Review

Review: The Double Wager by Mary Balogh (1985)

Heat Factor: Like Georgette Heyer if there were ever a hint of sex in one of her books

Character Chemistry: it’s gonna be a tough sell, but it worked for me

Plot: Protagonists enter into separate wagers that result in marriage of (inadvertent) convenience

Overall: I don’t want to have this argument with Holly again

What was I thinking? 

I finished an ARC and needed something short and sweet before diving into my pile of library books, so I picked up this republished Signet Regency Romance by Mary Balogh thinking, “This was the one that didn’t stress me out.” Let me tell you, now that I have to read books somewhat critically, it is much harder to let things slide in books. Also, Holly and I have previously discussed this plot line in the context of Georgette Heyer (April Lady and The Convenient Marriage, if you’re curious), and since I have only ever convinced her that one Heyer novel is good, I hesitate to jump down this rabbit hole. But for you, gentle readers, I will.

First of all, this book was written in 1985, and it is definitely a mildly sexed up version of …I think The Convenient Marriage more than April Lady, but it has some of its own little quirks, and those two books are quite similar themselves. You won’t be surprised, anyway. But isn’t it more about the journey than the destination (given the destination is assured) in romance novels?

Here is what you need to know:

  1. Our hero, Marius Devron, is a duke. The Duke of Eversleigh. 
  2. Goaded by a friend, Marius bets that he will propose to a woman (as yet unknown) within a month and wed her within six weeks. 
  3. Our heroine, Henrietta (Henry) Tallant, is a willful young lady who has never conformed to society’s or anyone else’s dictates.
  4. Goaded by a friend, Henry bets that she absolutely can bring the Duke of Eversleigh to propose to her. 
  5. There is at least a 15 year age difference between our protagonists.
  6. Marius is charmed by Henry’s spirit. 
  7. Henry has no idea what she’s getting into.

Here is what might be hard to swallow for a modern audience:

  1. There is at least a 15 year age difference between our protagonists.
  2. Marius is domineering in a paternalistic way. He simply does not allow others to do as he does not wish them to do, without appearing to exert any control over them whatsoever.
  3. He is always in control and, as such, is inscrutable.
  4. Henry is…pretty dumb. Led by emotion rather than reason, she manages to land herself in a scrape that gets deeper and deeper the more she attempts to extract herself. Rather than talk to her husband about it, she alternates between rage at him and shame at her own behavior.
  5. Since Henry doesn’t know anything about sex at all, there’s a consent gray area when they finally do have sex. 
  6. If one trusts one’s husband and has a good marriage, one should be able to confess problems to said husband. How good is this marriage, really?

That last issue was one Holly raised during a conversation about one of the Heyer books, and I absolutely agree. If the marriage is good, this should not be an issue. But if the marriage is good, there’s really no need for a romance novel, is there? It’s also really easy for people who have been in a relationship for many years to forget how unsure one can be of another’s affections early in a relationship. Trust is built in a relationship, and usually we like to see it happen before the marriage, but there are whole tropes dedicated to when it comes after

So, okay, Marius and Henry barely know each other, and on top of that Marius is inscrutable, and Henry is willful. They live in a society in which men control the lives of women. …I’m just gonna stop. This book is not going to be for everyone. In all honesty, I’m not sure it was for me. I feel much more emotionally engaged with the characters in Heyer’s books than with these characters, although the similarities are striking.

Marius is marginally more readable and modern than Heyer’s heroes, so if you want to buy in to the fantasy of a powerful hero trying to manage marriage to an imp who’s much younger than him without breaking her spirit, this book might be for you. If you want to enter the struggle of a young woman in a marriage of convenience trying to figure out what to do with her husband while at the same time coming to terms with her feelings for him as she keeps getting into more and more trouble, this book might be for you. If you like an innocent heroine locked in the middle of an ongoing battle between an inscrutable alpha hero and a smarmy villain, this book might be for you. Otherwise, give it a hard pass, because this book definitely won’t be for you.


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