Review: Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh

Review: Only Enchanting by Mary BaloghOnly Enchanting by Mary Balogh

Series: #4 The Survivors Club
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Signet on October 28, 2014
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
four-stars

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The Survivor’s Club series is such a unique concept for a Historical Romance series. I was on-board from the beginning mostly because I’m already a long fan of the author, but also because I love it any time a book/series is connected to a military theme or characters past or present. The Survivor’s Club is a band of veterans or survivors of the Napoleonic War who were brought together to heal and support each other by an older man who lost his son followed by his wife due to the war. They came to him all with different types of wounds and injuries and in their three years healing, they became closer than many families. Each book in the series takes a different survivor and tells his or her (yes, there is one lady of the group) story. This time it’s Flavian, Lord Ponsonby’s story.

This is the fourth book in the series. I suppose in a pinch it can be read out of order, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There is an assumption that the previous books have been read and the reader is familiar with the Survivor Club world and its characters along with the previous stories. The inter-connections going on would probably be tedious to someone unfamiliar with the stories of the three survivors who already got their backgrounds and stories told.

If one were to be exacting with the chronological sequence of events, this story’s beginning parallels one of the final scenes at the end of the last book just with the perspective changing to that of the new hero and heroine. It opens at the ball/wedding reception given by Vincent and Sophie when they come home to Vincent’s family home and establish themselves in the neighborhood. The widowed Agnes Keeping and her sister live in the village and are particular friends of Sophie so they are pleased to be invited to the ball. Agnes has ordinary looks at best and is dressed in a gown that is out of fashion, but she is determined to enjoy perhaps her first and only ball. The night grows into something more when one of Vince’s friends, the handsome, stylish Lord Ponsonby requests her for the first dance and later for a waltz. They get on well even through his flirting kindness, but an unexpected connection happens while Flavian whirls Agnes around the ballroom floor. He calls her enchanting, but then he is gone and she is left with her warm feelings for him slowly diminishing into a pleasant warm memory. Until he comes back and stirs her up again.

Flavian puts a smiling light manner on to hide the pain and frustration below the surface. He has physically healed from his head injury, but he still experiences debilitating headaches and has blanks in his memory. Some things he remembers all too clearly. He remembers ditching his dying brother to go to a ball and then leave to go back to the front and having David die the next day. But why did he do that? He remembers when he came back wounded and still out of his mind from his injuries and his fiancee announced that she will always love him, but now she is marrying his best friend who never did come to see him and Flavian never went to see him before he died with stuff left unresolved between them. But just being in the presence of his fellow survivors during their once a year meet-up and rediscovering the enchanting Agnes whose very person makes him feel safe and peaceful, relieves him some of that. That is until his mother sends a letter happily informing him that his former fiancee is now free of mourning and back home with her family right next door to his. Flavian’s feelings are mixed, but on one thing he is certain to home he will not be returning for Easter. He is also suddenly very certain that he wants to marry the sensible, steady Agnes and he will use all his wiles to persuade her. He doesn’t believe in love, but neither does she right? He’ll figure out how to tell her about the rest later.

Hmmm, so this one is set at Middlebury Park in Gloucestershire Viscount Darnley’s family seat. The countryside is bucolic and simple. The book’s pace takes its tone from the setting and meander’s its way along for some time too. It establishes who everyone is and their backgrounds and connections and proceeds with a gentle romancing of sort between Flavian and Agnes. Both of them have serious hang-ups about relationships due to their pasts so it really is slow going until Flav shakes things up a bit and blurts out a marriage proposal that takes them both by surprise. Honestly, up until this point, I’m pretty sure only a big fan of the series is going to be interested in the long build up through the Survivor Club reunion and tolerate it. Not to say that I was bored as I am a fan. I totally love the Survivors and the wives and I loved the interactions. For me, it wasn’t the reunion that had me impatient, but I wanted some thing to happen between Flav and Agnes long before it did. And I mean anything- highway robbers, scandal, whatever just something other than Agnes of the tight governess lips trying to convince herself that her bland life was just perfectly perfect and Flavian trying to convince her that there is nothing wrong with living a little. Flavian cracked me up several times especially when he took to shocking Agnes just to trick a response from her

It wasn’t until this interesting marital pair gets to London that the story took off and the fun began. Between Flavian’s secrets and flawed memory along with a truly conniving witch, I had all the excitement I could want from the story. Wowsers, Agnes got a trial by fire as her first days as Viscountess Ponsonby took place. I was a bit unsure of dour, disapproving Agnes who is terrified to live life with passion in it, but that all changed when she set her chin and took on Flav’s family, Flavian, his ex, Flavian again and the Ton in that order. Flavian got so much more than he bargained for and probably deserved at first. I truly felt sorry for him and he was doing the best he could, but he really knew how to get himself in the dog house without much effort.

“Oh you are not going to get off that lightly,” she said. “It is to be a marriage forever, Flavian. You married me. It does not matter why you did it. You married me and you will jolly well live up to that commitment. I will not allow you not to. And I married you. It does not matter why I did it. For better or worse, we are married. People marry for all sorts of reasons. It is not those that matter. It is what they do with their marriages that counts. We are going to make this a good marriage. Both of us.” p. 288, Agnes from Only Enchanting.

And that passion that Agnes was scared to feel? Not a problem between these two. They set the sheets on fire though most of their encounters weren’t detailed out. The reader gets the idea and gets to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. They were so good together and good for each other once they ironed out their issues.

“Agnes,” he said. “Were you waiting for me there? At Middlebury? Were you always waiting for me? And was I always waiting to meet you?” p. 344, Flavian from Only Enchanting

A few things that really struck me were that I appreciated that Flavian’s war wounds were mostly the kind that people couldn’t see. His traumatic head injury left him without the power of speech when he was first recovering and his frustration and anger left him violent. He worked hard to get back his speech and control that added anger he came home with. Later he learned that he had forgotten bits and pieces of his past so he has to go around fearful and wondering what he forgot because he doesn’t know until he is confronted with evidence that he forgot something. Reminded me to keep this in mind personally about people bearing scars that aren’t visible.

Another thing was that Agnes is the product of divorced parents which was a serious, monster big deal back then and it taints her in the eyes of society. Not to mention the scars of being abandoned by her mother and not knowing if she is even legitimate. Interesting dynamic for the heroine.

I really only had one niggle beyond the pacing of the first half of the book. Little miss villain never really got a true comeuppance. Call me bloodthirsty, but I totally would have been good with seeing her pay in a painful, public way for the lies and the greedy, malicious intent behind them that hurt and ruined not just Flav and Agnes, but Flav’s brother and Flav’s best friend. She was a horrid woman and I truly hated on her.

Ralph is the next survivor and I look forward to his story. And at some point, I really need to go back and get Hugo’s story. He’s so larger than life in each of his scene appearances.

To wrap up, the end was a good recovery, the characters were engaging as was their romance. I would recommend the series for Historical Romance lovers who don’t mind the plot to take its time developing and who like things more at the sweet end of the romance spectrum though there is a touch of spice.

My thanks to Penguin and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.
  • Lovely review hun!!! I really love this author, but have yet to read this series, but you just made me aching to read this one. Sounds positively delightful. I really love the steady paced romances.

    • Great! Another Mary Balogh fan. Unlike me, I would definitely recommend starting these from the first book. I did alright starting with the second one, but it’s been nagging me ever since to go back and get the first story since the characters continue through the series.

  • Yes I can attest to that Sophia. This was my first intro to the series and I had a very hard time with the beginning. I ended up putting it down I’m guessing before he blurted out the proposal since I don’t remember it. I need to try again and see how the rest of it goes. It wasn’t that it was bad up to the point I put it down it was just very hard to get “caught” up in everyone. I’m glad to hear it ended up being a good one 🙂

    • Yeah, it happens sometimes when a series has elements that make certain books more ‘fan favorites’ b/c they are so inter-connected to the books before them. But the exciting stuff really kicks off after the marriage. Maybe you should jump ahead to that part. LOL!

  • You find the most interesting historical romances Sophia, love the review and that first quote by Agnes is just wonderful ;D

    • Oh, she totally sorted him out. He was speechless. It was great.

      Thanks! I’ve read Mary Balogh’s stuff for over 10 years and enjoyed it off and on. I used to read a lot of HR, but only from a handful of authors. This year I was working hard to try as many new ones as I could to find some more I liked. That has definitely worked. I’ve found some I liked and some I’ll be giving a pass on in the future. 😉

    • Oh, she totally sorted him out. He was speechless. It was great.

      Thanks! I’ve read Mary Balogh’s stuff for over 10 years and enjoyed it off and on. I used to read a lot of HR, but only from a handful of authors. This year I was working hard to try as many new ones as I could to find some more I liked. That has definitely worked. I’ve found some I liked and some I’ll be giving a pass on in the future. 😉