First Comes Marriage (Huxtable Quintent) by Mary Balogh. Dell. 2009. Library copy. Other books in the series: Then Comes Seduction (2009), At Last Comes Love (2009), Seducing an Angel (2009) and A Secret Affair (2010).
The Plot: Regency England. The Huxtable siblings don't have much but they have each other: oldest sister Margaret, who, after their parents die, has dedicated herself to raising her younger siblings; middle sister Vanessa, recently widowed; youngest sister Katherine; and their younger brother, Stephen, 17, who they hope to send to university.
All that changes with the surprising news that young Stephen is now the Earl of Merton. Elliott Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, had expected to come to their small village, take Stephen into his care to educate him on his new position, and be on his way.
He hadn't counted on the Huxtable sisters, and the family refusing to be split up.
The five stories tell the stories of Meg, Vanessa, Katherine, Stephen, and their cousin Constantine, who would have been Earl had he been born before his parents married.
The Good: How good? Well, I quickly downloaded these from the library, one after another.
The book that was actually recommended to me was At Last Comes Love, about Margaret, the eldest, who put her life (and possible love) on hold while raising her siblings. But, of course, me being me, I had to start at the beginning. And I'm glad I did!
The Huxtables are a wonderful family. They are swept away from all the know and I was delighted to find that their entry into society, into the ton, was not one of meanness or pettiness. Their brother had good fortune, and the fortune was shared with all. They love and care for each other and I was disappointed when the series came to an end.
I also enjoyed how different each story and each Huxtable was. In First Comes Marriage, Vanessa is the plain one amongst her siblings; and when their brother's new guardian, Elliott, decides that the proper thing to do about all these young women is to propose to one of them, she steps up. Katherine is still young, and she feels like Margaret has already sacrificed enough, so Vanessa, seeing that Elliott is contemplating a proposal, proposes to him.
This series, especially for the sisters, also looks at marriages that aren't started in love but end that way. They start for other reasons, and sometimes that includes lust and attraction, but love comes after. It also allows for people to change, or to become better than they appear at first. In Katherine's story, (Then Comes Seduction), the hero, Jasper, starts as obnoxious, casually betting on whether or not he can sleep with someone with no regard for the person who is the target of the bet -- Katherine. The story (which actually takes place several years after the bet) doesn't excuse Jasper but it does show how moves beyond that.
Margaret's story is told in At Last Comes Love, and what I liked about it is that it didn't deliver on what I saw hinted at in the first two books. In those books, Margaret had had a boyfriend who left home and later married someone else. I was expecting him to return and them to have a second chance; instead, well, Margaret wants nothing to do with him, so lies to say she is already engaged to another, and winds up engaged to a man who had caused a scandal years before and has his own, personal reasons for quickly wanting a wife.
In Seducing an Angel, Cassandra Belmont comes to London a young widow determined to take a rich handsome lover, and sets her sights on the angelic looking Stephen (now 25). It's a bolder view than most, and of course there is a reason behind her desire to take a lover (she's broke and is looking at the financial aspect of being a mistress) and to not be interested in marriage. And there's the little matter of the rumor about her: that she's a widow because she killed her husband. With an axe.
A Secret Affair involves another widow, Hannah, a Duchess, who also comes to London looking for a lover and settles on Constantine Huxtable. Hannah, like Cassandra, is whispered about -- but Hannah is whispered about because she was so young when she married, and her husband was so old, and it was so obvious that she took lovers while married and is about to do so again, now that she's a rich widow.
What I liked for all of these stories is that, well, the people are all likable. Even when they are being stubborn, or even if they've made less than wise choices in the past. Who hasn't? It also looks at the rules of society, and yes, they all have to play within those rules -- yet there are still certain freedoms for them to pursue. And that it isn't all light and laughs: spousal abuse, and the few options available to the women who are abused, figures in these stories. How society treats those who are marginalized, who aren't as fortunate in how they are born, is also threaded through.
All together, thought: a fun, enjoyable, sexy read and I'm sorry that my time with this family has finished. I look forward to rereading; and I look forward to reading Balogh's other books.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy