My rating: 3 of 5 stars
3 1/2 stars
As the last installment in the Slightly series, this was probably the most anticipated read of my recent reading history. To be fair, I didn't love all the previous books in the series, but I was more than ready to love this one. Why? Because it was about Wulf... *sighs*
As the story opens, Wulfric Bedwyn, the Duke of Bewcastle, is feeling somewhat morose and too old at thirty-five. His siblings are all happily married, procreating and living away in their own residences, his long-time mistress passed away a few months ago and he hasn't replaced her yet, and the parliamentary session has ended, leaving him to dread the lonely summer that awaits him at Lindsey Hall, his country estate. This unusual state of mind prompts him to accept an invitation to attend a two-week house party at one of his friends' sister's estate, something that's completely out of his character. He regrets his decision almost immediately, as he doesn't expect to find any enjoyment there, but he's a man of his word and he's accepted the invitation, so off he goes... only to have his already low expectations crushed right upon his arrival.
Christine Derrick is a 29-year-old widow who's only attending the house party as a favor to the party's hostess, Lady Renable. Considering that Christine's brother- and sister-in-law were also invited to the party and they pretty much despise her, she'd rather be somewhere else, but she couldn't refuse her friend's request. She plans to "hide" in the background and avoid drawing attention to herself, but disaster seems to follow her. It doesn't take long until she catches not only Wulf's attention but everyone else's too. She can't help it. She's just too "full of life" to sit quietly in the corner. Riiiight...
Wulf and Christine are complete opposites. He's aloof, haughty and the Duke of Bewcastle. She's bubbly, clumsy and a schoolmaster's daughter. However, they can't help falling for each other, even though they know they're completely ill-matched. So where does this leave them? Well, if you're familiar with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, you know what happens next.
Oh man, what can I say? I'm devastated, but this book didn't live up to my sky-high expectations. As I said in the first paragraph above, I was ready to love it, so one could say I was even willing to accept minor grievances. Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way. It took me three days to finish this read, and that's bad considering I was expecting to devour this book in one sitting. So what went wrong?
In one word, Christine. I didn't like her for the most part of the story. She was supposed to be fun and loving, a big contrast to Wulf's character, but I think Ms. Balogh went a bit too far. Christine's antics made her look childish and foolish, not charming and endearing. Many reviewers liken her to Elizabeth Bennett, the heroine in Pride and Prejudice, but I kept picturing Lydia, Elizabeth's silly, idiotic sister. :( It was quite jarring, because Christine also had some moments of great maturity and wisdom. In the end, I just didn't know who (or what) she was.
Now Wulf, ah Wulf! I'm in love with the man! He was pretty much like he was in the previous books: icy and always in control. I was glad to see that Ms. Balogh didn't turn him into an overtly emotional hero only because he was in love. The glimpses into his inner thoughts were sufficient to show that, contrary to what everyone believed, there was a beating heart inside his chest and blood in his veins. Even so, he opened up enough to Christine to tell her about his upbringing and how deeply he was affected by the way he was "molded" to be the Duke of Bewcastle. That was a beautiful and powerful scene, and I had tears in my eyes when I finished reading it.
As for the plot, this book was clearly an homage to Pride and Prejudice, as many reviewers have already mentioned. I don't have a problem with it, as Ms. Austen's classic novel is one of my all-time favorite books, but Ms. Balogh didn't do the job as well as Ms. Austen when it came to making me believe that a hero and a heroine so unlikely matched would live HEA. Strangely enough, the sex scenes were part of the "problem". Wulf and Christine's lovemaking felt cold and I didn't sense any sexual tension between them, so I couldn't help picturing a lukewarm marriage in their future. Paired with the fact that Christine would definitely have a hard time adjusting to being the Duchess of Bewcastle, the whole scenario didn't scream HEA to me.
All in all, this was a disappointing read. Not because it was bad - it wasn't - but because it could have been so much better... I was poised to love it, but ended up finding it "only" slightly better than average. I know I'm in the minority here, as most readers love this book, so don't let my review influence you. If you're following the Slightly series, you definitely have to read this book.
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