by Mary Balogh, historical (2004)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-440-24106-5
Slightly Tempted is rather too muted to work as a romance story for me, but oh, it makes such a fascinating story nonetheless. While the romance is rather predictable, the heroine is vividly drawn and hence very interesting. The heroine isn't as engaging as, say, Lauren Edgeworth, but compared to the heroines of the author's last few books, heroine Morgan Bedwyn is easily her most realistic and sympathetic.
Eighteen-year old Morgan seems like a typical Ton heroine at first: bored with her life, not-too-successful first Season, et cetera. When she decides to visit Brussels, she's quite disappointed to realize that Brussels and London aren't so different. The same people, the same type of parties, how dull. The only source of entertainment comes from Gervase Ashford whom she knows is trying to do something funny with her. Well, he is, but it's funnier than what she thinks he's trying to do. See, he's going to seduce her just to spite her brother Wulfric!
When Morgan's brother Alleyne goes missing in the battle against Napoleon, Morgan insists on staying back in Brussels and tend to the wounded while waiting for word of Alleyne. Gervase stays behind too and with Morgan in a vulnerable state of mind, he manages to further his plans of revenge.
The story of Slightly Tempted isn't even close to being interesting. The story becomes even more predictable when the story shifts from Brussels back to the Bedwyn home in England in the late third of the book. Here, Morgan and Gervase aren't married yet, so the author introduces the same old staple Regency romance contrivances to make sure that they get hitched come what may. Also, she makes sure that Gervase and Wulfric act like silly mules just to prolong the conflict. I find it so hard to imagine that while Morgan respects her brother Wulfric so much, she cannot stop to consider that maybe he has a really good reason to mistrust Gervase.
I should also point out that the author inserts many scenes of battle in her story. I'm sure that there are readers that will find these scenes dull. I confess that I find these scenes more interesting than the story of Morgan and Gervase. I just wish that the author will stop using Morgan so blatantly as her soapbox on war.
Gervase isn't too interesting as he is a standard woe-is-me misunderstood-poor-me hero. He is much older than Morgan, but I think she's actually more mature than he is. Morgan won't be winning any awards as the smartest heroines around. But while Morgan's actions are mostly stereotypical preprogrammed actions of a typical Regency heroine-robot, at least Ms Balogh lets Morgan display all those tiny nuances in her emotions and thoughts that make Morgan come off like a human being. Because of this, I find Morgan an interesting character to follow.
While I am glad to meet a heroine like Morgan who's not the usual one-note robotic selfless creatures that populate the romance genre, Slightly Tempted is a story that still remain interesting, stereotypes and all, until the story moves to England and that's when the contrivances start to pile up too much for me to take. Since I'm not the type of person that go out of my way to justify why Mary Balogh is the best writer ever in the world that cannot write a dud - and hence, conversely, you can also say that I don't "get" Mary Balogh and maybe never will - take my opinion for what it's worth.
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