Someone to Hold
Mary Balogh’s Westcott series revolves around an earl’s family discovering upon his death that he was a bigamist with a wife and child kept hidden from everyone. When the truth comes out there are devastating ramifications for the family left behind. Someone to Hold is the second book of the series but is the first story to take a closer look at how a person rebuilds after such an incredible upheaval.
The lies and betrayals of the late Earl of Riverdale have caused irreparable damage to his immediate family. Without the earl’s fortune to support them, the remaining Westcotts have scattered, with his son joining the military, his widow moving in with her brother and his two youngest daughters living with their maternal grandmother in Bath. Camille Westcott has taken her demotion from privileged eldest daughter to illegitimate middle daughter very badly, especially as her fiancé decided he could no longer honor their betrothal and broke the engagement. Sadly for Camille, his dismissal was just one of many; and her so-called friends were quick to abandon her to her fate. After weeks of sulking in her grandmother’s home, Camille understands that the future laid out for her almost from birth is no longer an option; however at twenty-two she’s unsure what she’s expected to do now.
Hoping to take control of her life for the first time Camille decides to walk a few miles in the shoes of her half-sister and applies for a teaching position at the orphanage in which Anna Snow – now the Duchess of Netherby – grew-up and taught. The headmistress is wary of Camille’s lack of teaching experience but needs to fill the post quickly. It’s a trial by fire for Camille, made even more difficult when she is introduced to Joel Cunningham, one of Anna’s closest friends and someone who knows just how poorly Camille treated her half-sister.
Joel is predisposed to dislike Camille out of loyalty and a fair bit of love for his friend. He and Anna grew up together at the orphanage and while she was lucky to escape her circumstances due to a quirk of birth, Joel has had to work his way into a better life. Fortunately a wealthy patron of the orphanage paid for Joel’s studies at a prestigious art school, paving the way to his career as a portrait artist in Bath. Twice a week Joel gives back to the orphanage by teaching the children art, an occasion he used to enjoy when he shared the classroom with Anna. With Camille assuming the teaching job, Joel dreads spending time with a woman he sees as petty and cruel and a small part of him wants to see her fail.
Camille uses the teaching position to learn a few lessons about herself. Little by little she takes pride in what she’s doing, even if she believes her efforts are a failure. Joel is a casual observer to a few of Camille’s successes but he is put firmly in her path when he’s commissioned by her grandmother to paint her portrait along with her younger sister. Making a study of Camille to find the best way to present her on canvas forces Joel to remove his prejudices and see her for the struggling young woman she really is. Friendship and much more grows as Joel allows himself to connect with Camille rather than compare her to Anna. When a revelation about Joel’s parentage comes to light his reversal in fortune flares old insecurities for them both, jeopardizing the burgeoning love they were only beginning to realize was there.
Someone to Hold might have been a tough story to enjoy if Camille’s character remained the “poor little rich girl” she’s introduced as. There are moments in the earliest chapters of the book that show she’s still struggling with the truth about her father, making her a bit less engaging to me. Ms. Balogh’s genius in developing Camille’s character is that I went on the exact same journey Joel does to fall in love with her as a heroine. I could cringe at some of her lingering pretentiousness but also cheer for her when she makes a breakthrough in her life. Her little victories with the children or her family made me like her for the woman she was becoming. It was an interesting story choice to put Camille in Anna’s place at the orphanage because it gave her perspective on why her half-sister was so desperate to bond with her new family. There is a poignant moment towards the end that shows just how far Camille has matured when she can accept Anna as a full sister rather than distancing herself from the woman by emphasizing the “half”.
Where the story falls down is in presenting all the discoveries Joel makes about his own background and how it affects him. Initially he is quite proud that he’s made something of himself despite coming from nothing; however when he’s informed that his life had been somewhat guided by his biological family it makes him question too many of those once valued achievements. Joel turns to Camille for answers about his changed circumstances but when he dislikes her responses it makes him a bit moody and not as charming as he once was. The revelations about Joel’s family also put several wheels in motion to wrap up the story with a nice little historical bow that diminishes all the hard lessons both characters learned from having to fight for their independence.
I jumped into Someone to Hold without reading the first Westcott book; however I believe moving forward with the story without all the series set-up was a blessing. I could accept that traumatic things happened to the characters but felt more compassion for how they pulled themselves back from that moment rather than feeling their anger during the events. I enjoyed Camille and Joel’s story and now know enough to keep my eyes open for the next chapter of this family’s saga.