Amnesia is a favorite plot device of romance authors (and other genre
authors as well). Indeed, were the incidence of amnesia in the general
population the same as it is amongst the characters in novels, a goodly
number of people at any given moment would be wandering around with no
memory of their pasts. To the best of my knowledge, Mary Balogh has
never before employed this particular story device. What is interesting
about Simply Sinful is that this paragon of romance writers has
produced an interesting description of the impact of both losing and
finding one’s memory and a far less interesting romance.
This fifth book of the Bedwyn series is the tale of Lord Alleyne Bedwyn, the youngest brother. (Sister Morgan is younger still.) In his
mid-twenties, Alleyne has had a hard time finding his place in the
world. His older brother Aiden had done the army thing; his next brother Ranulf had taken his place as a landowner by taking over his
grandmother’s estate. What would Alleyne do with his life? Rejecting
politics, he decides to enter the diplomatic corps and thus finds
himself in the entourage of Sir Charles Stuart, ambassador extraordinaire, on the eve of Waterloo.
Alleyne is sent by his employer to carry an important letter to
Wellington (though why the ambassador would feel compelled to write such a letter at such a time is never spelled out). Alleyne delivers the letter successfully, receives the duke’s reply, and heads back to
Brussels. As he rides away, he is struck in the thigh by a bullet.
Losing blood, he also loses control of his horse and is thrown against a tree trunk in the Forest of Soissons. There is every chance that Alleyne will die in the forest.
Rachel York is also in trouble, but of a different kind. She had come to Brussels as the companion of a visiting English lady. She had met the Reverend Nigel Crawley, who had visited the society ladies seeking
donations for his charities. She had also met her old nurse, Bridget
Clover. That Bridget had become a member of the oldest profession since
she left service did not deter Rachel from pursuing a friendship with
the woman who had been like a mother to her. She is impressed that the
Reverend Crawley does not look down on Bridget and her associates;
indeed, he offers to take their not inconsiderable profits from their
Belgium venture back to London. He also proposes to Rachel, who entrusts her own small savings to his care. Then, on the journey back to England, Rachel discovers that Crawley is a fraud and that both her and their money is lost. She returns to Brussels to break the news in person.
The four prostitutes had hoped to be able to retire on their earnings.
Now they find themselves in dire straits. How to recoup their financial
position? They decide, somewhat reluctantly, that the ongoing battle
will offer them a chance if they can only bring themselves to “liberate” valuables from those unfortunate fellows who will need them no longer. Rachel, feeling responsible, determines to do her part. Of course, instead of finding riches, she finds Alleyne, naked, gravely wounded and helpless. She forgets about her quest for loot and, with the help of a passing wounded sergeant, takes the poor young man back to the brothel. (It should be noted that neither of the other prostitutes can bring themselves to loot the bodies either; Balogh has perfected the portrayal of the whore - or whores - with hearts of gold.)
The plot flows from the premises. Alleyne wakes up with no memory of who he is. Finding himself in a brothel, he understandably assumes that
Rachel - to whom he is attracted - is one of the working girls. When he
“seduces” her, he discovers his mistake; it is not a happy coupling for
either of them. Alleyne feels he cannot offer Rachel the recompense for
taking her virginity since he has no name to give her. He does decide
that he can help her - and her friends - in another way. Rachel is
heiress to her mother’s jewels but cannot gain possession of them unless her uncle approves of her marriage. So Alleyne proposes to pose as her husband, fool her uncle, and gain her possession of her fortune.
Dede, tyrant that she is, will not allow her reviewers to qualify their
ratings with those wonderful equivocators, plus and minus grades. Were I evaluating Slightly Sinful for one of my classes, I would assign it that most ambivalent of grades, B-/C+. It rises above merely
“acceptable” primarily because of the sensitive portrayal of Alleyne’s
experience both with losing his memory and gradually regaining it.
Alleyne is the best part of the book.
Rachel is much more of a stock character, the poor but lovely offspring
of a father who gambled away his fortune and who is too proud to seek
refuge with her uncle. Her unconventional behavior, both in befriending
Bridget and her associates and falling into bed with Alleyne, is not
completely believable. Thus, the romance, while acceptable, is not
Balogh’s best - although the touching ending almost redeems the love
The secondary characters include Bridget and her three associates and
Rachel’s uncle. I’m not sure what to make of Bridget, et. al. Balogh’s
prostitutes are always human and humane. While I understand that
circumstances were different during the Regency, I have sometime had
trouble believing that her characters are so untouched by the difficult
lives they have led. Rachel’s uncle is likewise a bit too accepting of
the unusual situations that the plot creates.
So take my four heart rating with a grain of salt. Balogh has taken the
familiar amnesia plot and done a good job of making the reader feel the
fear and confusion that must accompany that condition. But the romance
in Slightly Sinful does not quite come up to her usual standards. However, I simply can’t bring myself to give my favorite author a three heart rating. Expectations for a Balogh romance are always so high that I suppose that every now and then, she doesn’t quite hit a home run - or even a double. But a single isn’t a strike out.