A Christmas Bride

The Gifts of Christmas

Indiscreet

Irresistible

The Last Waltz

More Than a Mistress

One Night for Love

A Regency Christmas Carol

Silent Melody

The Temporary Wife

Thief of Dreams

Truly

Unforgiven

 
No Man’s Mistress by Mary Balogh
(Delacourt, $19.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-385-33529-6
*****
When my editor bestows on me the privilege of reviewing one of Mary Balogh’s books, I always begin with a disclaimer. All of Balogh’s books are keepers for me. She is simply my favorite author of Regencies and Regency historicals. After all, what else is a “keeper” except a book that one intends to read again? Since I have already read No Man’s Mistress twice, I feel quite comfortable giving it the coveted five heart rating.

The hero of the novel was introduced in More than a Mistress. Lord Ferdinand Dudley is the brother of the Duke of Tresham. In the earlier book he was a charming young man, filled with youthful spirits. Four years have passed and Ferdinand is now twenty-seven. Wealthy in his own right, he is still a man about London with a reputation for never turning down a challenge.

One night at Brooke’s, he is challenged in a game of cards to wager his £500 against the Earl of Bamber’s stake of an estate in the wilds of Somerset. He wins the bet and the estate and sets off to see what he has acquired. As he rides into the neighboring village of Trellick, he discovers that a May Day fete is in progress so he joins in the fun. He is particularly struck by the lovely young woman who seems to be in charge of the festivities so he steals a dance and a kiss.

Miss Viola Thornhill of Pinewood Manor has become one of the neighborhood’s most well-liked and respected inhabitants since she arrived two years earlier. She has made the estate a paying proposition and become involved in the life of the community. Her brief dalliance with the handsome stranger is a pleasant diversion. Nor does she pay much attention when a gypsy fortune teller warns her “Beware of a tall, dark stranger. He can destroy you if you do not first snare his heart.”

When the stranger rides up to Pinewood Manor the next day and informs Viola that he is its new owner, she refuses to accept his claim. The late Earl of Bamber had promised that he would leave her the estate in his will and she is sure that he kept his word. Ferdinand is equally sure that he is the rightful owner of the manor. Viola refuses to leave; Ferdinand likewise refuses to depart. It is a stalemate.

Viola is convinced that Lord Ferdinand - clearly a town dandy - will soon get tired of rural life, especially if she and her neighbors make it as unpleasant as possible for him. Ferdinand - never one to back down from a challenge - sets out to win over the neighborhood. As he proceeds, he also discovers that he enjoys country life. Pinewood Manor promises to give his life greater meaning and he becomes even more determined to claim it as his own.

As the two wait to hear the results of the inquiries into the true ownership of the manor, Viola and Ferdinand become better acquainted. Ferdinand finds his adversary charming, intelligent and lovely. He begins to worry about the ramifications of his staying in the same house with an unmarried lady. He begins to consider that Viola might be the perfect woman to share the manor with. Then his brother arrives from London with the awaited information and everything changes.

I can’t say enough about the masterful way that Balogh gradually uncovers Viola’s character and experiences. We know from the start that holding on to Pinewood Manor is very important to her but we don’t know why. We like and admire Viola but we know there is some secret in her past. She is a perfect lady, a gracious and caring landlord, a devoted daughter and sister, a pillar of the parish. She also has a sense of humor and a delightful wit. That Ferdinand is increasingly attracted to her makes perfect sense.

Ferdinand is a charmer. While he is insistent on his right to Pinewood Manor, he is not really unreasonable or unpleasant. His immediate sense of connection to the place makes his determination understandable. As we - and Viola - get to know him better, we - and Viola - find him a most admirable young man.

No Man’s Mistress is a very well plotted and developed story. The choices and motivations of the characters, both in the past and in the present, are clearly explained. These are complex people with complex lives and Balogh brings them vividly to life.

Those who have read More than a Mistress will enjoy revisiting the Duke and Duchess of Tresham four years later and discovering exactly how their particular story came out. But I am quite sure that this book can be enjoyed even if one has not read the prequel.

There are many, many poignant moments in No Man’s Mistress. I have to admit to tearing up more than once as I read the story. I was completely involved with the characters and felt their pain, their confusion, their anger, and, ultimately, their happiness. Balogh takes her readers into the hearts and souls of her characters. This is what makes her so good and this is why No Man’s Mistress will reside on my keeper shelves

--Jean Mason


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