The Survivors’ Club: Six men and one woman, all wounded in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendship forged during their recovery at Penderris Hall in Cornwall. Now, in the fourth novel of the Survivors’ Club series, Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, has left this refuge to find his own salvation—in the love of a most unsuspecting woman . . . .
Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, was devastated by his fiancée’s desertion after his return home. Now the woman who broke his heart is back — and everyone is eager to revive their engagement. Except Flavian, who, in a panic, runs straight into the arms of a most sensible yet enchanting young woman.
Agnes Keeping has never been in love — and never wishes to be. But then she meets the charismatic Flavian, and suddenly Agnes falls so foolishly and so deeply that she agrees to his impetuous proposal of marriage.
When Agnes discovers that the proposal is only to avenge his former love, she’s determined to flee. But Flavian has no intention of letting his new bride go, especially now that he too has fallen so passionately and so unexpectedly in love.
Publisher and Release Date: Signet, 28 October 2014
Time and Setting: Regency England, Gloucestershire, Sussex & London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars
Review by Lady Wesley
This is the fourth installment in Mary Balogh’s Survivor’s Club series, and while all of them have been good, this one is first-rate. It delivers what we’ve come to expect from Ms Balogh – engaging, fully-developed characters, impeccable plotting, and a happily ever after that is not easily earned. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next, the result being that I read it in less than one day.
As the book opens, it’s time for the members of the Survivors Club to gather for their annual reunion, but instead of going to Penderris Castle in Cornwall, they journey to Middlebury Park, the Gloucester estate of Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh. This change in venue comes about because Vincent’s wife, Sophia, has recently given birth, and he doesn’t want to leave her.
Living near Middlebury Park is Sophia’s closest friend, Agnes Keeping, a widow who resides with her older sister, Dora, a music teacher.
At the age of twenty-six, Agnes Keeping has never been in love or ever expected to be – or even wished to be. She rather chooses to be in control of her own emotions and her own life, such as it is.
Agnes was married at age 18 to an older man, “a neighboring gentleman of sober address,” and while there was no love between them, there was affection, and Agnes was content. She leads a prosaic life in the village of Inglebrook and is satisfied with painting, tending house, and visiting with neighbors. She is wary of romantic passion, which was, as we learn later, her mother’s downfall.
Agnes and Dora attend a Harvest Ball at Middlebury Park and into her life strolls Flavian Arnott, Viscount Ponsonby. Flavian is handsome, witty, charming, and aloof, but his affable exterior masks enduring scars. He inherited his title only upon the death of his beloved brother, David. Shortly thereafter, Flavian suffered grievous head injuries in the Peninsular Wars. He was brought home unable to speak or even think coherently. When his fiancée, Velma, jilts him to marry his best friend, all he can do is fly into a fit of sputtering rage. Fortunately, he was taken in by the Duke of Stanbrook and spent three years recuperating with the other members of the Survivor’s Club, but he still speaks with a stammer and suffers from memory loss, headaches, and occasional outbursts of temper.
At the Harvest Ball, Flavian dances with Agnes, twice, and almost against her will Agnes falls ridiculously, hopelessly in love. The next day, Flavian leaves, and Agnes expects never to see him again. Six months later, though, he returns for the Survivor’s Club gathering, and although he can’t quite remember Agnes’s name, he is pleased to see her again. He does recall dancing with her though and later tells her, “I expected you to be s-sensible, but you were enchanting instead.”
Flavian and Agnes spend time together, exchanging the stories of their lives along with a few kisses. When Flavian suddenly proposes marriage, it is hard to know who is more surprised, but eventually Agnes accepts, and they are married by special license the next day. But there are surprises in store when they arrive at Arnott House in London, for awaiting them there are Flavian’s family along with the now-widowed Velma and her parents. All of them are expecting Flavian and Velma to reunite and marry, and they are unhappily surprised to learn that Flavian has married a nobody from nowhere. Moreover, Agnes is unhappily surprised to learn that Flavian has married her in order to be free from his family’s manipulations.
Flavian and Agnes are faced with a choice, and Agnes’s first inclination is to flee – back to her lonely but safe life in Inglebrook. But it turns out that Agnes is made of sterner stuff, and Flavian is desperate to keep her in his life. They are young, but mature beyond their years, and they address their problems directly and candidly.
Agnes is a wonderful heroine. It was great fun to watch her stand up to Flavian’s mother, to Velma, and even to the dragon ladies of the ton, who have their claws out after the truth about Agnes’s mother comes out. As Agnes comes into her own, Flavian begins to remember more about David’s death and about his own troubled relationship with Velma. Agnes and Flavian talk to one another about their problems like mature adults, which happens all too seldom in romance.
With her trademark faultless execution and insight, Mary Balogh shows how these two emotionally scarred people work together to address their problems and find the true meaning of love. They make a beautiful couple, and I highly recommend this book.