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The Proposal
by Mary Balogh
(Delacorte, $26, PG-13) ISBN: 978-0-38534-332-9
****
Mary Balogh begins a new series, The Survivors' Club, with her new title, The Proposal. The first survivor up is Lord Hugo Trentham, recently Captain Emes, who was the leader of a successful but exceedingly deadly Forlorn Hope (context clues lead me to believe this was an ill-advised charge that created a brief opening for a bigger and successful military event), which not only led to him receiving a title but also a mental breakdown.

The Survivor's Club consists of Trentham and five others, three heavily wounded soldiers of the Napoleanic Wars, a war widow, and a duke who lost his son in the war and his wife to suicide shortly thereafter. Hugo, upon arriving for their annual visit in the countryside, announces that he is in need of a wife. Not that he wants one, or ever has; he is a solitary man who would prefer unattached life at his own country estate. However, a year previously, his father died, leaving him with a vast business empire that Hugo had promised to oversee and pass onto his own son. This being the early 19th century and in England, his only viable means of doing so is to locate a wife and start getting children upon her.

The joke is made that he will stumble across a willing lass at the beach. Fortuitously or not, he does the very next morning rescue a damsel in distress who herself has stumbled on the cliff. Only Gwendoline, Lady Muir, is no more inclined to marriage than Hugo, having already survived a deeply troubling one. Though Hugh is Lord Trentham, he is very common at heart and ill at ease with hit title and the society that accompanies it. Gwen is as sensitive to his snobbery as he is to her station in life, though this doesn't stop them from falling in love with one another or consummating their attraction.

With their identical viewpoints on marriage and their opposing lifestyles, the two, though open about their feelings, are aware that their relationship can never go any further than it has - and shouldn't go there too many times, considering an unplanned pregnancy will lead to that dreaded trip to the altar. Can they avoid marriage to one another based on principle, when principle is the only thing standing in their way?

The Proposal was fresh and sweet, even considering it's of a genre and from an author that are perennially both. Hugo and Gwen are warm characters readers will have no trouble attaching themselves to, and those of you who have read others of Mary Balogh's novels will happily recognize name-dropping from other series. The sneak peek of the other members of the Survivors' Club is certain to have fans and newbies alike coming back for the remainder of the series.

--Sarrah Knight


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