Someone to Love
I don’t know where the time is going, but it seems hardly any has elapsed between turning the last page of Only Beloved, the final novel in Mary Balogh’s Survivor’s Club series – and reading Someone to Love, the first story in her new, eight-part Westcott series. The story revolves around an orphan who discovers she is an heiress, and tells of her interactions with her new family and the highs and lows contained therein. Its underlying themes are, surely to do with the importance of self and family; about remaining true to who one believes oneself to be under even the most difficult of circumstances, and the importance of having those around us who love, understand and comfort us. These unwritten truths of the human condition are exactly the sorts of things that Mary Balogh explores so well within the pages of all her books; she isn’t much given to melodrama or high-adventure, preferring to work upon the smaller canvas of her characters’ experiences and emotions – good and bad – in ways that are relatable and familiar to readers.
Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has recently died and has left his heir to the guardianship of Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby. After the reading of the late earl’s will, his widow asks the family solicitor for his help on a delicate matter. She knows that her late husband had been supporting an illegitimate child born before their marriage, and she would like to make some kind of final settlement upon her. Lady Riverdale asks the family solicitor to seek out this young woman and then to make her and Avery aware of the results of the search.
Anna Snow is twenty-five years old, and has lived almost all her life in the orphanage in Bath at which she is now a teacher. She enjoys her life and her job, she has good friends around her and is content. Completely out of the blue, she receives a letter from a solicitor she has never heard of, informing her that he is sending a chaise to take her to London for a few days. Anna is puzzled, having no idea what awaits her, but arranges a leave of absence from the school and travels to the capital with the companion provided for her.
Of course, Anna is the late Earl of Riverdale’s daughter, but unfortunately for the family, the solicitor’s inquiries have revealed much more than her identity and location, and this information is going to change the lives of the Westcott family forever.
For the child believed to be a by-blow is actually legitimate, the issue of the earl’s marriage to the daughter of a country parson. His wedding to Lady Riverdale took place a few months before the death of his wife, meaning the later marriage was bigamous, and the son and daughters who believed themselves to be members of the nobility are nothing of the sort. The repercussions of this discovery are huge. The earldom and entailed property pass to the viscount’s cousin, Alexander, who has absolutely no desire to be an earl, far preferring his life as a country squire; the eldest Westcott daughter is jilted by her fiancé and the family is suddenly presented with Anna Snow – really Lady Anastasia Westcott – sole heiress to the earl’s unentailed property and almost the entirety of his fortune.
The Duke of Netherby watches all this from the sidelines, presenting a calm voice of reason amid all the turmoil. He is the first person to appreciate that Anna’s pleasant, demure manner hides a steel backbone, and he is surprised to find that he rather likes and admires her for it. He is one of those archetypally ennui-laden aristocrats often found gracing the pages of historical romance; he doesn’t like to exert himself overmuch and pays great attention to his clothes, but he’s sharp as a tack and far from a fop. Unlike the typical romance hero however, he’s not tall, dark and handsome; he’s of average height, slightly built and almost angelically beautiful, and yet he possesses an aura of power held in check and there’s an almost overwhelming self-confidence and masculinity about him that means that he’s the centre of attention in any room he enters and that people generally fall over themselves to please him. He’s also witty and charming to those he allows close enough to discern that about him, and the relationship that develops between him and Anna is an unlikely friendship underpinned by a completely unexpected mutual attraction.
There is quite a lot going on in this story, and I admit to having been just a little bit overwhelmed by all the different family members and connections that are introduced. I suppose that this is because Someone to Love is the first in a series and there is a lot to be set up, but I still had to stop a few times to remind myself as to who was who. The two principal characters are well drawn and Avery, in particular, is very intriguing, especially given he is so unlike the standard romance novel hero. Being small and somewhat feminine in appearance as a child, he was horribly bullied when he was younger, and although he tried everything he could to fight it, nothing worked. But a chance encounter in his teens helped him to overcome the bullies and I really appreciated his unusual backstory and loved learning how he gained his incredible self-possession.
Anna is perhaps a little too good to be true, but I liked her for her insistence on retaining her own sense of identity in the face of her sudden change in situation and enormous external pressure. Faced with a group of very determined ladies of the ton, she recognises their superior knowledge of society and its conventions and allows herself to be guided by them – but only up to a point. Her delight at the discovery that she has a family, something she’s dreamed of all her life, is bittersweet, given that family’s reaction to her, but I admired her ability to have empathy for them, even when their actions were deliberately hurtful.
The romance is fairly low-key but perfectly in character for both Anna and Avery, who are not people given to histrionics or great flights of passion. As it turns out, both are looking for Someone to Love – even Avery, who has cultivated aloofness and detachment to such an extent that he finds them difficult to shed, and I enjoyed the glimpse Ms. Balogh gives us into what happens to a new marriage after the honeymoon period and the difficulties faced by a fledgling husband and wife in adapting to their new state.
I enjoyed Someone to Love very much, and I am looking forward to learning more about Harry, Alex, Camilla, and the other characters introduced in the course of the story. Once again, Mary Balogh’s ability to create interesting characters and plotlines shines through, and her great strength in exploring the emotions and motivations of those characters is much in evidence. My final grade takes into account the fact that the book suffers somewhat from “set-up-itis”, but it’s nonetheless a strong start to a new series from this much loved author.