Desert Isle Keeper
Have you ever read a book and been enthralled? I mean wrapped up to the point where you are lock-yourself-in-the-room-stay-up-all-night-I’ve-got-to-find-everything-this-woman-has-ever-written enthralled? A couple of years ago I picked up Heartless, the first book I had ever read by Mary Balogh and went into the lost-in-a book zone. I went to work the next day, spaced out from lack of sleep and burning with impatience for my lunch hour so I could go to a bookstore and find more books by Mary Balogh.
Heartless is somewhat atypical for Mary Balogh who is known for her superb Regency Romances and historicals set in the Regency period. This book is set in the Georgian period, but it showcases Balogh’s greatest strength – her wonderful characters.
Lucas Kendrick, the Duke of Harndon is – well he is at first glance a mincing fop and not at all what a reader would think of as a typical romance hero. He is not tall, he is not laden with muscles and he does not radiate rugged masculinity from every square inch. He wears makeup, perfume, satin, lace and high heels, and carries a fan. This foppish exterior hides a man who is rakish, dangerous, and who is the victim of terrible machinations by a member of his family which has resulted in his estrangement from those who still love him.
Luke thinks of himself as a heartless man who will never love but he is a Duke, has duties to his title, and needs an heir. He marries Lady Anna Marlowe, a young woman of good family but small fortune. Their marriage begins very inauspiciously. Anna is not a virgin on their wedding night and when Luke confronts her, she insists that she has never been with a man before him. How can this be?
The answer to this question is revealed at the end in a scene that is just this short of melodramatic overkill, but the strength of Heartless is the portrayal of Luke and Anna’s growing love for each other and Luke’s realization of his family’s love for him and his for them. Luke and his family had become estranged through the lies and deceptions of a truly vicious but subtle villain who had poisoned the realtionships of the entire Kendrick family. It is a wonderful moment when the truth of the situation becomes clear to Luke.
Anna and Luke married for reasons other than love and Anna’s not being a virgin cast an initial pall on the marriage, but the great physical attraction between them draws them closer and ripens into a union of hearts and minds as well as bodies. I was very impressed by the way Balogh used the love scenes in this book to advance the story and the relationship between Luke and Anna. The love scenes are integral to the story – not added on as an afterthought.
Luke is a complicated man. At first glance he is a paradoxical mixture of rake and fop and frankly, not at all likable. But as the story progresses and his family dynamics are explored, the reader grows to understand him and he becomes much more sympathetic. When he and Anna have their first child, a daughter, instead of bemoaning the fact that she is not the heir, he responds to the baby with total love and devotion and names her Joy because he is so happy. A man who loves his family is guaranteed to melt my heart and it went out to Luke for the rest of the book.
Anna is as much a victim of family machinations as Luke is. She is being blackmailed and stalked by an obsessed man. Since she has grown to love her husband deeply, she is frightened of his reaction if learns the truth about her. After all, Lucas Kendrick is a Duke with a very large sense of family pride.
I closed Heartless with a feeling of exhilaration at having found a wonderful new to me author. I now have over thirty of Mary Balogh’s titles on my bookshelf and check every used bookstore I go into in the hopes of adding more.