The Survivors’ Club series has had a really good run and there is one more book to go that I will be reading when it becomes available, but Only a Kiss was a swing and a miss. I never really connected with it and, in particular, didn’t get a handle on the hero.
Before I start, let’s take a moment to enjoy the gorgeous and mostly accurate (!) cover.
The Survivors’ Club series follows the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars for six men and one woman. They spent three years together recovering from their respective visible and invisible war wounds and now, several years out from their injuries, they are each moving on to the next phase of their life with relationships and families. Only a Kiss is book six and features the lone woman of the group, Imogen. She has been described repeatedly as seemingly made of “marble” and it’s an excellent characterization. She experienced profound loss and psychological trauma during the War and has coped with life by going through the motions, but placing strict limits on her participation in the world and on her emotions. Occupying a dower house in Cornwall, her life is turned upside-down when the Earl whose land she lives on has the temerity to move home.
Percival, called Percy, thank heavens, the Earl of Somesuch can tick off every single box on the “Fabulous Life of a Privileged Nineteenth Century Man” list:
√ rich as Croesus
√ beloved of his family
√ possessed of friends
√ good with children
√ genuinely handsome and not just told so because of the preceding attributes
So why is he incapable of being polite to Imogen and why won’t that stray dog leave Percy alone? The answer to both questions is that they see him as he really is. Imogen’s view is self-protectively jaundiced, the canine’s is, as is the way of the species, pure, unadulterated love. He comes to terms with both over the course of the story. Percy has no horrible secret lingering in his psyche. He is a good man whose usefulness has yet to be discovered, happily floating along knowing he has everything in life and a little disappointed in himself to discover he is overwhelmingly bored. Imogen takes care of this issue as she inspires bluntness in him and he asks questions no one else has dared about her wartime experiences.
Events in Only a Kiss proceed predictably apace as one would expect in a romance, but I didn’t feel particularly invested in either of the characters. I was pleased Imogen allowed herself to truly re-enter the world of the living, but didn’t necessarily see the excellent qualities in Percy I was supposed to. Weighed down by a non-glamourized smuggling subplot (Huzzah for repudiating organized crime!) the book was enjoyable by virtue of being written by Mary Balogh, but not up to the standard readers know her to be capable of, or of the two books immediately preceding Only a Kiss in the Survivors’ Club series.
When you get this far into a series, there are a lot of feet on the ground and, in this case, they all have titles in addition to their given names to keep track of. I can mostly manage to keep up, but if I were to start with Only a Kiss, I’m sure I would find it frustrating. On the other hand, Balogh has created overlapping social circles between her many books and it is always fun to get glimpses of favourite characters from this collection and her other works.
The Survivors’ Club:
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) – see above
Only Beloved – sweet
Balogh has another popular series, all titled with “Slightly”, and Slightly Dangerous is a classic of the genre.
I created a romance review template to amuse myself when discussing Balogh’s Handful of Gold.