The Ideal Wife was first published in 1991 and the new edition, published in 2008, is very welcome: this is an enjoyable romance with an appealing hero. The story is paired with A Precious Jewel, another wonderfully touching tale, although both
can be read on their own. In this story, we follow Miles Ripley, Lord Severn, as he attempts to avoid a bride chosen for him by his mother. This is a common theme in Mary Balogh's books but in this one, rather than having a 'fake' engagement as in A Summer To Remember or Slightly Scandalous, Severn decides to actually marry someone else. He knows he has to get married and thinks that a quiet, mousy wife would be ideal - he can get her with child and then deposit her at his country seat without too much bother. When a distant relative arrives at his door asking for a reference for a job, he instead
offers her a job - as his wife.
Abigail Gardiner isn't exactly what she seems, however. She prepared for her meeting with the Earl of Severn, who she presumed was a doddery old man, by trying to look nondescript and behaving demurely and quietly. Once they are married, she finds it impossible to hold back her natural liveliness, talkativeness and impetuosity. Abby is worried that Severn will be disappointed in her.
She knows he must have reasons for marrying her, but when she discovers them, and when she
worries that secrets from her past might cause him to dislike her, she fears that he will find her too much trouble. Can they come to understand each other? Can Abby sort out her brother's happiness as well as her own? Can she really be
a success as a Countess?
Mary Balogh is one of the outstanding writers of Regencies today, and The Ideal Wife is very successful. There is perhaps less character depth than in some of her more recent works, the Earl of Severn
is nearly perfect as a hero (which is rather unrealistic!), and I was occasionally irritated by Abby's obtuseness and propensity to lie to get out of trouble rather than trusting Miles, but it's good to read a 'rags to riches' story, and Abby's warmhearted, generous nature
is charmingly written. In some of the scenes shared with A Precious Jewel, it's interesting to read Miles's take on the events taking place between Sir Gerald Stapleton and Prissy; Sir Gerald comes across as rather less simpleminded in this book than in his own.
Those who love Mary Balogh's books and have been unable to find a copy of this previously will be pleased that it has been re-released
- and they will not be disappointed. Unlike many Regency authors whose older books have been republished, Mary Balogh's stories still read well and don't seem outdated. This excellent read stands out among many similar books in the genre.