Mary Balogh begins her "Survivors" series with a great cast of new characters and matches one of them up with a beloved old character.
Seven survivors of the Napoleonic Wars, six men and one woman, all recuperated together at the Duke of Stanbrook's country home, Penderris Hall, putting together their shattered bodies, minds and souls and forming strong bonds. Though they have all moved on with their lives to varying degrees, they return to Penderris for a few weeks every year to reconnect, to discuss their progress and to offer their support one to another.
This first Survivor up to bat is Hugo Emes, the son of a wealthy businessman who became a hero in the war. Hugo led a "Forlorn Hope" - a suicide mission made up of volunteers to breach the enemy's walls. While the mission was successful, only Hugo and a couple of others survived. In recognition of his extraordinary valor, Hugo was awarded the title of Lord Trentham. A month later he had a nervous breakdown and wound up at the Duke's home with the other Survivors.
Gwendoline, Lady Muir, will be familiar to Balogh readers from several books, most notably One Night for Love where she was the sister of that book's hero, Neville, Earl of Kilbourne. We know that years ago Gwen lost her unborn child in a riding accident which left her with a limp, that her husband died shortly thereafter and that she has remained a determined spinster ever since. It was nice to finally get the full picture of her marriage and life, and it is one filled with love and sadness, and more complicated than one might imagine.
Hugo and Gwen meet when Gwen severely twists her ankle on the beach below Penderris. He reluctantly carries her back to the house, from whence the doctor declares she is not to move. Hugo is not happy to have his reunion invaded by an upper class snob and Gwen would just as soon not have to spend time with a glowering boor. They snip and snipe at each other - which is very fun - but soon see beneath the other's facade and begin to tell each other their deepest, darkest secrets, in that way that strangers can sometimes do.
Gwen is just as you would have expected her to be from reading previous Balogh books: kind, contained, serene, and with a sly sense of humor. But lately she's been feeling lonely and thinking about ending her long widowhood. The grave and mostly silent Hugo was not what she had in mind, though there's something about him.
Hugo was a fabulous character, very different from your usual hero. His war experiences have made him very taciturn, but when he does speak, he is very blunt and outrageous things come out of his mouth. He is looking to marry as well, mostly for his sister's sake, and is looking for a woman from his own class, certainly not an aristocrat like Gwen.
There are all kinds of conflict between Hugo and Gwen, but this one of class and social status is a big one. Even as they acknowledge their feelings for each other, neither is at all sure that they could fit into the other's world - or if they even want to.
I loved The Proposal and I love the whole concept for The Survivors' Club - a whole group of tortured men? Bring them on! They all have unique problems and challenges and I can't wait to read each and every one of their stories.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, May 17, 2012