Mary Balogh is one of the better authors of historical romance out there, and I always look forward to her latest offering, even if the books have perhaps been becoming a little samey recently. I was very pleased to receive my copy of The Secret Mistress, the third in a trio of books of which the first two (More than a Mistress and No Man’s Mistress) were written a decade ago.
I wasn’t sure which way the book would go. I love More than a Mistress - it’s one of Balogh’s best books and one that I often re-read. No Man’s Mistress, on the other hand, didn’t work for me at all, and I won’t bother reading it again. So what would the third book in the trio, the story of the Duke of Tresham and Ferdinand Dudley’s sister Angeline, be like?
We already know that Angeline will marry Heyward because we have seen her with him in the previous two books. Thus the timeline of this story is that it is the first of the three books, although it has been written last. Not that readers are often in doubt as to who will marry whom when reading the blurb on the back of these books, but still.
Angeline appeared as a bubbly, garrulous but overall appealing character in the previous books; Heyward was quiet
and reserved, possibly henpecked. The author has kept to this theme: Angeline does seem garrulous in this book and Heyward quiet and reserved, although this time we
obviously learn much more about him.
Young debutante Angeline fixes almost instantly on Heyward as her chosen suitor when she meets him, mainly because he is much unlike her brothers - the consummate gentleman. But what could Heyward see in flighty Angeline? She may be suitable in terms of breeding and family, but can he be happy with her
- and she with him?
Although it's good to read this story, to meet the characters and travel with them on the journey as they fall in love, The Secret Mistress didn’t entirely work for me.
It seems beset with parts of speech in italics for emphasis which detracts from
reading the dialogue. It also seems that Balogh’s usual skill in growing characters somewhat deserts her here.
Neither Angeline nor Heyward changes much at all during the story.
The significant plot point in the story when Angeline receives a proposal from Heyward also seems a little unlikely (not the proposal, but her response to it), as if the author were trying to work out a way to make the story go on longer. It feels contrived, and I wasn’t convinced.
The (presumably obligatory) sex scene feels all wrong, inasmuch as the character of Heyward that we've
been shown is that of someone who does the right thing and thinks things through sensibly.
I was, however, left at the end thinking that Angeline and Heyward will be happy together and that they do suit, and the epilogue
is a welcome addition to the story. This book will appeal to Mary Balogh’s fans but won't bring her hordes of new readers if this
is their first experience of this talented author.