Friday, August 28, 2009

"Slightly Tempted," by Mary Balogh

Alternate Title: All's Fair in Love and War

The Chick: Lady Morgan Bedwyn. The youngest of the Bedwyns, barely out of the schoolroom, she won't have anyone call her "naive" or "innocent." When her brother Alleyne's declared MIA at the Battle of Waterloo, she turns to a surprising source for comfort - the rakish Earl of Rosthorn.
The Rub: Her trust is shattered when she discovers the Earl of Rosthorn holds a bitter grudge against her brother Wulfric, and that his introduction to her had been motivated by vengeance. Does this mean their every tender moment since then was a lie?
Dream Casting: Michelle Trachtenberg.

The Dude: Gervase Ashford, Earl of Rosthorn. He spent nine years in exile for a crime he didn't commit, thanks in part to the Duke of Bewcastle's refusal to believe his side of the story. While in Brussels, when he spots Lady Morgan Bedwyn in a ballroom - he discovers a way to get revenge.
The Rub: Only trouble is, he doesn't spend that much time in her company before he falls head over heels. Will she still love him when the truth of their initial meeting comes out?
Dream Casting: Elliot Cowan.

The Plot:

In Brussels...
Gervase: I don't believe we've met. *in head* REVENGE! MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

Morgan: Whatevs. *in head* Loser.

Battle of Waterloo: *WAR! DEATH! INJURY!*

Alleyne, Morgan's Brother: *vanishes*

Gervase: I'm so sorry, let me help you. *in head* Muaha...ha ha...who am I kidding? She's amazing.

Morgan: You're such a dear, dear friend! *in head* A dear, dear, HAWT friend...

Morgan and Gervase: *sexx0r*

In England...

Wulfric: Sis, Gervase is only trying to get at me through you.

Morgan: Bro, you're hot, but not that hot - besides, don't you have a sequel coming up...

Wulfric: I mean Gervase is a rapist and a thief and I kicked his ass.

Morgan: GERVASE YOU SHITHEAD WE ARE DONE! AND BY DONE I MEAN BETROTHED.

Gervase: ...?

Morgan: YOU ARE GOING TO SHOWER ME WITH PRESENTS AND ATTENTION, AND THEN I'M GOING TO LEAVE AND HUMILIATE YOU, AND I'M TELLING YOU EVERYTHING I'M GOING TO DO BEFOREHAND, NOT SO THAT YOU CAN STOP ME WITH TENDER, PASSIONATE ROMANTIC GESTURES - BUT BECAUSE IT MAKES ME LOOK MORE BADASS.

Gervase: *tender, passionate romantic gestures*

Morgan: For the love of--FINE, I'll marry you for reals.

Gervase: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Wrongfully-Accused Man

9 Years of Exile

1 Inconvenient War

1 Inconveniently Dead Brother (or IS he?)

1 Age Gap (18-30, baby)

1 "Just Friends" Agreement Doomed to Failure

1 Lacklustre Romantic Rival

2 Surprise Lesbians

1 Fake Rape

1 Bitter Feud

The Word: I love Mary Balogh. Love love love. By the end of her books, I always feel completely swept away into the worlds she creates and the characters she's written. Mary Balogh: Warm Fuzzies Guaranteed.

That being said, of all the Balogh novels, Slightly Tempted had a pretty rocky start, with a heroine I found kind of annoying. However, by the end of the novel Balogh once again convinced me of the Warm Fuzzies - and at the same time of the consistency and depth (however annoying) of her female protagonist.

But I digress - the plot: Lady Morgan Bedwyn is partying hardy in Brussels. She's already bored with the Season even though she's been "out" for all of five minutes, but the excitement of being on the Continent at the same time Napoleon escapes from Elba gives her a measure of excitement. She wants to be a part of history, and engage in scintillating political dialogue, even as the atmosphere of impending doom and violence threatens to rain on her parade.

While she's dancing with a hot soldier, she's spotted by Gervase Ashford, Earl of Rosthorn. He's been partying hardy on the Continent for the last nine years, ever since his dad kicked him out of England for a crime he didn't commit. Wulfric, Duke of Asshat, whom Gervase had once called friend, eased him across the Channel with a firm boot to the ass, and Gervase has felt a consuming rage for the man ever since. Gervase sees Wulfric's fresh-faced 18-year-old sister and sees a way to exact revenge.

He succeeds in starting a public flirtation with her, hoping the gossips fleeing Brussels will carry the story back to Duke Asshat that his virginal lamb of a sister is hooking up with the Big Bad Wolf. However, the saucy Morgan holds her own against his insinuating charms, and his plans go further awry when French troops start marching on Brussels. While all this promises to lead up to some delightful drama, I found the writing in this first section of the book to do a lot of telling instead of showing - as I result, I was pretty bored for the first 60 pages. Could it be (gasp!) I might not like a Mary Balogh novel?

Morgan, thanks to a budding martyr complex and a rather contrived Burninating Righteousness for wounded soldiers, forces her fleeing chaperons to abandon her when she decides to stay in the city to tend the wounded and wait for her brother, Alleyne (a diplomat and messenger) to return from the front. This part of the book was initially hard to swallow - Morgan puts herself in danger, worries her family, and thinks very badly of her chaperons (who have wounded relatives of their own to get to safety), all the while shining with saintly courage and stamping her foot at Those Horrid Social Conventions. In hindsight, however, this passage really underlines just how young Morgan really is - she is full of saintly ideals and black-and-white righteousness at the start, and only through the rest of the book does she mature.

However, her stamping attracts Gervase's admiration, proving to him that she's not simply the Duke of Asshat's empty-headed social belle sister, but a woman in her own right. He stands by her side and offers comfort throughout this trying time, and when Alleyne is declared Missing in Action, he escorts the traumatized and grieving Morgan back to England.

However - the conflict takes a darker and much more delicious turn once Morgan and Gervase return to the motherland. Unfortunately for Gervase, his stalwort defence of Morgan in Brussels has unwittingly turned the harmless gossip surrounding them into full-blown scandal. While at one time Gervase might have delighted in bringing shame to the Bedwyn name, now that he's fallen in love with Morgan it becomes an impediment. Especially once Wulfric reveals to Morgan the nature of Gervase's bitter grudge against him.

While Morgan annoyed me at the start, both with her immaturity and the age gap between her and Gervase (she's 18, he's 30), her naivete and youth serve to buttress the novel's main theme: that of forgiveness, revenge, and trust. Revenge and forgiveness are obviously themes for Gervase's character: after spending nine years separated from his home and family, his schemes for the Bedwyns eventually prove an obstacle to obtaining a happy ending. Once he returns to England to resume his duties as Earl, he also has to confront the people who initially betrayed him - people who aren't dastardly moustache-twirling villains, but rather weak and cowardly people who made a foolish decision.

However, trust and forgiveness enter into Morgan's development, too. Morgan is the youngest Bedwyn, the baby, but she always craved to be taken seriously. I'm smart and capable and powerful! Age ain't nothing but a number! Why can't anyone else see that? Once she learns about Gervase and Wulfric's feud, her self-assuredness crumbles, and she has to confront the weaknesses of her youth and inexperience. For the rest of the novel, she has to learn to trust herself as well as Gervase again. Her attempts towards maturity redeem her character and develop the romance, so that by the end of it, the twelve-year age gap between Gervase and Morgan isn't so squicky as it seemed before.

Mary Balogh has a great talent for taking stock romance plots and character types and crafting them into something unique. Slightly Married had a Marriage of Convenience that actually made sense, Slightly Wicked had the Gorgeous Character Who Thinks She's Ugly who had realistic motivations other than Plot Contrivance for her distorted self-image, Slightly Scandalous had the Fake Betrothal Plotline that brought two great characters together, and now Slightly Tempted comes in with the Naive, Spunky Adolescent Heroine and actually makes her grow up! Better yet - we apparently get an Amnesia Plotline with the next book (Slightly Sinful). Can't wait to see what Balogh does with that one.

Forgive me for doubting your brilliance, Mary Balogh. I must seem horribly predictable, but Slightly Tempted is yet another lovely addition to the Slightly series, despite its slow start - with superb gradual character development, weighty themes, a heady sense of Regency atmosphere I could drown in, and most important of all: plenty of the Warm Fuzzies. That being said, after struggling over whether to give this book an A- or a B+, I settled on the latter: even though the book ended very satisfactorily, the first pages were a slog.
B+

3 comments:

  1. Lovely review! Duke "ahem"Hat indeed LOL ... I will definitely enjoy reading your take on Mary Balogh's other Slightly novels. I assume you've checked out her website? It's so clear and easy to navigate and allows me to DROOL over the upcoming book, "A Matter of Class" ... it sounds positively yummy and like you said, another chance for her to rewrite classic romance cliches in her own unique way.

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  2. Janet --> I have checked out her website. I love her stories with class distinctions, they're so romantic. Have you read her story in "It Happened One Night"? Oh, it was to die for.

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  3. loved this book, but Wulfric's was my fave of the series. and i just HEART your sort of tongue-in-cheek summation of the Romance Convention Checklist, especially "2 Surprise Lesbians"

    I was VERY surprised by that!

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