Someone to Wed
By Mary Balogh
Release Date: November 7, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
Alexander Westcott never expected to become Earl of Riverdale, and he is not happy to have inherited a neglected estate with the title but with no funds to restore the properties. Nevertheless, his keen sense of responsibility forces him to do his best by the land and his dependents at Brambledean Court who have suffered too long from the actions of an irresponsible, selfish lord. Alex admits to his mother and sister that marrying an heiress seems to be his only option, but recognizing the necessity of marrying for money did not prepare him for the bargain offered to him by a reclusive neighbor.
Wren Heyden is an enormously wealthy woman, having inherited a flourishing Staffordshire glassworks from her uncle. Despite her wealth, she has chosen to live the life of a recluse because of a birthmark that covers one side of her face. Wren is lonely and as her thirtieth birthday draws near, she becomes conscious of a desire for human warmth and companionship. She is looking for someone to wed, and in her logical fashion she has drawn up a list of five candidates. Her plan is to invite them to tea in turn. The first and second gentlemen on her list have proved unsuitable. It is at this point that the Earl of Riverdale arrives. He is not what she expects; he is too young and too handsome. Still, she makes her proposal: “Perhaps we could combine forces and each acquire what we want.”
Everything about his visit to his neighbor’s home astonishes Alex. He is shocked to find her alone except for a token chaperone when he arrives. He is surprised to have her greet him heavily veiled and in a darkened room. He is offended by her directness in monetary manners and by her suggestion of a marriage of convenience very like the one he was already contemplating. He is not bothered by her birthmark, which she sees as making her unmarriageable without her fortune, but he is disturbed by the complexities that he senses beneath Wren’s cold, controlled façade. Yet, he agrees to consider her proposal, but further meetings end with a mutual decision that they should part. And so they do. Alex returns to his London world and soon selects a potential bride; Wren returns to her business, even going to Staffordshire.
When Wren uncharacteristically decides to visit London, they meet again. Neither has been able to forget the other. As they spend time together, Alex begins to believe that Wren will allow him into her inner world, and Wren recognizes how unrealistic were her expectations of clinging to her reclusive life if she became Alex’s countess. With Alex at her side, the support of his large family, who welcome her warmly to their midst, and her own high courage, Wren confronts her fears and her past.
Someone to Wed is the third novel in Balogh’s Westcott series. In this one, the author takes the marriage of convenience trope and gives it a new twist as she pairs an unlikely couple in a match instigated by the heroine. She also takes a couple who could have turned readers off and makes them sympathetic and likable. In less skillful hands, Alex might have been one of those heroes too perfect to be believed. He is handsome, charming, honorable, and generous—and a good son and companionable brother. In fact, perfection is Wren’s first impression of him: “If she were to dream up the perfect hero for the perfect romantic fairy tale she could not do better than the very real man standing halfway across the room. . . . ” But Alex is saved from bland flawlessness by his own recognition of his faults. For example, he recognizes the inconsistency of his finding a proposal offensive when Wren makes it that would not have bothered him had he, or another man, made a similar proposal.
Wren as she is first introduced is so cool, isolated, and rational that she is not an emotionally attractive heroine. Balogh needs to make her reserved and socially awkward to reveal the effects of her extraordinary life. She compensates by making her such an interesting, mysterious character initially that the reader is hooked, and later, as Wren lets down her defensive walls, her natural warmth and her brave choices win the reader’s heart. I also loved Wren’s insistence on her personhood. She says to Alex, quite early in the story: “If I must choose between being a person and being a typical woman of our times, Lord Riverdale, I would choose personhood without hesitation.” Even when she embraces her womanhood, Wren insists on her personhood. A large part of Alex’s appeal is that he recognizes her personhood and respects her autonomy even after she becomes his wife.
Admittedly, the pace of the book is slow. Alex and Wren’s story is about as far from insta-lust as a romance can be. They meet and part and meet again and gradually come to understand their feelings for each other. They don’t so much fall in love as they grow in love. This is one of the things I valued most in this book, having read a surfeit of books based on a romance variation of Caesar’s description of victory: I saw, I lusted, I came. A book in a Balogh series invites readers into a world in which all the characters in the series—and occasionally characters from another series—reside. Most of the Westcotts and their connections make an appearance in this book, and, of course, new characters are introduced. I find such rich contexts appealing. I even loved that Camille and Joel and their family (Someone to Hold), living happily in Bath, earn a mention and Wren anticipates meeting them. And I thought Colin, Wren’s rediscovered brother, was delightful. I hope to see more of him. Other readers may feel that the large family distracts from the central love story, just as some readers may long for a more rapid pace. I see these qualities as strengths.
Balogh is quite simply one of the most gifted authors in the romance genre. She has been giving her readers memorable, engaging, character-driven stories for more than three decades, and the Westcott series confirms that she continues her record of excellence. I enthusiastically recommend Someone to Wed. I am already counting the days (six months to go) to the release of the next Westcott story: Someone to Care, the story of Viola Kingsley, the countess who was not a countess and who is now a forty-year-old grandmother. Now that’s a rare heroine!