First Comes Marriage is the first in a Mary Balogh’s new series following the fortunes and loves of three sisters and one brother. At the start of this book, we meet the Huxtable family: eldest sister Margaret; youngest sister Katherine; young brother Stephen; and middle sister Vanessa Dew. Vanessa is a widow, having married a neighbor who died a year and a half ago. Although she still lives with her in-laws, her three siblings live in a small cottage and make do with minimal money.
When a viscount comes to stay in the local inn, the village is intrigued, especially when he attends the assembly dance. The Huxtable family are astounded the next day when they discover that their lot is going to change significantly. As they find themselves moving to a new area and preparing to be introduced to polite society, Viscount Lyngate is planning to ask the eldest sister, Margaret, to marry him. Vanessa knows Margaret still carries a torch for her young love, serving overseas in the army, so she persuades Lyngate to marry her instead.
As Vanessa and Elliott settle down to married life, she has to come to terms with his sober and unsmiling demeanor, and he with her feelings for her dead husband. Some of his past actions may come back to haunt him, along with a former good friend who may well be a rogue, and Vanessa must cope with her own poor self-image. Can they find happiness and love in a marriage of convenience?
Mary Balogh is, in my opinion, one of the finest writers of Regency romances today. First Comes Marriage boasts all her trademark skills, including deep characterization, flawed yet appealing characters, and historical accuracy. She does fall unexpectedly into a trap laid by Georgette Heyer, who coined in her own books the term 'Cheltenham Tragedy' (which appears twice in this book) and which Heyer used for a plagiarism lawsuit against another author who used the phrase.
At times First Comes Marriage does feel very much like the start of a series, with a great deal of scene-setting at the beginning and following some of the secondary characters (to be featured in further books) more closely than one might normally expect for a standalone novel. The falling-in-love aspect of the book is perhaps a little more rushed than it might have been. Despite these minor comments, this is another excellent read with emotion, action and character in abundance.