April 2007, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Dell, $22.00, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0385338236
Part of a series
Reading Simply Magic brought to mind an excellent ATBF column about Regencies in Disguise, books that are European Historicals in length and sensuality, but Trad Regencies in tone and societal mores. So many historicals set in the Regency are completely modern in voice and character behavior. Not so with Mary Balogh, and for this Traditional Regency fan, there is always a sense of "coming home" when I read a Balogh.
Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf, is a Nice Guy. He likes people. He especially likes women and mildly flirts with every woman he meets, much to their delight. He always takes care that no expectations are raised and no one is hurt. As a result he is very popular with the ladies, who all adore him in a safe, friendly way. While staying with friends in the country, he meets Susanna Osbourne, also visiting friends. He takes one look at her and hears a clear and surprising voice in his head saying, "There she is."
Susanna is a teacher at a girls' school in Bath and she is not at all happy to be meeting anyone with the name "Whitleaf" for she associates it with the death of her father. Susanna grew up in Peter's neck of the woods, had even met him once when they were children. It wasn't Peter, but a relation whom Susanna holds responsible for her father's death when she was twelve. She wound up as a charity pupil at the very school where she now teaches and is in the country visiting an ex-fellow teacher who has married. Susanna tries to remain aloof from Peter, inuring herself to his charm, dismissing him as nothing more than a frivolous flirt. But it is very hard to remain aloof when Peter proves himself to be a Nice Guy with depth.
Peter inherited the viscountcy when he was three, and was the extremely cosseted baby in a family of five older sisters and an overprotective mother. His mother and his guardians practically lived his life for him - he even obligingly fell in love with the woman picked out for him to marry when he was 21 years old. However, he woke up to the true character of his betrothed and the farce of a marriage all had planned for him in time to break the betrothal, dismiss his guardians and take himself off to London and away from his mother. He has rarely been home in the five years since. Somehow, through it all, he has managed to stay a Nice Guy. He has not let his disappointment in those who should have had his best interests at heart turn him bitter or suspicious of all women. I liked Peter very much.
Peter and Susanna become friends and knowing that they will likely never see each other again once they both leave in two weeks gives their friendship poignancy and intensity. Balogh does a nice job of showing the developing friendship, displaying the basic decency and kindness of both Peter and Susanna as they find common ground. It is a novel experience for both; she has never really been around men before, and he enjoys conversing with a woman as opposed to just flirting.
It is a wonderful two weeks, and they soon begin to feel more than just friendship. The seeming inevitable happens and they part after an intimate encounter, neither of them wanting to say goodbye. But Susanna is unwilling to be Peter's mistress and Peter is unable to see past his upbringing and societal expectations to ask an orphaned teacher to be his wife.
They are destined to meet again in ways that are both wonderful and painful, as they each fight their attraction and their own demons, alone and together. Peter is ready to return home and settle down, yet he must face his well-meaning but manipulative mother. Susanna encourages him to assert his authority over his life and his home, and there is a real "coming of age" story arc in this effort for Peter. There is a mystery surrounding the death of Susanna's father. She only knows part of it, but it is a secret that she feels will forever keep her and Peter apart, even as he helps her learn and face the truth.
Peter and Susanna are fully realized and likable characters, living lives true to their time and place. I thoroughly enjoyed Simply Magic, and it came thisclose to being a DIK for me. I can think of no complaints, nothing that bothered me as I read, I just didn't close the book with that "I've just read a DIK" feeling, if you know what I mean. But that doesn't mean that this isn't a very good and satisfying book, and one that I highly recommend.
If you like your heroes to be of the Alpha-heel variety, this is not the book for you. Peter is Mr. Beta. He's a Nice Guy. And Susanna is a lovely woman who deserves a Nice Guy. Watching her get him is a delightful reading experience.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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