Mary Balogh has long been one of the leading authors in Regency romance, writing over a hundred novels and becoming an automatic buy for most readers. Her latest, Someone to Love, launches a planned eight book series chronicling the fortunes, or lack of, the Westcott family. It’s an intriguing premise: the death of the immensely wealthy Earl of Riverdale prompts the discovery of a previously unacknowledged daughter, Anna Snow. But for the duke’s three other children, the discovery comes as a stunning blow. Not only do they have a new sister, but the late Earl married their mother while his first wife, Anna’s mother, was still living—making his second marriage invalid. In a stroke, Anna—now Lady Anastasia Westcott—is one of the wealthiest women in England. And the Westcotts are officially labeled bastards, stripped of their fortune, society standing, and the future they had planned.
Someone to Love sets the stage for all this, and tells Anna’s rags to riches story. Content as a teacher in the Bath orphanage in which she grew up, the transition to lady is bewildering and not altogether welcome. She’s overjoyed to have a newfound family, but unsurprisingly her new siblings want nothing to do with her, in spite of her efforts to give them their fair share of the inheritance. The rest of the family is given the seemingly insurmountable task of turning a plain and unworldly woman into a darling of the ton and prime marriage material. But Anna isn’t letting the trappings of wealth turn her head, and firmly insists on doing things her way—which means giving her friends from the orphanage positions in the household, refusing the frills and flounces of fashion, and even occasionally speaking the bald truth to people. This captures the attention of a cousin-by-marriage, Avery, duke of Netherby. Never one to fit into the rigid mold society has set for its noblemen, Avery cultivates a veneer of disinterest and aloof cleverness that keeps most at bay. But something in the centered conviction Anna exudes suggests a kindred spirit. Would the unlikely pairing of a plain and stubborn orphan with the most polished duke in the kingdom be a reality?
I’m a bit conflicted how I felt about Someone to Love. On the one hand, I admire Balogh‘s restraint in handling how Anna and Avery behave towards each other. They not only hardly know each other but come from essentially different worlds, and the gentle way that they come into each other’s orbit seems more realistic that most romance novels would have it. But on the other hand, the chemistry level between the two barely registers anything. Anna and Avery are both withdrawn in their own way, but Balogh takes it a bit too far, and I had a hard time connecting with either lead. Anna comes away as boringly perfect at times. Partially this might be because Someone to Love suffers from what a lot of first-in-a-series books tend towards: too many characters and too much time for the series setup to do justice to the central characters and their love story. It’s a pity, as with more development Anna and Avery could became characters who would really challenge each other. Here’s hoping that the remaining books in the series avoids this pitfall and makes the most of an otherwise interesting situation.