NEW!: Comment below for a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of Mary Balogh’s The Proposal!*
Delacorte / May 1, 2012 / $16.97 print, $12.99 digital
Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy, especially since a freak accident took her husband much too soon. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.
Hugo never intends to kiss Lady Muir, and frankly, he judges her to be a spoiled, frivolous—if beautiful—aristocrat. He is a gentleman in name only: a soldier whose bravery earned him a title; a merchant’s son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. He doesn’t wish to court Lady Muir, nor have any role in the society games her kind thrives upon. Yet Hugo has never craved a woman more; Gwen’s guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face have ruined him for any other woman. He wants her, but will she have him?...
It is both a blessing and a curse to be a heroine whose story readers have yearned for lo these thirteen years. The Proposal, the first book in Mary Balogh’s new series, the Survivors’ Club, is the story of Gwendoline, Lady Muir, whom we first met in One Night For Love, which was published in 1999.
Gwen is a loving sister, daughter, cousin, aunt, friend, and all of Balogh’s readers have come to appreciate her.
Gwen is a widow with a permanent limp because of a riding accident that not only injured her severely, but also caused a miscarriage. Her husband died within the year, in what is described as “a tragic accident.” The blessing is that there is an enormous amount of pent-up curiosity about Gwen’s mysterious back-story.
A quick segue, if I may, to introduce the members of the Survivor’s Club. In Mary Balogh’s words, the Survivors’ Club is “a group of wounded veterans of the Napoleonic Wars who spent a few years together on a country estate recuperating from their wounds and who now gather there for a few weeks each year.  The hero of this book is Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham, a dour giant of an ex-army officer, who was awarded his title for extraordinary bravery during battle and then, as he put it, went out of his head and had to be brought back to England in a straitjacket.”
For me, the curse is the awkwardness of cobbling Gwen’s story with a new series. What makes it work so effectively is that Gwen is nothing if not a survivor herself. The pattern of Gwen’s predictable life is broken when she decides to visit Vera, a recently widowed friend, for a month, a decision she soon comes to regret. Her friend’s caustic, cruel reaction to a letter from Gwen’s mother leads Gwen to leave her friend’s house and commence a slippery dangerous walk across the pebbly beach nearby. While attempting to scramble up the cliff above the beach, Gwen twists her ankle severely. But wait, our hero, Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham, is on a solitary ramble of his own and sees her plight and rescues her. Gwen’s injury is so severe that Hugo’s host invites her to join the Survivors’ Club gathering while she recuperates.
Gwen and Hugo, much to their mutual surprise, share their innermost thoughts. The themes and conflicts of The Proposal are revealed when Gwen tells Hugo about her marriage and explains why she has not considered remarriage in the intervening years:
… That one marriage brought me brought me great joy, but it also brought me almost more misery than I could bear. I wanted peace afterward. I wanted it for the rest of my life. I have had it now for seven years and am perfectly content to remain as I am.
They continue discussing her situation, and she clarifies,
“He would have to be the perfect man,” she said, “and there is really no such thing as perfection, is there? He would have to be an even-tempered, cheerful, comfortable companion who has known no great trouble in his life. He would have to offer a relationship that promised peace and stability and … Oh, and simplicity with no excessive highs and lows.”
. . . . . .
“No passion?” he asked her. “He would not have to be good in bed?”
To which she replies:
"Pleasure in the marriage bed need not involve passion, as you put it. It can be simply shared comfort. If I were looking for a husband, I would be happy with the shared comfort. And if you are looking for a wife who is practical and capable, passion cannot count a great deal with you either, can it?”
But he rejoins with:
“A woman can be practical and capable and lusty too,” he said. “She would have to be lusty if I were to marry her. I am going to have to give up other women when I wed…
Gwen is the sheltered daughter of an earl, living a widow’s rather circumscribed and conventional life. Hugo is not an aristocrat by birth but he, through his extraordinary courage in war, has garnered a legendary reputation. He has also inherited a considerable fortune from his tradesman father. They are at a crossroads in their lives, but once they meet, talk, and love, they are unable to turn away from the promise each offers the other. The Proposal quietly and movingly explores the love story of two people who always communicate honestly, often with dry, self-deprecating humor.
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