Someone to Love
Mary Balogh’s latest novel, Someone to Love has divided opinion among AAR staffers. Caz Owens loved it while Kristen Donnelly and Keira Soleore were less than impressed. Here are their thoughts on the book.
In Someone to Love, an orphan discovers she’s actually not one and a duke realizes that love is more powerful than fear. Anna Snow works as a teacher in the orphanage in which she grew up. Shocked by a sudden summons to London, she discovers that she’s actually a titled heiress and is thrown by the flurry of preparations for her début into society. Overwhelmed, she feels her only connection is a man she has never met, but who has been a close friend of her family, Avery, Duke of Netherby. A slightly built man, Avery nonetheless radiates a strength and presence Anna has never encountered before. Their relationship grows amidst a cadre of secondary characters before their love story ties up in a neat, if not hurried, bow.
KND: Keira, thanks so much for chatting about Someone to Love with me! I know you’re a reader of historical romance, probably more so than I am, so I’m eager to hear your opinions. This is the first in a new series for Ms. Balogh, but I have to be honest and say it didn’t really work for me. What was your opinion of the book overall?
KRS: Kristen, this is my first Pandora’s Box, and I’m looking forward to our discussion. I’m a huge historical romance fan; in fact, most of my romance reading is comprised of historicals. I’m also a big Mary Balogh fan. That is why it is with sorrow that I say I found Someone to Love disappointing. I felt there were typical Regency romance shorthands employed in lieu of full character development. Even some of the plot elements were commonplace. What are your thoughts?
KND: Like I said above, the book didn’t really work for me. The characters all felt a little off; some of them more like caricatures than characters and I think the author tried to do a bit too much. I rarely have to write down my own chart of supporting characters to keep them straight in a romance novel and I did this time.
KRS: There were a lot of secondary characters and all were closely related, I had to flip back and forth in the book trying to figure out who was who.
What did you think of Avery, the Duke of Netherby? To me, for the greater part of the book, he was patterned on Avon from Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades down to mannerisms and dressing.
KND: This is where I meekly admit I’ve never read any of Heyer’s books, so I have no comparison. I appreciated the attempt to have a hero who wasn’t alpha in physicality, but who had learned how to assert himself through other means. Was that martial art he was doing T’ai Chi? It sounded like it to me, but I am certainly no expert! I wish we could have explored that a bit more richly. As a character, he just felt off to me. I can’t quite explain it, but he just never really worked, nor did I ever buy that he loved Anna in the way the text claimed.
If he was patterned on Avon, was that a good thing? How did you feel about Avery?
KRS: Avon is such a richly-developed character that patterning Avery after him made Avery feel hackneyed to me, derivative even. As a result, he never came to life as an individual, and so I didn’t buy into his motivations.
The slow, precise movements did suggest T’ai Chi Ch’uan to me. Yes, I understood it helped his self-esteem as a kid, but why did he continue on as an adult? As it was done in the book, it was very much of the Karate Kid form and felt tacked on in order to give Avery some depth.
KND: Nuance is definitely what I was looking for throughout the book, but especially in that storyline. And what about Anna? I felt she was a little too perfect, and her letters drove me nuts. While it was nice to get an insight into her mental state, the cadence of the letters, especially as an unmarried woman to an unmarried man, felt very off to me.
KRS: I agree that Anna was too perfect. She didn’t change at all throughout the novel. There was nothing she had to work through and grow out of. I find perfection unbelievable and ultimately, unreliable and unrelatable.
And yes, what was with those letters? It’s not just that an unmarried lady is writing so intimately and at length to an unmarried man, but also that we see the action happen in the story, then we see the action again through her letters. I found that aspect boring and felt that that whole sub-plot could’ve been excised without affecting the story.
What did you think of the romance as a whole from the introduction to the I-Love-You?
KND: I found it, to be frank, cold and confusing. Even at the very end, I didn’t buy these two would commit to each other. It felt like another plot element, rather than a driver of the story, and made me wonder exactly what story Ms. Balogh was trying to tell. A fish-out-of-water story? A tale of a family? There were too many moving pieces for me to really be able to tell what the point truly was.
KRS: I found the romance rather unromantic. Avery doesn’t woo Anna so much as he just goes through some of the motions with her. She doesn’t fall in love with him, but rather is told by him that they have a romantic relationship and so believes that, indeed, she loves him. Cold is exactly right. There were flashes of “awww…” like when he told her right at the beginning that he might fall in love with her, but overall, you don’t see them fall in love with each other so much as being told “okay, now they’re in love.”
He’s supposed to be a rake but acts rather un-rakishly.
KND: “Okay, now they’re in love” – exactly how I felt. So many things in this book happened because we were told they happened, not because there was evidence on the page, per se.
I think it’s pretty clear that we’re doing to dip back into the story of some of these cousins. Camilla, in particular, has a growth arc as a secondary character in this book, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her story soon. Similarly with Harry and Elizabeth, less so with some of the others. If my hunch is correct and this book is setting up the rest of the series, I find the focus on that damaged the romance of the main couple and actually did little to compel me to read further.
Did anyone intrigue you enough to keep an eye out for their story?
KRS: Someone to Love is the first of a series of eight books, possibly for all the young people brought up in the secondary cast of characters. They were definitely introduced and set up for that, which took away from the romance. However, the romance suffers in any case, due to lack of romantic development.
I am looking forward to the new Earl of Riverdale’s book. I’d like to give one more book of this series a try, because… after all this is Mary Balogh. That book can only be an improvement over this one.
What did you like about the book?
KND: I liked Anna’s relationship with Elizabeth quite a bit; the scenes between the two of them were my favorites. I also thought Ms. Balogh did a good job of exploring the idea that Anna did not view this inheritance as a solution to a problem, for she never felt she had problems. The line “there is no kindness in money”, which she says to Avery early on in the book, will stay with me, I believe.
KRS: The writing in certain small sections where a character waxes philosophical were done really well. For example, in the orphanage before Anna leaves, her close friend, Joel, is having a conversation with her.
Do you suppose we are afraid to move away lest our parents come for us and not know where to find us? Tell me it is not that, Anna, please. I am twenty-seven years old.
Another example is when Avery discusses with her how she should be in her new role as heiress to the newly departed Earl of Riverdale.
You can continue being dowdy if you wish or allow yourself to be decked out in all the latest fashions and finery. And you can remain impossible or prove that to a lady of character all things are possible.
That entire Chinese philosophy scene, while completely incongruous, was very well done.
KND: Right, so overall this would be a C+ from me. It was fine, and I enjoyed several moments, but it’s going to fall out of my head pretty quickly and I’m not sure I’ll dip back into the series. What’s the grade for you?
KRS: For me the book is a C. I have higher expectations of Ms. Balogh than other writers, so despite flashes of her old brilliance, the book gets a lower grade than it would, say, for a début book by a new author.