Companion blog to it's nice little wine, just with more books and less wine.
The Survivors' Club: Six men and one woman, all wounded in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendship forged during their recovery at Penderris Hall in Cornwall. Now Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, has left this refuge to find his own salvation—in the love of a most unsuspecting woman...
Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, was devastated by his fiancée’s desertion after his return home. Now the woman who broke his heart is back—and everyone is eager to revive their engagement. Except Flavian, who, in a panic, runs straight into the arms of a most sensible yet enchanting young woman.
Agnes Keeping has never been in love—and never wishes to be. But then she meets the charismatic Flavian, and suddenly Agnes falls so foolishly and so deeply that she agrees to his impetuous proposal of marriage.
When Agnes discovers that the proposal is only to avenge his former love, she’s determined to flee. But Flavian has no intention of letting his new bride go, especially now that he too has fallen so passionately and so unexpectedly in love.
This is the first Balogh I've read, and the first historical romance I've read in years (*cough* decades), so take my rating in the context of a newbie to both Mary Balogh and historical romance. I was intrigued by the idea of an injured hero and a heroine who has no desire to fall in love, but does despite herself.
I was sold on Agnes on the first paragraph:
At the age of twenty-six, Agnes had never been in love or ever expected to be—or even wished to be. She rather chose to be in control of her own emotions and her own life, such as it was.
Yes, it echoes the information given on the back of the book, but I enjoyed the voice. Agnes is sensible and relatable, and also a woman who has her own life, and she's quite content with it and her choices, thank you. But it's quite clear that for Agnes, contentment isn't the same as happiness, and even before we get to the ball where she (and we) first meet Flavian, the handsome Viscount Ponsonby with the mocking left eyebrow, I wanted to see her choose happiness over contentment.
Flavian's voice took longer to grow on me. For the first third of the book, he was more interesting though Agnes's eyes than in his own head, but his relationship with the other members of the Survivors' Club kept me reading. Only Enchanting is as much about his relationship with the Survivors' Club as it is about his relationship with Agnes, and it's a wonderful relationship. The individuals in the Survivors' Club were all horribly wounded, and while Balogh doesn't linger on all the details, she handles the nature of their injuries, and the mental toll of both war and recovery, with care. Even the miraculous recoveries, like Flavian's, aren't complete. The Survivors' Club still meets once a year for three weeks in part to enjoy each others' company, and in part to continue their healing. Physically, they're all about as healed as they're going to get, but mentally, they still need these gatherings.
I was happy to see so much space devoted to these non-romantic relationships. Flavian is shaped by his love for his fellow Survivors' Club members just as Agnes is shaped by her love for her sister and by her mother abandoning her when she was five. It would have been a disservice to both characters if there hadn't been so much time devoted to establishing what made them the people they are, and what makes each of them so appealing to the other.
The only thing that kept this from being a perfect read for me was Favian's former fiancée. I hate vindictive ex storylines, especially when it's the hero's ex, and while it served a purpose beyond creating conflict for the hero and heroine to overcome, it still soured my opinion of the book. I was glad to see Favian come to understand why he acted the way he did about his brother's death, but I wish it wasn't to escape the manipulations of a scorned woman.
At the same time, I wish Balogh would have committed a bit more to conflict created by Favian's former fiancée. The conflict her manipulations created between Agnes and Flavian was handled well enough. Agnes is much too sensible to give in to lasting anger, so I could believe Flavian having an easy time of convincing her to stay for at least another week so they could work on their marriage together. Agnes does, after all, want to convinced when he says he married her because he genuinely wanted and still wants her, not because he wanted to punish his former fiancée and everyone scheming to arrange The Marriage Meant to Be.
But Favian's former fiancée also discovered that Agnes's father had divorced her mother after she ran off with another man. That should have created a wider scandal than it did. Oh, Agnes stands up to someone who questions her on the whole affair in public at a party thrown by one of Flavian's relatives, but then it fizzles out when Flavian and Agnes leave London to let the gossip run its course. It seemed a waste of a storyline.
End result: Only Enchanting works well as a stand-alone novel. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first three novels in the Survivors' Club series, but it's accessible as a stand-alone novel. And it did its job as a part of a series, because now I want to read those first three books and check out more of Balogh's backlist. It's a nice long one, so I'll have no shortage of books for a long time.