Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by title, a factor that pains him and his father within the Regency society that upholds station over all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.

Though Reginald Mason, Senior, wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Reginald Senior serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh immediately caught my eye when I saw the above blurb. There's something about the story and the characters' actions that seemed different from other Balogh stories I've read.

We begin with Reginald Mason, a young man who is the epitome of the dissipated ton buck. He is more concerned with fashion and his matched pair of grays than he is with paying gambling debts or responsibilities. He is not Balogh's usual hero -- the man of honor whose family is most important and whose judgment is impeccable, if questionable when it comes to love. Instead, Reggie is meeting with his father who is giving him an ultimatum -- he must marry whoever his father chooses or his funds will be cut off. Things have gone too far.

We then meet Lady Annabelle Ashton, the beautiful daughter of an Earl who opted to run away with her lover -- a coachman -- instead of marrying the man her father chose for her. She is another departure for Balogh whose heroines are usually women of character willing to sacrifice themselves and their love for their families. But not Annabelle, she would rather be ruined than marry the wrong man. However, Annabelle is alone and has gone too far to have any real choices left opened to her. Her father is shutting her away in a Scottish country state, alone. After none other than Reginald Mason, Senior offers his son Reggie up for marriage, Annabelle must agree to marry this "lesser" man or end up as a shut-in in Scotland.

The enmity between the two fathers in the story is key. The Earl is arrogant and entrenched in the class system that makes him superior to Mr. Reginald Mason, Senior. Mr. Mason is a coal merchant and although his wealth is vast, he is considered presumptuous when he purchases the estate next door to the Earl. For thirty years these two men and their families ignore each other, and the enmity and resentment grows with the years on both sides. After all, the Masons are not considered good enough to be acknowledged by the Earl or his family -- not even in church. Mr. Mason, Senior has been waiting for just such an occasion to make the Earl pay for years of public humiliation.

This novella was quite short and a quick read -- 196 pages, 1.5 spaces between lines, slightly bigger font than usual -- yet, this little book is a complete romance. Reggie and Annabelle's characters and their story are both developed through a series of small flashback chapters weaved throughout the book. We go from the present to the past and get progressively close to the present as we reach the end, closing the circle and getting a complete picture. I don't usually like flashbacks in a book, but it worked beautifully in this little story.

This begins as an antagonistic relationship since the main characters are being forced into a marriage. Yet because of the way it is written, there's no question of believing Reggie and Annabelle's "happily ever after" when it comes. The class structure in the Regency era is central to this story and central to all the relationships. Ms. Balogh uses this exploration in class differences as the main conflict in the romance and it works quite well. There's a twist at the end that I won't give away, but it made me love this couple.

A Matter of Class is a little gem of a book that I've already re-read. I thoroughly enjoyed Reggie and Annabelle's short, but complete little romance. This novella by Balogh is a keeper for me. Grade A

You can visit Mary Balogh here.

12 comments:

  1. Okay, I'm sold. I love those stories in which the love interest start out as "enemies" and then fall in love anyway.

    I just checked my library's online catalog and they actually have A Matter of Class! It's large print, though, which I'm not crazy about, but since it's relatively short, I think I can handle it.

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  2. I kept bypassing this book before, but your review has made me change my mind! I'm going to check it out now. Thanks hilcia!

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  3. An A! I'm getting it from the library. :)

    Wonderful review Hils!

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  4. Oh, I do like the sound of this, being a little different. I wonder if my library has it *races off to check*

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  5. I am surpised to hear how short it is. I am glad that didn't effect your enjoyment of the story, though. It sounds like a good read. I'll add it to the list!

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  6. Christine, the font is a little bigger than usual, but not really big in my copy. I hope you enjoy it. :)

    Ames, I hope you like this one as much as I did. :)

    Leslie, the library is perfect. Definitely an A read for me... couldn't take off points for the price of the Hardcover, lol!

    Orannia -- Enjoy!

    Jill D, the length didn't affect my enjoyment because of the way it was developed. It didn't feel incomplete and I was satisfied with it when I finished it. It IS short, and if I have a complaint it's the price of the Hardcover vs. the length of the book. The novella itself is a good one.

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  7. It sounds good... just too bad it's so short :( Is this a re-issue by the way?

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  8. Yes, nath it is good AND short. :) A Matter of Class is not a re-issue Nath, it's a new release.

    Her other two recent releases are re-issues, though.

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  9. I have to say that I've seen the cover around but hadn't paid any attention to it at all. Bad Tracy. I've only read one Balogh and though I liked it wasn't rushing out to get more. I think I'll have to pick this one up and read it - it sounds great. Thanks for the great review.

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  10. Hi Tracy. Hope you enjoy this one if you decide to read it. :)

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  11. Hi Hilcia, I'm a first time visitor here. Christine mentioned your review of this book and I had to come see. I agree absolutely, and I'll go so far as to say that this is the best Balogh I've read in years. Years. I did the same thing you did-- I re-read it. Just a gem.
    Great review, too. I had a hard time writing anything and dancing around the twist.

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  12. Welcome, Phyl! Thank you for stopping by.

    It took me a while to write this, I had to stop dancing first too, lol! I agree that this is the best she has written in a long time. It was a wonderful surprise. I loved that the length didn't detract from the beauty of the book.

    Great to meet another reader who likes Balogh! :)

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