In his first battle of the war at all of seventeen years old, Vincent was not outwardly marked but he was blinded and deafened. He recovered his hearing over time but his sight remained permanently gone. When the novel opens, he has adjusted to this disability in many ways but he does still allow his family, grandmother, mother, and married sisters, to dictate his life to a large extent. During his convalescence from his injury, he inherited a viscountcy, its attending estate, and a fortune from his uncle, making him a good prospective husband for any woman willing to have a blind husband. And his female relations have decided that it is time for him to marry and have a wife to take care of him. But Vincent doesn't want to have a wife who settles for him and he doesn't want a wife that he hasn't chosen for himself so he takes his childhood best friend and valet, Martin, and flees his home and the matchmaking therein.
Eventually he and Martin end up in the small village where Vincent grew up as son of the local schoolmaster before ascending to the title of viscount. He's hoping for quiet in which to grow in his newly formed conviction that he needs, at the age of 23, to take his life into his own hands, having ceded control to his family so long ago. But even in Barton Coombs, he faces a wedding trap when a local baron and his wife scheme to force Vincent into marrying their beautiful but spoiled daughter, Henrietta. Henrietta's cousin Miss Sophia Fry lives with her maternal relations on sufferance. Her father was a rake and a gambler who was killed in a duel and his daughter has been passed from unloving family to unloving family ever since. She has cultivated a quiet, unassuming invisibility and a reputation as a homely mouse in an effort to be as innocuous in her relatives' homes as possible. But when she realizes her aunt and uncle's intentions, she foils their plan to have Vincent compromise Henrietta, saving him from their trap. She is promptly turned out of doors with only a meager bag of belongings and enough money to exactly pay for a coach ticket to London and nothing more.
When Vincent hears what Sophia's one instance of considered rebellion has caused, he goes to her and offers her marriage and an arrangement whereby they will live together for one year after which time, if there is no heir, they can each go their separate ways and live the solitary lives of which they've dreamed. She is reluctant to burden him but having no real other options, ultimately says yes. And so begins their marriage, one of thoughtfulness, caring, and contentedness. Sophie explores every safe option she can to give Vincent greater and greater freedoms and independence despite his blindness and he in turn introduces her to his friends and family whose acceptance and friendship help to give her a measure of self-esteem and confidence. Sophie knows that she is no beauty, often described as ugly or as looking like a boy, but Vincent finds her to be perfectly to his liking, assuring her that he sees the beauty she carries inside her even if he'll never see what she looks like physically.
The romance here is not an all-consuming passion but rather, as would be more believable given the "marriage of convenience" aspect of their union, a friendship and a growing, enduring love without the fireworks of conflict. Each of them is given a gift in the other and while they start their marriage thinking that they will coexist quietly for the agreed upon year, each of them comes to the conclusion that they no longer want to be held to the year. But they do not share this growing realization and both overhear conversations that convince them that the other one still wants to be able to part amicably and live apart once the time is up. And therein lies the sole friction in their placid and even keeled life.
Balogh knows her era and she draws it beautifully. And the novel itself is well-written. The characters are pleasant and appealing and their kindness and caring towards each other is lovely. But somehow this novel lacks a spark. It is a nice novel populated by nice people who have hurdles to overcome, certainly: Vincent's dependence because of his blindness and Sophie's feelings of insignificance and shyness. But they feel like an old married couple long before the blush should have been off the rose. They will likely forever be serene and contented. For those who want a different sort of romance, a tranquil and unruffled one where the characters' focus is on emotional growth and a deep understanding of their partner's hidden hurts, this is just the novel.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.