Slightly Married
by Mary Balogh, historical (2003)
Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-440-24104-9

Trying to say anything about a Mary Balogh book is like trying to find fault in Steven Spielberg movie - there's just no point to it. Mary Balogh fans will love this book (and the next and the one before) to bits while those who don't won't. I always try to keep an open mind because this author can do wonders with characterization on a good day, but Slightly Married proves only one thing: yes, it is possible to overdose on virtue.

I really don't find any of Mary Balogh's much-vaulted characterization in here. The heroine, Santa Eva Maria (okay, Eve Morris to humorless Mary Balogh fans out there), can be summed out in two ways: self-depreciatory and completely devoid of selfishness. She's not real. She's just a walking Goodwill Foundation. Colonel Aidan Bedwyn is less contrived: he's just a proper titled and handsome reward for Santa Maria so that we Womyn of Worth and Virtue will be inspired to be selfless forever more ourselves.

Aidan promised her brother - who had saved him before (Napoleon, war, et cetera) - that Aidan will take care of Santa Maria "no matter what" after brother dies. Santa Maria runs an estate filled with Misunderstood Rape Victim Governess, Reformed Poachers, Kids With Suspected Mental Handicap, Ex-Brothel Cook, and other hangers-on. Alas, her father's will has rightfully did what I would love to do myself: let her inherit the place for only a year before having it reverted to her brother. Who's now dead. As it is, there is always the Evil Cousin who wants to take over and throw everybody out of their homes.

Cousins are such an underappreciated lot in Regency romances. Without them to catalyze our heroines' martyrs of virtue act, how will we women ever learn the right way to behave from our esteemed Regency romance authors? We will be lost! We will be women of ill-repute! We will be having sex all day long and experiencing orgasms selfishly without ascribing each heavenly surges of our uterine walls to a noble, lofty cause like Daddy, Sick Kiddies, and a million puppies who just want to be loved!

Santa Maria doesn't want to leave her million hangers-on. Not that she will actually do anything, mind you. I mean, that cook who has been a criminal before? Well then, let's just bury the hatchet - literally - into the evil cousin's back, cut him up, cook him good, and throw a party and invite the whole neighborhood to eat! (Hey, if Fannie Flagg can do it, why not Mary Balogh?) The protein will also be good for those bratty malnourished orphan kiddies. But that would mean taking action - not good. So she waits until the time is up and our hero Aidan, bound by honor and all, marries her.

Then it's time for the usual little games. "Does he love me? I can't tell him. I want to second guess him. But how can I believe he loves me? After all, I'm just a coal miner's daughter. How he must be feeling burdened by his obligations to me! Should I feel guilty! Do I love him? Maybe I do. Does he love me? Can he love me? If he does this to me, does that mean this?"

I understand that the appeal of the traditional Regency subgenre is twofold: the starchy morality the heroines hold on to and the "proper behavior" that sometimes amount to little more than passive-aggressive mind games or tiny little episodes of misunderstandings. Mary Balogh certainly isn't going to deliver anything but that, and as a result, her legions of fans will have ample reasons to trumpet that she is just the best ever, she can never write a good book, et cetera. Me, though, I find that she has written better books than this one-note Slightly Married (last month's paperback reissue of A Summer To Remember blows this out of the water when it comes to characterization and romance). I am more at loss to explain why she never succeeds in hooking and reeling in my emotions like Carla Kelly does. After all, shouldn't Mary Balogh fans like Carla Kelly's books and vice versa too?

Slightly Married has in abundance so-called virtuous main characters who sit there, brood, and refuse to yield or unbend. There's nothing a short and simple "Do you love me? I love you too. Can we just make this marriage real then? Alrighty, let's get naked!" can't fix. But Santa Maria is too busy saving the world or believing that she is just not worth it, while Aidan is too busy saving her from her deplorable state of extreme selflessness. The secondary characters fare better, although like Aidan and Santa Maria, they rarely deviate from the norm.

Hmmm, maybe that's the real message these authors are delivering: selflessness is abnormal and stupid, your father lied to you, and refusing to listen to your mother is the real reason why you are homeless, stupid, and desperate to marry for all the wrong reasons.

Slightly Married has an uninspired plot, and me finding the characters bland beyond bland only adds to the disappointing experience that is reading this book. I'll just push this book into the UBS bag, look around to make sure nobody is looking, and pull out the new Thea Devine book instead. Please don't tell though. I don't want my Serious Romance Reader membership revoked.

Rating: 65

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