Here's what happened: I had J.R. Ward's Dark Lover with me for a weekend trip to visit my cousin outside Boston. It's a goodly sized book, so I assumed that it would last me all weekend, and I was wrong. As I also needed to get some Valentine's Day cards, I figured a trip to a local Barnes & Noble would be a good idea. Road trip!
What to pick, though? I'm not a "front cover/back blurb" gal. I tend to rely on reviews, recommendations, even tweets filled with "OMG. Best book evah!" will serve. (Which is crazy, if you think about it, but it's how I roll.) What I didn't have with me, either on paper or stored in my head, was a list of books or authors I wanted to try out. I did look for some specific names, but this particular B&N was not well-stocked with new authors.
In the end, I got two Mary Balogh reprints, and started the earlier of the two: The Gilded Web. Here's the plot: Alexandra gets kidnapped by friends of Dominic, Lord Eden, under circumstances of false identity (they think she's Dom's twin sister, Madeline). The Madcap Twins have an older brother, Edmond, Earl of Amberley, who discovers the trussed-up Alexandra and releases her. Everyone confesses everything but the ton finds out anyway, and Amberley proposes marriage to Alexandra and is, finally, accepted. That's all done in the first 80 pages or so of a 450-page book.
Now, I rather assumed at this point that there would be a hasty marriage, and then the fur would fly. But no. The assembled cast of characters takes off to Amberley, a stunningly gorgeous estate on the south coast of England in Wiltshire. And a bit like a low pressure system settling in over the Gulf of Maine (for those of you on the East Coast), it's at Amberley that the story parks itself. And virtually nothing happens.
No more mistaken identity. No more kidnappings. Not even a slapped face accompanied by feminine outrage.
Which should have made this a boring book. But it's not. It's just a different sort of story. It's the story of how each of the five principal characters (it's a trilogy: Amberley & Alex are couple #1, then Madeline will sort out her romance with Alex's brother, James, and finally Dominic -- the least mature of the group -- will grow up and love someone for longer than ten minutes) sorts through some interesting issues: Amberley learns what it is to need someone; Alex learns what true freedom of choice is; Dominic learns that he can't wait for permission to follow his heart; Madeline starts to learn what love entails, and James -- well, no, he bugs out before he can start to learn anything. We'll catch you up later, James.
I'm afraid I did not do this book justice, and I plan -- someday -- to re-read it more slowly and carefully. It's not that it's a deeply profound book, or that it doesn't make missteps. But it's a thoughtful book. I wondered, as I neared the ending, whether Balogh worked out the shifts in each character's thinking in advance, or did she allow them to walk along the beach, up on the cliffs, though the woods, over the river (no grandmother's house though) and inside the portrait gallery until they'd worked it all out. I think I will enjoy it more now that I know what happens and when -- it's a book to be sipped not guzzled. (Reading it as though it was just like Dark Lover was, thus, a huge mistake. Ward's books are like a rave compared to Balogh's high tea!)
None of these characters is stupid, precisely, but they do get themselves into real muddles by assuming they know what they're doing. Hmm. Suspiciously like real life. Unfortunately, in real life people don't always make the right choice and do sometimes stumble about a lot before getting it together. That's way the book is so slow and ponderous -- it takes time for people to learn.
This cranky reader apologizes to this not-so-boring book. I promise I'll make it up to you, eventually.