No Man's Mistress
Grade : C+

I would call myself a tentative Balogh fan. One of my favorite romances is Heartless. I read that book and then, in a frenzy of excitement, snapped up a good deal of her backlist. Unfortunately, I have not found another Balogh that I felt equalled Heartless, and there have been three of her books that annoyed, frustrated, or infuriated me (two of which my colleagues here at AAR have granted DIK status): A Precious Jewel, More Than a Mistress, and this one, No Man's Mistress.

Viola Thornhill has been living a peaceful life in the country for the last two years. She inherited a piece of property, Pinewood Manor, from the late Earl of Bamber and has worked hard to improve it and to establish herself in the local community. She has a secret and shadowy past, but no one in the area knows it, and she has managed to create for herself something of a normal life. Imagine her distress when a man shows up on her doorstep claiming that he now owns Pinewood Manor and flashing the deed before her eyes.

Ferdinand Dudley won the deed to Pinewood in a card game with the new Earl of Bamber. He is the younger son of the late Duke of Tresham and has his own fortune, but he has never had any property of his own before. He goes to visit Pinewood to inspect it, but, to his great surprise, finds it already occupied. Viola refuses to leave, and in a fit of pique Ferdinand insists that he won't be the one to go either. They are forced to live together at Pinewood in a tentative truce while they wait for confirmation of the terms of Bamber's will to arrive. There is an immediate attraction between them, but neither wishes to act upon it.

No Man's Mistress was a real mixed bag for me. One the one hand, it is well-written, if you can handle the spare sameness of Balogh's sentence structure and some repetitious phrasing. The story really moved along, and I was never bored. I also liked the characters. Although I have some reservations about Viola's actions, there is no doubt that she is a genuinely good person. And then there is Ferdinand. He's an extremely sympathetic character, and my genuine liking for him notched up my overall enjoyment of this book. He's charming, very attractive, bright, helpful, and empathetic. He's also extremely non-judgmental. I liked every scene that he was in.

On the other hand the actions of several of the characters, particularly Viola, either angered or frustrated the heck out of me. The main problem I had with this book is that it seems to me that all of Viola's problems could have been avoided, or, at the very least, severely minimized if she had just opened her mouth and communicated with someone. There are a number of ways she could have solved her problems if she had just taken her mother, her father, her uncle, or, during the course of the story, Ferdinand into her confidence. That she doesn't reminded me of an old boyfriend who caused himself suffering on purpose because he felt he was helping other people. He seemed to take a sort of perverse pleasure in being this way. I recognized the same quality in Viola. How else can you explain her rejection or avoidance of the opportunities she is given to get herself out of her difficulties?

For me, it comes down to this: the decisions that Viola makes I would never make unless I had a gun pressed to my head, and even then, I might say, "Shoot." There is no way I would make those decisions without fully exploring all of my options. I had a pretty strong "Ick!" reaction to some of the things Viola did.

Finally, I thought Viola's relationship with her mother and especially their reconciliation to be so glossed over as to be unbelievable. Balogh hardly condemns Viola's mother at all for all of the deceitful and injurious things she does to Viola. I absolutely hated this character. I wanted her to be punished for what she had done, but this is not what happened.

As I said before, this book was a real mixed experience for me. I know there will be many people out there who will enjoy it more than I did. If you liked More than a Mistress, you will very likely enjoy this one as well. But though No Man's Mistress is well-written and a fast-moving story, it did not leave me satisfied. It upset me. So I can't recommend it.

Reviewed by Rachel Potter
Grade : C+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 29, 2001

Publication Date: 2002

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