The Ideal Wife, by Mary Balogh

9 Sep

The Ideal Wife, by Mary Balogh

With very few exceptions, I’ve enjoyed every Balogh novel I’ve read, to different degrees. The Ideal Wife, while not one of those exceptions, is not a book I’ll reread often (if at all). It is a fun quick read, but it’s definitely not without problems if one stops to think.

Here’s the (horribly melodramatic) back cover blurb:

When Abigail Gardiner knocks at the door of Miles Ripley, Earl of Severn, the last thing she expects is a marriage proposal. Desperate, she’d come to this charismatic stranger’s home to plead for her future. Instead, she shocks them both by saying yes. Her impulsive decision will have consequences neither she nor her new husband can foresee. For Miles has his own reasons for marrying her. And Abigail is harboring a secret of her own. As distrust gives way to desire… as, together, they give in to the pleasures of the marriage bed, a devastating scandal threatens their future. Now these two wary hearts will risk ruin and disgrace for a love that has changed both forever—the kind all seek, but few ever find.

Seriously, if you picked the book based on the blurb, I expect you’ll be disappointed. There’s no melodrama here, the scandal is irrelevant, and generally speaking I would consider this one a light, fluffy, romantic comedy set in a historical background. There is none of the angst and drama and ohmylawd awful secrets and terrible consequences hinted at in the blurb.

Don’t get me wrong, the writing is engaging, and the situations entertaining. There are a couple of scenes—particularly with Miles—that I really enjoyed because they showed hidden depth in the characters. But that is not the meat, so to speak, of this novel.

The short version of a plot summary would be something like this:

Abby Gardiner has struggled for most of her life to keep her family together and afloat. These past two years, she’s had to work as a lady’s companion for a not quite respectable family, until her employer’s husband finally crosses a line. Now Abby is out of options, and addressing a distant relative for some character references is the only avenue left to her. As luck will have it, Miles is looking for a way out of the hands of a managing and grasping female his mother and sisters are aiming to marry him to, and Abby appears to be exactly her opposite. Rather funny hijinks ensue.

Contrary to most fluffy romance novels, the potential consequences of Abby’s rather unorthodox behaviour—and Miles’ reaction to accounts of the same—are dismissed pretty much out of hand. While this is a welcome change from the norm (at least for someone who has read so many romances set in this time period where even speaking to someone before an introduction was effected could ruin a debutante’s social standing…but I digress), it also made it difficult to connect with Abby’s feeling regarding the big awful secret.

Another deviation, one I enjoyed unreservedly, was the happenings of the “marriage bed.” Usually the virginal virgin heroine who has never even been kissed learns all there is to learn about sexual pleasure and her own body’s reactions in oh…point zero two seconds. Which leads to wild enjoyment on the part of both the groom and blushing bride pretty much from the get go. Ms Balogh decided to be a tad closer to reality, and her writing of these exchanges really made me smile in appreciation.

Taken for what it is, and not what the blurb falsely advertises it as, The Ideal Wife is a neat, entertaining story. It gets a 7 out of 10 from me.

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