Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Secret Pearl by Mary Balogh

This is one of Mary Balogh's older books that has recently been rereleased. On her website she says that "is often named by long-time readers as one of their favorites among my books". I'm afraid that I am going to disagree!

Mary Balogh has no equal when it comes to capturing the complex, irresistible passions between men and women. Her classic novel, The Secret Pearl, is one of the New York Times bestselling author’s finest–a tale of temptation and seduction, of guarded hearts and raw emotion…and of a love so powerful it will take your breath away….

He first spies her in the shadows outside a London theatre, a ravishing creature forced to barter her body to survive.

To the woman known simply as Fleur, the well-dressed gentleman with the mesmerizing eyes is an unlikely savior. And when she takes
the stranger to her bed, she never expects to see him again. But then Fleur accepts a position as governess to a young girl…and is stunned to discover that her midnight lover is a powerful nobleman. As two wary hearts ignite–and the threat of scandal hovers over them – one question remains: will she be mistress or wife?

Fleur is a desperate young woman. She thinks that she has killed a man and has fled from her home, expecting at any moment to be arrested for murder to have her fate sealed at the hand of the hangman. When she hasn't eating for two days she feels she has only two options. The first is to give up and die, the second to fight for life, anyway she can. So she goes to Covent Garden to hopefully make some cash to be able to survive for the next few days at least.

Adam is married to his Duchess Sybil in name only and has a very precocious child, Pamela, who is one of those terribly not cute children that populate romance novels. When his brother returns his marriage once more turns a corner towards more unhappiness.

After Fleur has been at the Duke's residence at Willoughby, she finally finds out that the man who has employed her was the same man who now taunts her in her nightmares, but she is still safe, that is until a few weeks later, when her accuser tracks her down and then attempts to blackmail her. When Adam finds out he sets out to find out the truth of the matter, unveiling many secrets along the way.

I have a real problem with the hero of this book. I can see why some readers would like him - he is damaged both emotionally from his unhappy marriage to his ill wife, and physically from wounds he received at the Battle of Waterloo. I guess my main problem is with his treatment of Fleur. When he first sees Fleur she is trying to offer herself as a prostitute for the first time. Adam engages her, and then roughly welcomes her to the world of sex. Granted that he has no way of knowing that she is a virgin, and he has no reason to think that she is anything other than a seasoned prostitute. He does then seek her out and employ her as his daughter's governess, which in some eyes I guess would redeem him, but I guess what really annoyed me was that later in the book he says that he recognised her as the love of his life the second that he saw her standing in the shadows of Covent Gardens. If that is the case, why did he treat her so badly. Yes, he redeemed himself to an extent by giving her a respectable job, and by tracking down the truth but for me it just wasn't enough.

That doesn't mean that there weren't some lovely moments as Fleur begins to learn to trust him. There is a scene in a carriage where they just link little fingers that I thought was lovely, but those scenes are not enough to redeem Adam in my eyes. Luckily fate provided the means to a happily ever after!

Rating 3.5/5


  1. The Secret Pearl was the book that made me put Balogh on my "don't go near" list. Yeah, I know lots of people love her books and that's great, but finding that I couldn't even get past what was basically the prologue of one of her books created too much of a author-trust issue for me. Especially when there are so many other authors I can comfortably read. Sigh.

  2. I've read a fair few other Balogh's and not minded them, but I just couldn't get over the hero in this one. I think I connect to the hero more than the heroine so this was a big thing for me!

  3. The book is indeed hard to put down once you start to read it, but I really had a big problem with Adam as well; he did not convinced me that he is such a 'romantic hero' and that he really loves Fleur. Putting aside that fact that he willingly hurts Fleur at the beginning (despite the fact that he realizes at first thrust that she suffers; but does he stop? No. He only continues 'swiftly'=violently!!!), he is never really repetant for all the pain he has caused. He has some (a small amount though) of guilty feeling, that he puts fast aside once he finds a position for Fleur. He helps her indeed in getting a less hurtful life, but he is never convincing as a person in love. I mean, everything he does is well motivated by a certain feeling of guilt he feels, and by the fact that he is 'an honorable' man and tries to do always the 'honorable' thing (as he did it for Sybil as well), but as I see it, he would have done exactly the same for anyone in Fleur's situation. Therefore, there is nothing he really does only for Fleur, because she is who she is and because he loves her; it's just helping another person in need, who might have been anyone in fact.
    Now, if he had had nightmares about his guilt and about what he had done to Fleur, if he had put his pride aside when dealing with Fleur (e.g., last scene), if he had convinced her (and the reader) about his reasons to have been so cruel in the first chapter, then I would have probably managed to like him. But he does not seem to realize even until the end that he was indeed cruel and he marked Fleur for life in an awful way; he never finds Fleur's repulsion much justified and he imposes on her much too much. And he does say at some point that he recognized her as the love of his life at the first sight. And this is how he treated her (at the beginning), a woman clearly starving and scared? God helps Fleur in her future with him if this is how he treats the women he loves.
    And what about the non-sense of 1 year apart at the end, without much insight of how he has felt during their separation, if he really missed her as she missed him, or if it was just some occasional yearning, as I got the feeling. In fact, I got this feeling that Adam would have managed very well without Fleur without much pining or ache; he was fully motivated by what he thought to be 'honorable', but from the beginning to end he remained a cold, distant and rather harsh man. Which, unfortunately is not what I look for in a romantic hero.