The Gilded Web by Mary Balogh

The Gilded Web by Mary BaloghThe Gilded Web by Mary Balogh
Series: Web #1
Published by Dell on November 28, 2008
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 480
Format: eBook
Source: Library
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From one of America’s most beloved storytellers comes a classic love story—the breathtaking tale of a man and a woman caught in a web of temptation and seduction.

All she wanted was to escape the hot, crowded London ballroom. But moments after stepping into the bitterly cold night, she is seized by a pair of strong hands and spirited away. Fully expecting to be ravished, sheltered Alexandra Purnell instead finds herself at the mercy of the man who saved her from certain scandal. Edmund, Earl of Amberley, is bold and sensual, tempting Alexandra to be reckless for the first time in her life. But as passion ignites, Edmund’s offer of marriage takes Alexandra completely by surprise. Now a woman who craves her freedom above all else is about to discover how far one man will go to protect and possess the woman he loves.…

Mary Balogh continually impresses me, even in the books I don’t like as much, with her dedication to writing romances featuring a vast variety of characters. They’re all quite disparate, and she tackles all kinds of interesting characters that romance typically does not. The Gilded Web struck me yet again with her talents in this arena. This book manages to be dark in much of the subject matter but it’s perfectly balanced with the quirkiness of the secondary cast and madcap plotting.

When I first started The Gilded Web, I was nervous. The title didn’t help, and the cover didn’t either. They both remind me heavily of the romance novels I snuck out of my mom’s library, chock full of problematic elements that teen me definitely just found super romantic. And initially, it seemed this book would go that way too, as the heroine, out for a walk alone during a ball, gets kidnapped by two ruffians who ominously promise to deliver her to Lord Eden. Friends, this book is not like those romances at all. Seriously, ignore the description up there because it’s so misleading.

In fact, the story takes an immediate hard left from the melodramatic trail it appeared to be on. Alexandra (but call her Alex) turns out to have been kidnapped in error. The aforementioned Lord Eden thought (wrongly, it turns out) that his twin sister Madeline had planned to elope with a scoundrel and devised this admittedly awful plan to keep him from that man’s clutches. Only it turns out that Lord Eden’s friends aren’t much better with details than he is. It’s over-the-top and ridiculous, but the more you get to know Lord Eden and Madeline, the more believable this whole misadventure is.

Alex’s character arc is powerful and deeply sad. She and her brother James were both raised by a father who abused them physically and emotionally. He expected them to live up to an impossibly harsh Christian ideal, one held by a vengeful God, and he punished them severely with beatings and days of prayers if they showed any sort of spirit. As such, both James and Alex do not know how show emotion or to communicate feelings. They’re both deeply repressed, though in different ways. James has rejected his father’s teaching and lives in a state of bitterness, with his only goal to help his sister find happiness.

Alexandra, meanwhile, knows that her upbringing is harsh but truly believes her father means well. She knows that he only has her best interest in mind, and so she submits to his punishments willingly, thinking she deserves them. If he tells her to pray on her knees for hours, she does not need to be supervised to follow the instructions exactly. There’s something deeply painful in watching Alex continue to argue in support of her father, even as she slowly gains the ability to stand up to him and be herself. A Gilded Web does an amazing job of showing the lingering affects of such abuse and how incredibly difficult it is to fully overcome.

Needless to say, her father does not take the scandal well, especially when her long-planned marriage to a Duke with the same attitude as himself is called off. Alex ends up engaged to Lord Eden’s elder brother, Edmund, Earl of Amberley. What’s interesting is that neither of them feels any connection initially, and there’s truly a slow, minuscule adjustment to their feelings for one another as they get to know each other over weeks; Amberley invites her and her mother to a house party so they may get to know each other before the wedding.

Alexandra slowly opens up, but it’s very difficult for her to accomplish. As she does, though, it becomes apparent that she and Edmund are a wonderful match. This is the tale of two introverts falling in love. There’s nothing more romantic than an introvert being willing to share their private space with another person, amirite? I believe in this couple’s being a good match, and that they will both do the emotional labor required to remain one through the years. It’s truly uplifting to watch Alexandra feel true joy, even if it is frustrating (but understandable) to watch her struggle to figure out what it is that she wants. Though Alex is a deeply kind person, she has massive trust issues even with Edmund’s assertions. I liked that Edmund too ended up having an emotional arc of his own, as he seemed the stable rock of the story for most of the book, but he too has issues to address.

The side romance of Madeline and James should have worked for me, but the punishing kiss they share initially is not something I enjoy like I did at 13. Also, there’s just not enough of the emotional side there, and it feels like it all happens way too fast. I suspect they’ll be in one of the other books in the series, but I do think far too much of that happened here. I do love Madeline though and her hapless brother Lord Eden. In fact, that whole family is the sweetest.

When Balogh’s good, she’s so good. There’s so much to unpack in this novel, and I love seeing that in a romance. It’s a beautiful, sweet story that truly shines in its portrayal of a heroine struggling to overcome 21 years of emotional abuse.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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