The Last Waltz
Mary Balogh can create some of the most thoughtful, complex conflicts around. She can also write “Big Misunderstanding” plots that make you want to knock the main characters’ heads together. Unfortunately, The Last Waltz falls into the latter category. While the book is enjoyable for its charming setting and well-developed secondary characters, the gloom of the misunderstanding casts too long a shadow.
Gerard Percy has been away in Canada for ten years, but he journeys home to England when he unexpectedly becomes the Earl of Wanstead. Somehow his friends convince him to not only return to the estate he has inherited, but also to host a Christmas house party there. He is immediately at odds with Christina, the newly widowed Countess. Years ago, the two had been in love, but Christina jilted Gerard in favor of his richer cousin, Gilbert. Now there is only hatred between the two of them, and Christina does not approve of the idea for a house party.
The book follows a predictable Regency pattern. The house party proceeds as planned, and several eligible young ladies are there, including one who vies seriously for Gerard’s hand. Gerard and Christina spend a lot of time arguing. Christina is extremely puritanical; she objects to both dancing and cards. She is scarred by her relationship with Gilbert, who was abusive in every way, and she is afraid of Gerard and his financial power over her. The misunderstanding is eventually resolved…at the end of the book. Up until the bitter end, Christina and Gerard hate each other.
With most misunderstanding plots, the reader is “in the know”, and able to see both sides of the story. Not so with The Last Waltz; Christina’s behavior is only explained at the end. Her jilting of Gerard is understandable only then; for most of the book you are left to wonder why on earth Christina would leave Gerard in favor of the evil Gilbert. And although her original jilting of Gerard is forgivable, her subsequent behavior is not. Her hatred of Gerard is completely unjustified, as she was clearly the one in the wrong. The worst thing Gerard ever does is make a few unkind comments, for which he immediately apologizes. But her relentless hatred continues to the bitter end. There are few loving moments between the couple, and the single love scene is ill-timed, taking place while Christina and Gerard still hate each other.
The Christmas setting is charming and well-integrated into the plot, and the secondary characters add some lighthearted moments. This somewhat offsets the lack of positive interaction between the main characters. Christina has two little girls who are finally experiencing Christmas (their father made the family sit and pray all day), and their interaction with Christina and Gerard is heartwarming. But The Last Waltz is clearly not Balogh’s best. Fans would do better to reread an old favorite. The Notorious Rake and A Certain Magic both made it into my keeper pile. This one will not.