Mary Balogh: ONLY A KISS

Only A Kiss by Mary Balogh
Survivors’ Club #6
Piatkus 2015
381 pages
5/5 stars

The sixth instalment of the Survivors’ Club features a heroine I didn’t think I would like at all, and a hero who might – might – by my favourite in the series. Although not my favourite novel in the series, this is a very solid one with lots of humour amid very dark topics. It also features a subplot about smugglers that I would claim to be very atypical for Balogh!

(I talked about the previous books in the Survivors’ Club series in this post!)

Imogen, whom we have met in previous books, lost her husband in the war, but not exactly the way you might think – he was tortured to death, and she was made to watch. People have been traumatised by less, and Imogen, although she thinks she has recovered, has not – although functional and choosing not be lonely but not a hermit, she does not allow herself to enjoy life at all. It’s heartbreaking as well as surprisingly relatable.

Cue Percy, who on his thirtieth birthday comes to the realisation that he has wasted his life (although he doesn’t quite know this is what he has realised) and chooses to do something about it. Now, I love Percy. I love Percy so much I would really like to call him my favourite of the heroes in this series if I didn’t love Flavian from Only Enchanting so much. Percy is introduced very carefully at the beginning, and sounds so annoyingly perfect – but he’s one of those people who are privileged, good at everything, and so gods-damned nice that you just have to like him. I certainly do, although when we see him through Imogen’s focalisation it’s absolutely easy to see why she (initially) dislikes him. The boy is an ass, but he grows tremendously during the novel. What an excellent hero.

These two enter into an affair, Balogh once again presenting a consensual sexual relationship began by two adults. Percy is very respectful, no matter how much he wants her, and the internal struggle of the narrative is more or less completely Imogen’s. She must reconcile with her survivor’s guilt and depression and learn that she doesn’t need to simply exist all her life, forever denying herself any speck of joy.

Percy has his own internal struggles, in the form of a childhood trauma and an identity that requires a makeover, but towards the end of the novel his more prominent challenge is the side plot of smugglers that is more sinister than I remember seeing a Balogh side plot before. It starts slow, but by the end I was so intrigued to find out what exactly is going on, and how it ties to the rest of the narrative, as these secondary plots so easily feel separate and irrelevant. I will say that I was definitely pleased by how this was handled.

Although it didn’t quite become my favourite Survivors’ Club novel, Only A Kiss gets an easy second place and Percy is a candidate for my favourite Balogh hero. The simple fact is that Balogh is a superb author and, after a career of thirty years, certainly knows what she is doing. It’s a constant delight to read her latest work and see how much she has progressed, and I simply CANNOT wait for the final book in this series, Only Beloved, which is due to come out in May 2016!

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