I am an avid reader of historical romances encompassing all time periods. Regency romances feature high on my reading list as there are a huge number of authors who choose to set their novels at this time, following in the footsteps of the great Jane Austin and more recently Georgette Heyer, whose novels I devoured as a teenager.
Mary Balogh is one author I go to when I want to be guaranteed a great romantic read, which conjures up the Regency period perfectly and has engaging characters that often differ from the usual lord or lady. Her Huxtable Quintet, and her Bedwyn, Simply and Mistress series being amongst my favourites. The Proposal, the first book in her new series, The Survivors’ Club, deals with the romantic entanglements of seven individuals who have been injured in or by the horrors of the Napoleonic wars. Five of them are officers who have been wounded, one is a woman, who witnessed her husband, a Surveillance Officer, tortured and finally shot by the enemy and the other the Duke of Stanbrook. The Duke, who lost his son in the war and his grieving wife to suicide soon afterwards, opened up his home Penderris Hall to aid their convalescence and recovery and return to civilian life. They formed a strong bond during their time at Penderris and meet at there for a few weeks each year to enjoy each others’ company and offer mutual support, each of them having sustained physical and mental wounds of varying natures. I love reading about heroes and heroines who have had a difficult past, where they come together to find happiness and I have been looking forward to this series for a while.
In The Proposal the hero is Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham, a title he was awarded due to his bravery in the Peninsular. Hugo does not bear any physical scars from the war. Instead he harbours the mental scars of survivor’s guilt at having led so many men to their deaths for the greater good. After his initial convalescence at Penderris, Hugo has found solace in retiring to the country and working the land for a year or so. However, he now decides that he must honour his deceased father’s wishes and marry and produce an heir to inherit the family business. What he wants is a solid middle class woman who is best placed to understand and support him. Shortly after arriving at Penderris, Hugo decides to take a walk on the adjacent beach, joking with his friends that he will perhaps find a bride there. He comes across a woman with a badly sprained ankle.
Lady Gwendoline Muir has survived a number of tragedies in her life. Her husband died in a sudden accident and she has a limp, the result of a fall from a horse. Gwen and Hugo, from different worlds, clash immediately – she is a respected member of the aristocracy and the ton and he is an outspoken middle class ex-army officer who does not mince his words. However, as Gwen is compelled to remain at Penderris to recuperate, a strong physical attraction develops between them, which they cannot resist. They also begin to find out the truth about each other and form a deep attachment. However, is it love or lust? What will happen when Gwen returns to her aristocratic roots? Will she be happy to reprise her role as sister and aunt after tasting such passion? Also will Hugo be able to take up the reins of his family business and find a suitable middle class wife as he wishes? Is there a future for a couple with lives so disparate and with prejudices on either side?
What follows is a touching romantic tale examining if two people from two different classes can find some middle ground on which to live the rest of their lives together. There is also the added question of whether Gwen feels that she can afford to love a man as mentally scarred as Hugo after experiences she had in her first marriage. I found that the novel was beautifully written and sensitively examined the unseen wounds which individuals can bear after traumatic experiences in their lives.
I loved the characters of both Hugh and Gwen. Hugh is a taciturn and outspoken member of the middle class, uncomfortable around the aristocracy, many of whom resented his rise up through the ranks in his army days. When it comes to broaching the physical attraction that exists between him and Gwen he is outspoken, often shocking Gwen with his words. I also sympathised with him as he had clearly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress, as well as survivor’s guilt. Gwen never thought that she could find love again and is taken completely by surprise at the attraction she feels for Hugo. I love how despite their initial misgivings about a permanent relationship they came together.
I recommend this novel to readers of romance who are seeking a truly romantic and heart warming read. I am very much looking forward to the next in the series, The Arrangement, which tells the tale of another member of The Survivors’ Club, Viscount Darleigh, who we met in this book.
Reviewed by Tina 🙂