2005 reissue of 2004 release, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Dell, $6.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 044024112X Part of a series
To put my assessment of this book in perspective, I haven't loved every book ever written by Mary Balogh and I've found the Slightly series to be more uneven than it seems many readers did. With that said, though, I most assuredly do love this Mary Balogh book and, to go even further, I don't think it's overstating the case to call it an instant Romance Classic.
It's impossible not to draw comparisons between Slightly Dangerous and Pride and Prejudice. Wulfric bears much resemblance to Mr. Darcy in his dedication to his family, his extreme reserve, his omnipresent awareness of his responsibilities to his class and heritage, and - let's call a spade a spade - the extreme Control Freak aspects of his personality. Equally, heroine Christine Derrick is lively, social, blessed with a pair of "fine eyes" and - just like Elizabeth Bennett - is most attractive when she is animated. And, while I don't want to give too much away, the basic structure of the book does bear some resemblance to that beloved novel. In fact, in what I'm certain is a tip of the hat to the great Miss Austen, Mary Balogh even recreates almost verbatim several of Lizzie and Darcy's exchanges.
But, of course, Mary Balogh is a very different author living in a very different time and Slightly Dangerous is an altogether very different book. Unlike the aloof Mr. Darcy whose thoughts, actions, and motivations largely remain a mystery to the reader, our admittance into Wulfric's thoughts gives us the ability to follow almost step-by-step (though there are still some wonderful surprises) his very reluctant, but undeniably inevitable, tumble into love. And, to put it bluntly, what a tumble it is!
Feeling at something of a loss with all his siblings married and happily reproducing and the recent death of his long-time mistress, Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, finds himself reluctantly attending a two week summer house party at the invitation of a casual acquaintance. Upon his arrival, his already low expectations about any enjoyment he's likely to find there sink even lower when a poorly dressed young woman leans over the balustrade and spills lemonade into his eye.
Cursing herself for her clumsiness, Christine knows instantly that the man she's inadvertently assaulted is none other than the party's most illustrious guest. Attending only as a reluctant favor to the hostess (who - gasp! - certainly couldn't have uneven numbers!), Christine plans to stay in the background and refrain from doing anything that would draw unwanted attention to herself. Her intention to do so is more than understandable considering her painful estrangement from members of her late husband's family whom she will be facing for the first time since the death of her spouse.
Unfortunately for Christine's plans, the second encounter between Wulf and Christine doesn't go any smoother than the first. When the Great One spies her sitting in the corner of the room at afternoon tea, he proceeds to do what he always does when wishing to intimidate and distance himself from lesser mortals: He looks at her though his glass. Recognizing the gesture for exactly what it is and despite her avowed intentions, Christine refuses to comply with Wulf's implicit demand to look away in confusion and humility. Bolding returning stare for stare, Wulf crosses the room to confront the ill-behaved young woman.
And thus begins one of the most emotionally compelling love stories I've ever had the privilege to read. I think - for reasons I'm not quite certain about - a love story featuring an imperious and aloof hero and an upstart heroine who refuses to bow to his pomposity is my favorite type of romance and, frankly, it would be almost impossible to imagine a better one than this. Always faithful to the character she has so meticulously created, Wulf's impassive exterior reflects his inner determination never to love. Betrayed in his youth, Wulf's sexual needs were more than satisfied by his lukewarm 10-year relationship with a woman for whom he held affection, but not much else. With heirs aplenty arising from his prolific brothers and sisters, Wulf sees no need to marry or even disrupt his placid existence by allowing himself to get emotionally attached to any woman.
But Wulf never planned on his inexplicable attraction to the unsuitable Mrs. Derrick. Nearing 30 and with her illusions shattered by her marriage, Christine lives in straitened circumstances with her mother and sister. With very real reasons to protect her heart, Christine is equally mystified by her very real attraction to a man who embodies many qualities she doesn't like and virtually none that she does. Outgoing, social, and unrelentingly friendly, Christine unthinkingly tumbles into situations that Wulf views with abhorrence. But, if Christine is determined to make a cake of herself time and time again, Wulf is equally determined to spring to her assistance. And, it must also be noted, if Wulf needs a few lessons in how to occasionally lighten up, Christine is more than up to the challenge.
Any jarring notes were few and far between. My only real quibble is reserved for the somewhat formulaic appearances by the members of the Bedwyn family that had an all too familiar cute-sy "wrapping-up-the-series" feel and, frankly, this book is better than that. But then again, it's Freyja who delivers one of the book's best lines: "If this is what you have done for him, I will love you all my life."
I daresay that most of the readers who've followed this series are already more than a little bit in love with Wulf themselves (I know I was). Reader expectations are high - something of which I'm sure the author was more than aware. However, if her knowledge of those expectations is what prompted Mary Balogh to write a book that is unquestionably my favorite of any she's written, I'm thankful for the pressure she must have felt.
Frankly, no matter what your expectations may be, I'm more than confident that this is, indeed, the book you're hoping for. Ms. Balogh has more than met what must have been an immense challenge: Her quintessential hero has been given the quintessential romance.
-- Sandy Coleman
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