Only Enchanting (The Survivors Club #4)
By: Mary Balogh
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
The Survivors’ Club: Six men and one woman, all wounded in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendship forged during their recovery at Penderris Hall in Cornwall. Now, in the fourth novel of the Survivors’ Club series, Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, has left this refuge to find his own salvation—in the love of a most unsuspecting woman…
Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, was devastated by his fiancée’s desertion after his return home. Now the woman who broke his heart is back—and everyone is eager to revive their engagement. Except Flavian, who, in a panic, runs straight into the arms of a most sensible yet enchanting young woman.
Agnes Keeping has never been in love—and never wishes to be. But then she meets the charismatic Flavian, and suddenly Agnes falls so foolishly and so deeply that she agrees to his impetuous proposal of marriage.
When Agnes discovers that the proposal is only to avenge his former love, she’s determined to flee. But Flavian has no intention of letting his new bride go, especially now that he too has fallen so passionately and so unexpectedly in love.
This is one of those books I keep encountering whenever I browse through historical romance lists looking for something new to read. It comes with positive reviews–this as well as the rest of the series–so finally I caved in and picked it up 😛
I have to say, this book feels very different from other historical romances I’ve read to date; the writing is different, I find it to be more introspective with the characters. It’s a nice change of pace, and with the kind of characters that are featured in this story, it makes total sense; a lot of the conflict isn’t just external, but also internal as the characters grapple with their own fears and failures. On a related note though, I did find the book to be rather…slow. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing; like, it moved at a leisurely pace that allowed the characters to breathe, but in the same vein it felt like I read a lot and covered a lot of ground only to find I’ve read about 40% of the book thus far. It was a weird sensation, like I’ve hit some timey-whimey time capsule. But more on pacing later.
The principal characters were interesting, fairly well-balanced in their strengths and their flaws. Agnes was refreshingly different from other historical romance heroines in that she’s especially level-headed, practical, and cautious; she’s especially adverse to passion and losing control, which made her curious as you wonder why she’s the way she is. She doesn’t easily succumb to flights of fancy, but at the same time it’s clear she has an eye for beauty and life and joy and there’s something that’s just holding her back. Flavian was also interesting, clearly still recovering from his injuries from the war (namely the stammer; he talks about his blackouts and fits of violence, but it seems those had receded considerably since his initial recovery) and carrying a lot of regret and hurt from the past that comes up in bouts thanks for said head traumas impeding with his memory. He’s fairly tortured but not as brooding tortured as perhaps one may expect; he can be charming and a flirt but he’s not a rake or a rogue. Flavian and Agnes are drawn to one another, but find themselves struggling to figure out what exactly it is that they are experiencing (especially as both have had scathing experiences with everything love-related) as well as their own inner problems.
While they were interesting, they were also surprisingly irritating at times. While I understand where Agnes is coming from, and indeed I consider myself a cautious person so I totally get where her line of thinking goes, it did get a little frustrating after a while, the back-and-forth, her arguments against passion becoming a little trite and repetitive especially after they got married. For someone who is very introspective in examining her feelings, she can be shockingly, err, obtuse about some of the things that are right in front of her; bless her sister Dora for steering her in the right direction. Flavian also made some bad decisions along the way, namely not telling Agnes straight-up at the start abut the nature of his relationship with Velma (however incomplete his memory was of events) and bumbling through a few instances (he’d say something apt at the moment, something romantic and truthful, and then follow it up with something…that ruins the perfect moment and whatever it is he was going for. Ugh, lol).
So yeah, pacing wise it did sort of get a bit tedious midway as Flavian and Agnes go back and forth with yes, no, I think this will work out, this won’t work out. I mean, I guess it could be worse, they could be totally uncommunicative of their issues, but at least here they’re talking it out, however confused they are about their own feelings. Their discussions were rather mature, for lack of a better explanation. But it did pick up again once the issue with Velma was sort of addressed and the issue about Agnes’ absent mother comes to the fore. Speaking of uneven pacing, I will also add that there was quite a bit of repetition here; I understand why it happened on occasion, especially as characters were recollecting previous discussions and puncturing it with their own thoughts and reactions, but Agnes’ arguments about why she was against anything passionate was repetitive and could’ve used a different approach that time.
Nonetheless I liked Only Enchanting. Its overall atmosphere and the nature of the characters’ personal stories/issues was different, and I really liked the ending/last scene. I’d recommend it to readers of historical romance who want to read something different for a change of pace.