I've been meaning to read this series for a while now, ever since I read (and enjoyed!) A Summer to Remember, the book that first introduced the Bedwyn family to romance readers. In that book, Freyja—the eldest Bedwyn sister—is a headstrong ex-flame who turns up to cause trouble for the hero and heroine. Several of her brothers, most notably the coldly powerful Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, also make appearances. In all, there are six Bedywn siblings.
Book 1: Slightly Married
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
Summary: Slightly Married is the story of Aiden—the second eldest sibling—and Eve Morris, a woman whose security is threatened by the untimely death of her brother in battle. Captain Lord Aiden Bedywn takes the tragic news to Eve personally, determined to uphold his promise to Eve's dying brother to protect her "no matter what." As it turns out, Eve's inheritance is contingent on her marrying a gentleman within a year of her father's death, a deadline that is fast approaching. Otherwise, her smarmy cousin will inherit the unentailed estate and fortune, then toss Eve and her many dependents out on their rumps. So of course Aiden decides the only honorable thing is to marry Eve, then leave to continue his military career and never see her again. Eve reluctantly agrees since she hasn't heard from her secret fiancé in more than a year and she feels responsible for the well-being of her servants, her spinster aunt, and two young orphans. But when the Duke of Bewcastle discovers his brother's secret marriage, he insists that Eve be trained as a lady and properly presented to society to avoid damaging the family's reputation.
First, I have to make a confession: Generally, I am not a fan of marriage of convenience plots. So that may have interfered in my enjoyment of the story. But the main problem, for me, was the relationship between Aiden and Eve. I like fireworks and lots of banter in my romance reads and I found Slightly Married... lacking. I never really felt that their relationship grew or developed, or if it did, most of it happened off-scene. Their main obstacle was guilt. By the time each realizes that they actually like being married, each worries about what the other would have to give up (Aiden his career or Eve her home and dependents) so that they can be together. And that gets very old very fast.
I was much more interested in Eve's interactions with Aiden's pretentious siblings, Wulfric and Freyja. They are both unbelievably arrogant but just the tiniest bit vulnerable... I want to read their stories. Aiden's more lighthearted brother, Alleyne, was also intriguing. Aiden was a cipher through most of the book. Eve was slightly more interesting, but her habit of taking in the helpless hit me as a bit ridiculous, and a cliché to boot. Really? All of these troubled servants just happen to stumble upon Eve's country home?
Still, the Bedwyn family dynamics merit further exploration, and Balogh's writing is solid and her representation of the period is well done. I found the Bedywn family's aristocratic snobbery to be much more grounded in reality than the easy-going liberalism of many fictional families in historical romance (e.g., Quinn's Bridgertons). And yet, simply stated, Slightly Married just lacks that special spark to make it memorable.
Book 2: Slightly Wicked
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
Summary: Next we meet Rannulf Bedwyn, who seems to be the rake of the family. He's off to visit his dying grandmother, who has made him heir to her estate and wants him to marry her dear friend's granddaughter. Meanwhile, Judith Law is en route to her aunt's home, where she is to stay as a companion and resident poor relation. After Judith's stagecoach overturns, Ralf and his trusty steed stumble across the waylaid passengers and he offers to give one of them—Judith—a ride to the nearest inn. Judith decides this is her last chance at adventure before a life of servitude and impetuously introduces herself as Claire Campbell, actress. Ralf also gives a false name, and the two indulge in a brief affair before Judith leaves him in the lurch so that she can face reality. But soon after she arrives at her destination, she discovers that her one-time lover is her cousin's intended suitor, and Ralf discovers that the experienced actress he bedded was really a virgin.
I found this book much more engaging than Slightly Married. Despite the potential tawdriness of Ralf and Judith's initial meeting, their encounter doesn't come off as sleazy, and there is real conflict in this story. The main characters are nuanced and likeable, and the evolution of their relationship is believable. What's more, I actually felt like they belonged together. A few of the secondary characters—notably Ralf and Judith's grandmothers—are especially well done. Also, we see more a Freyja, who is the heroine of the next book in the series. I hated her (but was interested despite myself) in A Summer to Remember, merely disliked her in Slightly Married, and finally began to warm to her (a bit) in this book. I can't wait to see how I feel about her in Slightly Scandalous.
Having read the whole series concerning the Bedwyn family, you are correct. Wulfric and Frejya's stories are the most enjoyable. Also, Mary Balogh is one of the authors I go to when I need a light, entertaining read.