This week I’m doing something slightly different. In this post, I will combine very short reviews of the first five books of Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club series. This is for a simple reason: I read the first book very long ago, and the next four back to back this summer, which perhaps wasn’t such a good idea – they are blurring together in my head by now – and now the sixth book, Only A Kiss, is out! So, then plan is to give you an idea about the earlier books in the series, and a longer review of the new one as soon as I get it!
The Survivors’ Club is a group of six titled men and one woman, all of whom have suffered either physical or psychological damage during the Napoleonic wars and become friends while recuperating at Penderris Hall in Cornwall. In each book, one of the Survivors finds love and, to an extent anyway, peace.
The Proposal (2012) is the first book in the series. The hero is Hugo Emes, a big, gruff brute of a man who suffers from survivor’s guilt. He meets Gwen, a recurring secondary character from Balogh’s earlier novels (the Bedwyn Prequels One Night for Love and A Summer to Remember), as she twists her ankle at the beach close to Penderris where the Survivors have gathered for their annual meeting. Now, I don’t have notes for this book, so I’m going to briefly summarize what I remember of it: I love Hugo and his grumpiness and how Balogh manages to convey a rascally glee and benevolence even through his hard exterior. What I like perhaps best is the fact that although both hero and heroine fight against their feelings they don’t deny they desire each other and discuss it openly and like adults.
For all I love blind heroes, it still took me ages to pick up the second book, The Arrangement (2013). In this one, the blinded Vincent, Lord Darleigh encounters the quiet Sophia “the mouse” Fry while her abusive relatives try to fling their daughter at him. Vincent and Sophia strike up the titular arrangement to keep his family from matchmaking and to help her to her feet, and in the process they of course fall in love. Now, while I like Vincent almost by default, it’s Sophia who takes the price for favourite character: although she’s quiet on the outside, she has a very snarky sense of humour and draws caricatures for a hobby. Despite some rather solemn moments, this book is surprisingly light for a Balogh novel, which suits the characters to perfection.
The third book in the series, The Escape (2014) did not work for me quite as well, even though this does not mean it’s a bad novel. The hero needs canes to walk, having had his legs crushed under his falling horse. Surprisingly, however, I would say this is not the interesting part of his unwellness, but rather his depression; Ben has clearly lost a lot of his will to live. And when the heroine, the widowed Samantha, is also depressed, they understand each other well. When I say I don’t like this book as much as The Arrangment, it is mostly because this book is much calmer in tone and less bright. This is obviously a question of personal preference as well as timing: in retrospect Escape is a brilliantly subtle love story between two consenting adults hoping and trying to find happiness. This is also a very heartwarming novel, and the only concrete issue I have with it is a rather cheesy small trope that feels somewhat pasted on, most likely because it is so cliché.
Now, the fourth book, Only Enchanting (2014) is my favourite so far. I refreshed my memory of it by reading the summary, and oh, how I want to read it again! So good! Flavian Ponsonby has a stutter and difficulty retaining new information – or memories in general – and when he encounters the widowed Agnes Keeping for the second time it takes him quite a while to remember why he knows her. She, however, remembers well this viscount who called her enchanting on their first meeting. This novel has a lovely theme of safety, and what I believe is an indication of time in how nature and religion are dwelled upon in very Romantic terms. The only hitch I have this one is the portrayal of one particular female character, but as I know Balogh has redeemed Other Women before I would not give up hope quite yet. Time will tell. This one, like The Proposal, is in a slightly more brusque style of diction than Arrangement or Escape, which I find exciting as an indication of Balogh’s knack for writing in a style that suits her characters.
The second latest out, Only A Promise, is heavily centred on equality in a relationship. The hero, Ralph, is a leader and used to commanding, whereas Chloe, the heroine, is a capable woman who will not be ordered around. She has suffered in society, he in the battle field – she refuses to return to London where she has been involved in scandal after scandal, whereas he has huge survivor’s guilt. I don’t have much else to say about this novel, except that it is solid and as enjoyable as any Balogh. It is simply not something that would stick out to me. It’s about family and equality, in a very successful way.
Overall the series is very solid. Balogh, of course, has a lot of experience writing connected series and disabled characters, and it look to me like she has upped her game with Survivors’ Club. Each character has their own very distinct disability or trauma, and the temporal structure of the series actually requires some notes – many of these stories take place simultaneously and overlap each other. Failing to remember what is going on does not reduce the enjoyment the individual stories provide, but I plan to make a chart when I reread the series nonetheless.
Like I said, the review of part six will be up as soon as I can get my hands on the book! And after the seventh and final novel, Only Beloved comes out in spring 2016, I will do a reread and individual reviews of the books!