Review by Lady Wesley
Slightly Dangerous was released in 2004, as the culmination of Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn Saga, which follows the lives of Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, and his five siblings. It has gone on to become her most popular book, with a 4.6/5 rating on Amazon and 4.2/5 on Goodreads, and is firmly placed among the top ten in All About Romance’s Top 100 Poll. I have read almost everything published by Mary Balogh, and this is by far my favorite. I am tempted to stop my review right here, because if these ratings by hundreds of readers don’t convince you that it is a book worth reading, I’m not sure that I can add anything. Nevertheless, I shall try.
Wulfric Bedwyn is the consummate arrogant, cold-as-ice duke, wealthy and powerful and not inclined to suffer fools or much of anyone else for that matter. We have come to know him gradually through the first five books of the series, and there have been glimpses of a man who loves his brothers and sisters deeply, even as he exerts his considerable power to control their lives and to interfere with matches that he considers unsuitable.
As this book opens, all of his siblings are happily married and have moved away from the family estate, Lindsey Hall. His long-time mistress has died recently, and although Wulfric cared for her he did not love her and thus his grieving is more for himself than for her. Wulfric is feeling at loose ends, so when his friend invites him to a gathering of intellectuals at Lord Renable’s estate, he accepts and then immediately regrets his impulsiveness. His impeccable manners, however, will not permit him to cry off, but his regret increases when he discovers that the house party is filled with the usual frivolous haute ton characters.
Christine Derrick is also a guest at the house party, as she is a friend of Lord Renable’s wife Melanie. She has been invited only at the last minute to round out the numbers, and she really doesn’t want to go, but she also hates to leave Melanie in a bind. Christine is twenty-nine and the widow of the younger brother of Viscount Elrick. Her marriage began with love but turned out badly as her husband became possessive, demanding, and downright paranoid, wrongly accusing her of having affairs. Unfortunately, the viscount and his wife believed these accusations and they have declined to offer her any support and cut off all contact with her. Christine lives in a cottage with her mother and elder sister, a school teacher whom Christine sometimes assists.
Christine is the utter opposite of Wulfric. He is the ultimate aristocrat; she a poor widow. He is intimidating and humorless, wielding his omnipresent quizzing glass like a weapon; she is full of life and light and joy, completely lacking in artifice or pretense. He is the soul of propriety; she tends to act impulsively, sometimes getting into embarrassing scrapes which she gaily laughs off. But as the house party gets underway and even though she is not of the same class as the other guests, she quickly enchants them all. Except for Wulfric.
Actually, they get off to a bad start. In a classic scene, Christine leans over the balustrade to peer at the arriving duke and, when he looks up, accidentally spills lemonade in his eye. Thinking her a servant, he growls and scowls; she lightly utters, “Sorry,” and disappears in embarrassment. When Wulfric spots her later that day among the guests enjoying afternoon tea, he employs his typical method of intimidation: staring at her through his quizzing glass. When Christine stares back and refuses to be cowed, he crosses the room to speak to her, and neither of the lives ever will be the same.
Many readers have compared this story to Pride and Prejudice, and while there are some similarities to Lizzy and Darcy, Mary Balogh has created her own characters in Wulfric and Christine. To begin with, while Austen left Darcy as something of a mystery by telling the story largely through Lizzy’s eyes, Balogh shifts her point of view between the two main characters. I daresay the reader understands Wulfric’s motivations much more than Darcy’s. Balogh’s couple is much more mature than Lizzy and Darcy, and each has suffered disappointments before meeting one another. Moreover, Wulfric is orders of magnitude richer and more powerful than Darcy, and he is exactly the type of aristocrat who Christine abhors. He is rather appalled by her as well, as she repeatedly behaves with a lack of decorum that he finds unladylike. And yet, Wulfric finds himself unwillingly drawn to her to the point that he rushes to her assistance when said unladylike conduct puts her in mortifying situations. Christine is slower to see Wulfric’s admirable traits, but eventually she is as unwillingly attracted to him and he is to her.
Under the circumstances, Wulfric does what a duke would do – he offers Christine carte blanche, which Christine angrily rejects. Oh, but this is just the beginning of a back and forth that plays out over the next several months in Gloucestershire and London and at the Bedwyn country estate Lindsey Hall. And while Christine is a delightful character, I find that Wulfric is really the star of the book. He truly is the quintessential top-lofty duke, and Balogh does not do him the disservice of having him melt into a pile of goo when he falls in love. Other authors have written similar characters – indeed they are a staple of historical romance – but Wulfric Bedwyn stands at the top of the heap. There is an old Italian phrase, “capo di tutt’i capi” ,meaning the boss of all bosses, and I like to think of Wulfric as the “duca di tutt’i duchi”. Perhaps I can be forgiven for falling in love with him myself.
This is a beautiful love story, wonderfully told by Mary Balogh, and at last, there is an audio version available, narrated by the incomparable Roslyn Landor. Landor has recorded most of Balogh’s audio editions, and in this performance she never puts a foot wrong. This is not surprising however, since Landor is one of the top four or five best narrators of historical romance. I will just add that even if you haven’t read any of the earlier books in this series, Slightly Dangerous is excellent as a standalone. In short, it is a classic. Do read it or listen to it. Or better yet, do both.
Publisher and Release Date: Tantor Audio, April 2017
Time and Setting: Gloucestershire, Hampshire, and London, England, c. 1817
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
All of London is abuzz over the imminent arrival of Wulfric Bedwyn, the reclusive, cold-as-ice Duke of Bewcastle, at the most glittering social event of the season. Some whisper of a tragic love affair. Others say he is so aloof and passionless that not even the greatest beauty could capture his attention. But on this dazzling afternoon, one woman did catch the duke’s eye – and she was the only female in the room who wasn’t even trying.
Christine Derrick is intrigued by the handsome duke…all the more so when he invites her to become his mistress. What red-blooded woman wouldn’t enjoy a tumble in the bedsheets with a consummate lover – with no strings and no questions asked. An infuriating lady with very definite views on men, morals, and marriage, Christine confounds Wulfric at every turn. Yet even as the lone wolf of the Bedwyn clan vows to seduce her any way he can, something strange and wonderful is happening. Now for a man who thought he’d never lose his heart, nothing less than love will do.