Mary Balogh is one of the most consistent authors of historical romances writing today, and Web of Love,
a re-issue of a title originally published in 1990, shows this. It is the second
in the "Web" series after The Gilded Web (reissued in 2006), which follows the three Raine siblings, Edmund, Earl of Amberley (The Gilded Web), Dominic, Lord Eden (Web of Love), and Madeleine Raine (The Devil's Web, to be reissued in December 2007).
Balogh's books often have similar themes and this is no different. The Battle of Waterloo and its aftermath play a significant part in this story (rather like Slightly Sinful) when Lord Eden is wounded and tended by the widow of his friend, Charlie Simpson. Charlie's widow, Ellen, has been following the drum for ten years, and in her matter-of-fact, comfortable nature is rather like Sophie in Irresistible. There is also a disfigured and wounded character who begins to learn about his new limitations and yet new possibilities, particularly in art (like Sydnam Butler in Simply Love). And yet, although there are some similarities of themes within her books, overall they always seem to work well as standalone novels with far more to them then just romance.
Ellen Simpson and her husband, Charlie, are deeply in love, yet as the book starts, she begins to notice Dominic, Lord Eden, as slightly more than her husband's best friend. She ignores this, of course, and sees them both off into battle whilst looking after her stepdaughter, Jennifer. The buildup to the battle is well written as the characters in the story try not to think too much about the possible death and injury and live each day at a time. We also meet the hero and heroine from the first book in this series, the Earl and Countess of Amberley, three years after that story ends and with two children. Amberley's family take Jennifer back to England before the outbreak of the war, but Ellen stays with her husband, as always, in Brussels - as does Madeleine, Lord Eden's twin, staying with a friend elsewhere. As reports of the fighting come in, Ellen and Madeleine prepare to treat the wounded. Eventually Eden is returned to Ellen's house dangerously wounded and with the news that Charlie has been killed. Ellen nurses him with great care, and Madeleine finds herself nursing Lieutenant Allan Penworth, who has lost a leg and an eye in the battle. Yet Ellen's time with Dominic, Lord Eden, leads to rather more than they both initially expect before guilt causes Ellen to ask him to keep away from her.
On returning to England, however, Ellen finds herself occasionally in company with Lord Eden. And there's a rather important piece of information she needs to give him, but she cannot bring herself to. She ends up staying at Amberley with Jennifer and the Earl and Countess, as well as Madeleine and Lieutenant Penworth and several other people, and learns that she cannot keep all her own secrets as other people are involved.
In some ways, the romantic element is less important in this story than some of the others. The focus is a little more on the war and how it can affect families, changing them not only by deaths but also by injury. Dominic appeared as a rather shallow person in the first book in this series, and in this novel he sometimes seems rather carefree, acknowledging to himself that he tumbles into love rather readily. Ellen is a very different character, one of steadiness and deep emotion, yet it
isn't always easy to get into her mind. Neither character particularly changes or grows in this story; it is more a case of Dominic finally finding what he has been looking for and Ellen understanding that it is possible to love more than one man in a lifetime. This
is, however, an excellent read and will no doubt be much enjoyed by Mary Balogh's fans.