Pandora's Box

No Man's Mistress

Mary Balogh
2002 reissue of 2001 release, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Dell, $6.50, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0440236576
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

No Man's Mistress the sequel to Balogh's More Than a Mistress, features Viola Thornhill, an independent woman with a mysterious past, and Ferdinand Dudley. Ferdinand wins Viola's home in a card game and when he arrives to take possession, Viola swears the home is rightfully hers and should never have been wagered in the first place. While they wait for the documentation to prove ownership one way or the other, a battle of wills - and attraction - ensues.

Blythe:   Mary Balogh has long been a favorite of mine. Several of her books, particularly her traditional Regency Romances, make my list of favorites. But she is also somewhat hit and miss with me; I find that some of her books just don't resonate at all. Her last book, More Than a Mistress, was like that. I didn't dislike it, but it was very unmemorable. No Man's Mistress is its sequel, and I liked it much better. I don't think it's a perfect book, and parts of it definitely made me uncomfortable. But I enjoyed reading it, and it certainly wasn't forgettable.

Linda:  I have the same relationship with Balogh's backlist - several are on my keeper shelf, but one of her single titles is on my "wallbanger" list. I have always preferred her Signet Regencies to her single titles - until this one! I really liked it a lot and loved Ferdinand. Who would have guessed that I would love a rogue named Ferdinand? This guy is not just a charmer - there is real depth to him. And Viola is my kind of gal; she's multi-dimensional and extremely strong.

Blythe:   It took me a little while to warm up to both of them. With Ferdinand, it was a name problem. I kept thinking about Ferdinand the bull, who liked to just sit quietly and smell the flowers! One of the hazards of an intimate acquaintance with children's literature.<g> Viola was hard to understand at first because she came off like a misplaced heroine from a Julia Quinn novel - which would have been fine if she had been in a Julia Quinn novel. But about halfway through, we start learning more about Viola. Then everything kicked into gear, it got more intriguing, and suddenly I was totally engrossed in the book. Even after that point, though, some of the stuff that happened made me cringe, but I couldn't seem to put the book down either.

Linda:   I had the Ferdinand the bull problem too, but this guy is such a charmer that I forgot about the Disney reference and just loved him. Ferdinand reminds me a lot of another favorite hero - the husband in Cathy Maxwell's Falling in Love Again - these men are the type who if you dropped them into a feedlot, they would make a fortune selling manure!

I thought there might be a lot more to Viola then she presented to the Pinewood neighbors. Her history was tough, but it didn't make me cringe. I thought the villain was probably true to life for this kind of slime and loved his comeuppance.

Blythe:   Ferdinand was definitely a charmer, and I loved that about him too. Viola was determined at first to view him as a usurper, and at the very least as a drunken wastrel. Of course he was none of those things, and every attempt to disenchant him with country life was an utter failure. Her desperation to make Ferdinand leave didn't quite make sense until we learned more about her. It wasn't Viola's history, exactly, that made me cringe, it was the choice she appeared to make when it came back to haunt her. I doubt there is a woman in a thousand that would be that selfless in such a situation. I thought she was nuts, and I was very relieved that Ferdinand came riding to her rescue. Like you, I thought the villain was believable, and Viola was, unfortunately, the perfect target for him.

Linda:   I thought her choice made sense because she was doing what she thought she had to do to proterct her family.

Mary Balogh usually has great secondary characters and NMM doesn't disappoint, I loved Ferdinand's relatives and was happy with the treatment of Bamber, who sets the whole story in motion when he loses Pinewood to Ferdinand in a card game. This book had no "dead" spots, the action flowed continuously and even the few separations were brief and believable. I will definitely have to get More Than A Mistress off the TBR pile or at least move it closer to the top <g>.

Blythe:   I could understand wanting to protect her family, but she could have told Ferdinand, and he would have helped. Not telling him made no sense at all to me. If the dangers had been smaller, maybe, but Balogh made it sound as if she had no choice - and I just didn't agree with that. All's well that ends well, but I thought Viola made life more difficult than it needed to be.

Your mention of Bamber touches upon something that struck me as well: I loved the secondary characters here. All of them. Bamber was great. At first he comes across as a villian, but he's really just human. And I really didn't foresee the turn he takes at the end. I also like Ferdinand's brother Tresham and his wife, Jane, from More Than a Mistress. Oddly, I liked them much better here than in their own book. And their sister, Angeline, is quite a fun character. She never stops talking, and she's a perfect match for her staid, less colorful husband.

Linda:   I too wish she had trusted Ferdinand, but she was not a woman used to trusting many people and I felt she just couldn't take that extra step to trust him. Then too, she felt so strongly that she couldn't marry him for his own sake, that she didn't see any way he could help her. I was pleased to see that she didn't just give in to the villain, but went to see Bamber (which had to be very painful for her) and her last ditch effort with Ferdinand's brother, the Duke, was brilliant. So, I didn't fault her appearing to give in while she tried desperately to think of a way out of her dilemma. I thought Bamber was a brilliant character - he could have been a run-of-the-mill no-goodnik wastrel, but his actions prove him to have real depth. I also loved Angeline, was there a book with her romance? It sounded like it must have been fun!

Blythe:   As far as I know, there isn't a book just about Angeline and her husband, although she appeared with him in MTAM as well. Too bad, because she would make a fun heroine. She's ditzy, but in a good way.

Ordinarily, I don't mind a heroine who tries to be brave because she believes the hero is better off without her. Given the alternative, I felt she should have been selfish. I know I would have been. This particular theme - the heroine having to make a really awful choice - is one that Balogh has used often over the years. Sometimes, like in One Night for Love, I buy it. This time, however, I found it more problematic. Still, I enjoyed the book and would have graded it a B-. Even though I might not have agreed with the heroine's choices, I loved the hero, and I never felt like Balogh was "phoning it in," which is a feeling I often get with romance authors once they hit hard cover. It's kind of hard to talk about one of the best things about the hero, because it's a huge spoiler, but let's just say he is something of a "fake rake" - he's not what he appears to be, and I found that delightful.

Linda:   Yes, there was a great deal more depth to Ferdinand then the handsome, easy-going facade he presented to the world. The 'wallbanger-for-me' Balogh also has a plot where the woman is victimized, but the hero in that one is so dense and always thinks the worst of her. When it was finally revealed what the villain had been doing it was so disgusting it truly made me cringe. That villain entered Stella Cameron or Robin Schone villain territory - but without the worms <g>.

Blythe:   So what was the book?

Linda:   Aaah you would ask - it was one of the one word titles - Heartless I think. The hero in that one did not have the discernment that Ferdinand has, to see the true nature of the heroine and not jump to negative conclusions. But, it was the denouement where the heroine tells him what was going on that turned my stomach. I have heard others mention it bothered them too.

Blythe:   LOL - I liked that one. It certainly did take the hero awhile to get a clue though. My major Balogh wallbanger is Secrets of the Heart. I can rant about the misunderstanding in that one forever. On the lighter side, what are your favorites? I have several, but my very favorite is probably A Notorious Rake, for which I wrote a DIK review. A close second is A Certain Magic - one of those second chance at love kinds of stories.

Linda:   I love the whole series that starts with Dark Angel, my two favorite Balogh's are in that series Famous Heroine and Plumed Bonnet. They both involved misunderstandings and are a little more light-hearted then many of her Regencies - but then I love humor done well, and these two feature great dialogue, funny plots and delightful heroes and heroines. In fact now that I think of it Ferdinand has much in common with Francis and the Duke of Bridgewater, whose poignant revealing of his true characters is a highlight of Plumed Bonnet.

Blythe:   I haven't read The Famous Heroine, but I did like The Plumed Bonnet. It's based on a misunderstanding, which can be annoying, but it's a funny misunderstanding. I wouldn't rank No Man's Mistress as one of Balogh's best, but I did like it, and I think Balogh's fans will find it worthwhile.

Linda:   The Famous Heroine is rife with misunderstandings, but the prize is that the heroine marries Francis thinking he is homosexual! Balogh does such a good job of setting up the scene where Francis realizes her misconception that one can almost see her embarrassed face! Very funny. I really liked NMM and think Balogh's long-time fans are going to be very pleased with it.

Blythe:   What I am most curious to see is the reaction of those who have read both MTAM and NMM. Since I liked the second a lot more than the first, I am wondering what those who really liked the first one will have to say about NMM. So what's up for next month, Linda?

Linda:   Next month we are reading Mercy by Julie Garwood. It is related to last year's Heartbreaker - the hero is the brother of Heartbreaker's hero. These two books mark Garwood's entries into contemporary romantic suspense after great success with much loved historicals. I have Heartbreaker on the tbr pile and am going to try to get it read before I read Mercy.

Hey - I just realized that this is the first time in several months we both agreed on the book and both liked it - amazing!! <g>

Blythe:   It's been awhile, hasn't it? Was it April when we both liked the Baker book? Or at least sort of liked it?

Here's hoping we both like the Garwood. I've enjoyed some of her historicals, but I have yet to read her only other Romantic Suspense title, Heartbreaker.

Linda:   Yes, I think it was the Baker book. Although I liked it better than you.

See you next month.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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