Simply Perfect

Mary Balogh
April 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Delacorte, $22.00, 343 pages, Amazon ASIN 0385338244
Part of a series

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Warm

Did you know that Mary Balogh has earned DIK status well over a dozen times from AAR?

One of my favorite devices in romance is the juxtaposition of character types. I love it when a too-serious hero or heroine is confronted with a partner who knows instinctively how to deflate those over-inflated egos with surgical precision. Think Lizzie and Darcy. Or, more to the point here, Wulf and Chrstine from Mary Balogh’s own magnificent Slightly Dangerous. Unfortunately, the dour and humorless heroine in this one remains regrettably dour and humorless and, to make matters even worse, the hero is a milquetoast.

I was all set to like – even love – this book. Frankly, the character of Claudia Martin, headmistress of the school for girls figuring in the entire Simply series, seemed a prime candidate for some substantial deflation. Not to even mention some hair letting-down on a major league scale. To be honest, it just doesn’t happen. Oh, she loosens up a tad here and there, but the stick remains firmly up her butt throughout the entire book. As for hero, Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, the primary adjective I’m coming up with is “ineffectual”. And, no matter how you look at it, that ain’t good.

The plot involves Claudia traveling to London with two of the school’s charity girls in order to see them settled into respectable employment. Thanks to the intervention of her friends, Claudia and the two young women catch a ride to London in Joseph’s luxurious coach. Claudia despises the nobleman simply because she despises all the aristocracy for reasons that are just too shallow and basically ridiculous to go into here.

Claudia lands in London at the home of Susannah and Peter from Simply Magic, where she allows herself to be persuaded against her will – but, sadly, not before burdening the reader with some incredibly tedious and repeated protests – to attend a few entertainments. Where she runs into Joseph and disapproves of him. Make that really disapproves of him.

And, believe me, there is a whole lot of disapproval in this book. But, in between all that tut-tutting on the part of a heroine who remains almost totally unsympathetic, the author also manages to include frequent appearances from many characters from Balogh novels that one can either view as Old Home Week or as w-a-a-a-a-y too much. I’m not sure where I land on that particular issue, but where I end up on this romance is much clearer: It doesn’t work. Claudia is an unlikable, prejudiced, humorless heroine who never really and truly changes. Joseph is simply…well, there while spending much of the book engaged to a cardboard bitch and occasionally making ineffectual efforts to stand up for himself.

Falling under the category of Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You, there are also some saccharine aspects to the story involving Joseph’s illegitimate blind daughter who is saved by Claudia the Super Teacher and by a spunky dog. It felt extremely contrived – as did much of this book.

Mary Balogh remains one of my favorite romance writers of all time. This one, though, was ultimately Simply too much.

-- Sandy Coleman

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