike. Visiting a recently widowed friend, she falls and is rescued a la movie Willoughby by Hugo, Lord Trentham. Recently “elevated” to the peerage, he was a career military man lauded for his work on the battlefield and, having recovered from his war wounds, looking for a wife. How convenient! As she is hurt, Gwen must stay at the great house of the Duke hosting Hugo and the Survivors’ Club. Hugo and Gwen spend time together and are drawn to each other even as they are reluctant to give up their expectations of what their lives should and will be.
Flavian, Viscount Posonby (I know, but he is aware it is an absurd name and comments on it himself.) was left seriously wounded, but visibly unscathed, during his war time experience. He had a brain injury to his language centers and he needed to learn to process and produce language again when brought home. Three years on, he has recovered speech except for an occasional stutter and his memories are largely intact. The latter is hard for him to determine as how can one sort out what one does not know?
At a Survivors’ Club reunion, Flavian is brought together with an unassuming local widow, Agnes Keeping. They are drawn to one another and, even though she feels out of her depth, Agnes agrees to marry the seemingly louche, blond god of a man in one of the few impulsive decisions of her life. When they travel together to London, Flavian’s family, neighbours, and former fiancee are all lying in wait to pounce on him for his hasty marriage. This brings Agnes and her new husband to an instant crisis which they sort through, despite some bumps, in a mostly mature fashion.
The Proposal and Only Enchanting were sweet without being treacly, dramatic in a grounded and unhistrionic fashion, the characters are sensible adults, and the dynamic of the six core characters is a great source of character detail and humour. While I don’t rank the novels as great (though that might change as I adored Flavian), I would say that they are very good and I recommend finding them at your local library.
Update March 1, 2016: Since I have borrowed it again from my library and added it to my Amazon wishlist, I have indeed upgraded Flavian and Agnes’s story to “great”. It is now on my shortlist list of recommended romances for new readers.
I have reviewed two other books in this series: The Arrangement and The Escape. Balogh has other popular series and her novel Slightly Dangerous is, to my mind, a classic of the genre. Also by Mary Balogh is A Handful of Gold for which I created a romance review template.