Thoughts After Reading:
What do you call a book that walks like a traditional Regency and talks like a historical romance? Yea, I am not quite sure either. There is nothing inherently unique about the storyline in Mary Balogh's More Than a Mistress, a novel whose elements are shared by both subgenres. The subplot of a heroine being on a run, disguising herself as a servant, and being incurably insolent can be found - I'm quite sure - in at least half a dozen traditional novels. The subplot of the heroine playing the role of the hero's mistress as they continue to fall in love is nothing new either, although that particular plot device seems much more common in the sexualized historical romances of more recent years. But where More Than a Mistress truly distinguishes itself from any other piece of writing in the most important way - in the relationship itself. Balogh builds up the implausible - yet enjoyable and undeniably authentic - romance as the hero and heroine spend an enormous amount of time with each other, the hero grows to cherish the heroine's saucy tongue, and and the heroine shows the hero there is more depth to his character than he realizes.
The heroine would never survive as one of the subservient working class. That point is made with crystal clarity from the first pages of the novel. The heroine, a woman who's trying to hide herself in London by working as a milliner's assistant, does not have the sense to pass by a duel without interfering. Instead, she vocally tries to stop the duel simply because she feels dueling is inane. She distracts the hero, giving his opponent time to put a bullet in his leg. Through a series of events, the hero ends up hiring the heroine as his nurse. Between being a duke and a handsome rake, the hero is one of those types who expects everyone to fall at his feet and to be obeyed without question. As a result, he is alternatively mentally stimulated and annoyed to have the heroine defy the majority of his orders. He reluctantly enjoys the heroine's defiance and clever wit that are vastly incongruous with her supposed station. The heroine is actually a young lady (of course) who does not wish to be discovered. She bashed her lecherous cousin with a book in order to prevent him from raping her, and fled to London because she was unsure if he survived the injury. The heroine's secrecy has actually made things worse for her, because now there is gossip circulating about her being both a thief and a murderess, and there are Bow Street Runners on the search. The hero cannot move much because of his damaged leg, and - as a result - spends most of the next three weeks in the heroine's company. The two protagonists make such a great bickering couple that it would be impossible not to recognize the love blossoming between them. The relationship is taken to the next level when the heroine has reached the end of her nursing duties, and the hero - desperate to continue their acquiescence - offers the heroine a position as his mistress. There is some awkwardness as the couple transition to a physical relationship, a transition that is quite enjoyable to read about. It is rather amusing to watch the heroine handling things in her typical wise and no-nonsense manner, while the hero tries to make it a strictly "business" arrangement... when it is so obviously much more to him. A good deal of the developing romance is told to the reader at this point, instead of being shown, although there are several poignant scenes as the two characters struggle with their feelings and the hero opens up his soul a bit. There are a few love scenes, but they are comparatively tame to most historicals. Some conflict pops up when the hero learns the heroine secrets and feels betrayed that she never confided in him. But the conflict is handled in a particularly excellent way, because - even if the characters say some terrible things to each other - their actions and thoughts show they love each other too much to ever let go. The ending was quite satisfactory as well, although I though the final barriers were dragged out a bit more than was necessary.
Mary Balogh's More Than a Mistress does not stand out for having a particularly interesting premise, or plot elements that are exceptionally unique. It does, however, shine as a book where the vast majority of story is devoted to true character development. In other words, the novel does precisely what a romance novel is suppose to do - convince the reader that there is a genuine and meaningful love between the two main characters so powerful it can overcome any adversity. Balogh's More Than a Mistress is a novel I would highly recommend.