The Gilded Web
I enjoyed Mary Balogh’s last reissued book, The Secret Pearl. However, The Gilded Web, originally published in 1989, falls well short of the high standard set by that one.
Alexandra Purnell, in search of a quiet moment outside the crowded ballroom, finds herself kidnapped and tied to a stranger’s bed. The bed belongs to Edmund, Earl of Amberley, and he is as ignorant as she is as to why this has happened. It turns out to be a case of mistaken identity. Edmund’s younger brother, Lord Eden, intended to stage an intervention and save his twin sister from an imprudent elopement. However, Alexandra ends up being the victim, and now Edmund – responsible, practical, and rather unemotional – must fix up Eden’s mess.
Alexandra, the daughter of a controlling father with strict religious beliefs, thinks life can go on as it was before. She is already betrothed to an elderly duke, so viewing Edmund’s offer of marriage as unnecessary, Alexandra declines. However, she is naïve and does not anticipate how society (or her betrothed) will react, and soon she will have no choice in the matter. Edmund, who was expected to marry soon anyway, thinks to make the best of it, while Alexandra is much more reluctant to accept this fate.
The proposals and rejections continue to go back and forth, with Eden getting in the action. Even when the betrothal is announced for the sake of her reputation, Alexandra does not want to really go through with it, while Edmund is both realistic and amazingly patient. Alexandra is consistently against the idea of marrying Edmund, even as she gets to know him and finds him to be respectable and kind. He is so clearly a better match than her previous betrothed that it’s difficult for both the reader and Alexandra to figure out exactly why she keeps saying no.
Balogh kept me turning the pages because I was curious as to why exactly Alexandra kept refusing, even as she and Edmund discover an unexpected attraction to each other. Alexandra was raised to be far more repressed than Edmund, and her growing desire for him frightens her. This was somewhat understandable, but the problem is that this goes on far too long and their relationship progresses far too slowly. Alexandra’s reluctance to marry Edmund after she knows he’s a good man is repetitive and tiring. Though Balogh is a skillful writer, the final revelation of why Alexandra acted the way she did and why she changes her mind was disappointing, and doesn’t ring entirely true either.
I preferred Edmund to Alexandra because he is easier to understand and acts far more rationally than Alexandra throughout the book. He is patient and kind with her, but the problem again goes back to Alexandra, because I just never figured out what he sees in her.
Both of Edmund’s siblings have their own subplots that take an enormous amount of time. They are colorful characters that sharply contrast with the reserved nature of both lead characters, yet they are just a distraction because their fates are left hanging in this book. There should have been a better payoff for the time spent with these characters, but instead, their fates are to be resolved in the sequels to this book – yet another disappointment.
Mary Balogh has many gems in her backlist, but The Gilded Web is simply not one of them.