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.
Note: While this is Book 4 in the Survivors' Club Series, all these books can be read as stand alone novels and this review contains no spoilers for the other books.
Agnes is a woman of contradictions - in the best possible way. She's sensible and sweet, all about rational decisions and caring for her sister. She believes that passion is a danger. But she's an artist too, likely to be found staring at the world from the perspective of daffodils and unable to escape her passions no matter how much she tries. Her childhood, however, suffered at the hands of her mother's passions, and she's hesitant to follow her own heart as a result. When she falls for Flavian, though, she struggles to balance those two sides of her soul.
How I felt for poor Agnes.
But then there's Flavian.
Oh, he crushes me. Melts me. Oh, Flavian, I love you despite your truly terrible name. He's no less of a contradiction than Agnes, both lost and determined, strong, beautifully vulnerable, protective, loyal, completely unsure of his entire world. Like the other heroes of The Survivors' Club, Flavian has returned from the Napoleonic Wars severely injured. He was shot in the head and as a result has serious neurological damage. To make matters worse, his fiancée left him for his friend. For some reason everyone else in the story thinks this is totally acceptable behavior from his ex-fiancée and friend, which I thought was a little harsh. Poor Flav, he can't even get any sympathy for being scorned. Instead he's blamed when he finds another woman and falls in love.
Despite his memory losses and occasional confusion, Flavian's feelings for Agnes are fairly unwavering throughout the novel. He loves her from the start, even if he doesn't quite have the words until the end. Even from the beginning, he knows he is safe with her, and isn't that, really, the same thing? Although he loves Agnes from the beginning, this story has high drama all the way - from Flavian convincing Agnes to follow her feelings, to battling the revenge of his ex, the snobbery of his mother, and the rumor mill of the ton, to searching out his lost memories. Though there's enough leading up to their marriage to have sufficed me in terms of romance, Flavian and Agnes’ wedding is really only the beginning of this story.
As I'm coming to expect from this series, Agnes and Flavian's story brought a special kind of magic. Both characters are so well developed that I know I'll be missing them for a long time to come. I also have to mention the excellent treatment of Flavian's neurological condition. Disability can be a difficult thing to write well, but Mary Balogh does an incredible job. Her depiction of Flavian’s impairment is empathetic, without making him seem like a victim, and honest and realistic to the point of being quite heart breaking, but it is all just a part of his character, rather than the defining focus of the story.
One of the other slightly unusual things I adored about this novel was the focus on non-romantic love. There is much made of relationships beyond that between our hero and heroine, such true, heart-warming love between sisters, and survivors and friends carrying each other through. I appreciate that even in a romance that was ultimately about two people falling in what we traditionally think of as love, we also get these other tales of how important other forms of love can be. There is one point when Flavian describes his friends as "the family of his heart" and, well, needless to say, I had a small teary. Which was only the first of many happy-tearies caused by this novel.
We get a lot more from the other characters of the Survivors' Club as a group in this one, new wives as well. And I enjoyed getting to see how they interacted in more than just a brief meeting like we got in The Escape. I've read this series out of order (I'm never bothered with the order of series when the books can stand alone), but I'm going to go back and read the ones I've missed, because this series, its characters, is just wonderful.
Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh is a historical romance, released by Signet on October 28 2014.
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More from Mary Balogh on Love Reading Romance:
The Escape by Mary Balogh - Book Review