Lady Muir's story
I have read several reviews of this book, all of which suggested Mary Balogh was back to form (some of her more recent books have been less appealing than her earlier works in many readers’ minds), and so I looked forward to reading The Proposal. In fact, I read it twice with a month’s gap in-between. As much as I enjoyed
it, I didn’t feel it was actually all that special.
There is a great deal of potential in a story about Lady Gwen Muir, who has featured as a minor character in many of Balogh’s other books, including the Bedwyn (Slightly) series and the
Simply series as well. All we know about Gwen coming into The Proposal is that she has a limp and
is a widow who has chosen not to remarry. In this story, we find that Gwen’s marriage was certainly not easy, and that she had no real intention to look for another husband--even after she meets Lord Trentham, the former Major Hugo Eames, hero of the army for fighting a Forlorn Hope at Badajoz.
Gwen and Hugo are from different social classes, and a relationship between them seems impossible.
We follow them as they get to know one another and as a proposal is suggested--that Hugo court Gwen--to see where it leads. Is there a chance for a happy ending between two such different people?
I struggle to identify what about this book left me dissatisfied. One minor aspect is that Balogh
recently seems to have developed the habit of italicizing words in reported speech to presumably give you an idea of the stresses in what people are saying.
Very often, the way I readthe sentence in my mind doesn’t work like that, and the excessive italicization just annoys me.
We are also continually being told what people think; there’s a lot of repetition throughout the book, rather than seeing what they think by their actions.
The pacing isn’t always that effective, and there are dull stretches where nothing much happens except people think about things, often with italics.
We meet many characters from previous Balogh novels. I have read the books so know who they are, but I do wonder about new readers and what they will think; there are lists of people, and it can get confusing. Is this really necessary, except to encourage readers to buy her backlist?
Both hero and heroine in this story are almost perfect; in fact, the only imperfection we see in Gwen (apparently) is her limp. Hugo’s main disadvantage is that he frowns a lot. Balogh’s earlier books
have tended to be peopled with far more human characters who have many faults and make many mistakes in their book.
The characters in The Proposal are almost a bit too good to be true, and the ‘baddies’
seem unrealistic in their portrayal.
Although I do still like Mary Balogh’s books very much, I don’t find the more recent stories nearly as satisfying as some of the earlier ones (More than a Mistress
and The Secret Pearl, for example). However, having read many reviews of this book, it seems
that I am in a minority in this view--so go ahead and read it yourself!