Slightly Dangerous, by Mary Balogh

10 Feb

Slightly Dangerous, by Mary Balogh

In my recent review of Slightly Married I alluded to my favorite novel in that six-book series-Slightly Dangerous, the last title of the sextet, is it.

It has excellently done humor, great characters, and excellent pacing, as well as clever plotting and much better writing than the other five titles put together. Plus, we finally see the Duke we all love to hate get his comeuppance what’s not to love?

Here’s the awful blurb:

All of London is abuzz over the imminent arrival of Wulfric Bedwyn, the reclusive, cold-as-ice Duke of Bewcastle, at the most glittering social event of the season. Some whisper of a tragic love affair. Others say he is so aloof and passionless that not even the greatest beauty could capture his attention. But on this dazzling afternoon, one woman did catch the Duke’s eye-and she was the only female in the room who wasn’t even trying. Christine Derrick is intrigued by the handsome Duke…all the more so when he invites her to become his mistress.

What red-blooded woman wouldn’t enjoy a tumble in the bedsheets with a consummate lover-with no strings and no questions asked. An infuriating lady with very definite views on men, morals and marriage, Christine confounds Wulfric at every turn. Yet even as the lone wolf of the Bedwyn clan vows to seduce her any way he can, something strange and wonderful is happening. Now for a man who thought he’d never lose his heart, nothing less than love will do…

Dear lord, that blurb? what a load of melodramatic bullshit-and again, where’s the actual novel in all that? Other than the names and rank of the protagonists: nothing whatsoever.

The set up for the conflict is this: to celebrate the engagement of her sister, Lady Renable organizes a house party during the summer. Finding herself short one lady, she presses her dear friend Mrs Christine Derrick to attend the same. The lure is the opportunity to meet that most mythical of characters, the cold, arrogant-and still single, nacth!-Duke of Bewcastle.

While Christine is quite indifferent to his grace’s social standing, fortune or influence, she is leery to attend a high society meeting, and certain she’ll be bored in the best of cases, and upset in the worst. For his part, Wulfric is not pleased, at all, to find himself attending a traditional house party instead of the gathering of intellectuals his friend Hector, Earl of Mowbray (Lady Renable’s brother) had led him to believe he could expect.

The ensuing hijinks are both hilarious and moving, as these two clash over everything-and nothing. Being, as they are, so utterly different in position and outlook, they themselves find it nigh impossible to believe that any sort of relationship between them could develop, let alone work. And so the reader has a first row seat as both Christine and Wulfric are, first, baffled by their mutual attraction, and later, resistant to give in to it.

Most of the conflict in the novel is, therefore, internal. There is a smallish, secondary plot thread, involving Christine’s marriage that both informs her character and provides opportunities for her and Wulfric’s interactions to become deeper, more significant.

Despite the name, Wulfric is actually a wonderful character. He is as cold, impassible, arrogant and high-handed in this novel as he is purported to be in the previous five-yet he is also shown to be human and, as such, vulnerable to human frailties. Part of what makes the novel work is seeing for the first time the full extent of Wulf’s loneliness-and follow him as he realizes that he wants, needs, and deserves, more.

Christine is one of the best heroines Ms Balogh has ever created. Her sense of humor and personal integrity are just off the charts. Widowed fairly young and estranged from her late husband’s family, she now leads a very limited life with her mother and spinster eldest sister. While not happy, Christine is content with her lot-mostly because she is able and more than willing to find joy in small things around her.

What makes her such an excellent character is that she is not all sunshine and flowers, at least in her internal dialogue. She is very aware of how shabbily her political family has treated her, and is occasionally bitter over it-as well as over other, perhaps a bit shallower things, such as how other members of high society perceive her.

The plotting and pacing are excellent, and the writing voice has improved greatly in the intervening novels. There are several moments in the novel where my breath stopped in my throat and I marveled at how well a scene, a confrontation, a revelation, were done.

There is a rather large cast of secondary characters, many of which were introduced in the course of the previous five titles in the Slightly series. A similar number are recurring characters from two previous interconnected novels, One Night for Love and A Summer to Remember (both of which are great, by the way).

For a newcomer to Ms Balogh’s oeuvre, some of these characters may seem slightly cartoonish-a tad too exaggerated in their defining characteristics, such as the harridan of an elderly female relative determined to arrange her nephew’s marriage; the double-faced villain; the vain and vapid misses, etc. Yet, all of them create a vivid portrait of a world in which one’s actions were in a very real way defined by one’s social station and financial circumstances.

Slightly Dangerous is a wonderful novel on its own merits, and a great conclusion to the Slightly series. 8.25 out of 10

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One Response to “Slightly Dangerous, by Mary Balogh”

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  1. The Heart of Christmas Anthology (Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick and Courtney Milan) « Her Hands, My Hands - 25/04/2012

    […] you, I’m fond of many of Ms Balogh’s work—to wit, my review of Slightly Dangeorus. And, while I’ve yet to review Lord Carew’s Bride, it’s a favorite with one of the most […]

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