The Gilded Web by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Gilded Web is a very thoughtful, character-driven romantic story. As typical for Mary Balogh, she turns a keen eye on the interpersonal relationships of the characters in this novel. Although the main focus is on the unfolding relationship between Edmund and Alexandra, she also delves into their relationships with their brothers and sister, and how each one of these secondary characters relate to other people.
Alexandra is a very complex, and sometimes unlikeable character. Part of me really understood where she was coming from. She'd been completely repressed by her overbearing, domineering, religious zealot of a father. He had suppressed much of her personality to the point that she appeared robotic and blank to others, including Edmund, for a significant portion of this book. The truth was, she had a very profound stew of emotions that she didn't know how to deal with. I really did sympathize with her, but she started annoying me towards the end. The message about woman having control over lives is an important one, and a message that hits home with me. However, her decision to break the engagement and go out into the world on her own as a governess so that she could experience some nebulous idea of 'freedom' struck me as immensely foolhardy, especially when Edmund was really the idea man for her. He was all about freedom and respect. From the beginning, he tried to make sure that she was happy and her needs were met. She always interpreted his attempts to take care of her as some sort of control attempt on his part. She was kind of clueless in that regard. Had this book ended differently, it probably would have been a wall-banger for the behaviors that Alexandra insisted upon. She had effectively made Edmund her punching bag, instead of dealing with her father and being honest with him and standing strong. I realize how hard that must be, but transference upon Edmund, who showed her nothing but caring, acceptance and love, was ridiculous. In the end, I was satisfied that she finally got a clue. It almost took a frying pan knock to her thick skull though. Frankly, I don't think Alexandra's healing is done yet. I feel that Alexandra needs to work through her issues and learn to find her way and establish herself within the framework that her society allows her. She was naive about the world, and she didn't realize that the world was a very scary place for women without the protection of their family and men, even though that's a hard pill for a modern woman to swallow. It truly was better to be in a loving marriage with a protective husband who was willing to give her as much freedom as she needed, than to live a lonely, unprotected life as a governess. I think she'll come to realize how better off she will be as Edmund's wife.
Edmund was a delightful character. He is the kind of person who is self-sacrificing to the extreme. He put his own life on the backburner to take care of his family. When his brother Dominic inadvertently ruins Alexandra, he steps up to offer to marry her. Every action he took showed with a good man he was. I don't think a woman could ask for a better future spouse. I do realize that he had to learn to make sure that his needs were met and to be honest about what he wanted. Although Alexandra really annoyed me with her actions, some good came out of in that he was able to open up and be less private and tell her how much she meant to him.
The secondary stories were pretty interesting, especially James Parnell and his complicated relationship with Madeline, who is Edmund's sister. Their story continues in The Devil's Web. I confess I am very eager to read that one soon. James is a very dark, somewhat emotionally-dangerous character. He is so full of anger and rage. His heart was broken by his father's actions, and he is dead in some ways because of what he's lost. My heart really connected to him. I didn't like how cruel he was to Madeline, though. Madeline seems like a flighty, shallow flirt, but she wasn't really. She was just a happy person who took being unconditionally loved for granted. But, with maturity, it was clear that she'd put shallow tendencies behind her and become a deeper woman, with a huge capacity for love. It's pretty clear that these two will have an intense story.
Dominic, Edmund's younger brother, and his desire to join up with the army for the war against Napoleon, contrasted with his tendency to fall in love every week was a lighter aspect of this story. Sometimes I wanted to tell him to grow up, but he's pretty young. He had a good heart, and I'm looking forward to seeing him as a mature man.
The Gilded Web was a thought-, and emotion-provoking read. I felt some degree of frustration with Alexandra that made it less likely to be a favorite of mine. But it shows the usual complex and not always comfortable, intense emotional depths that I have come to associate with Mary Balogh's writing. I think that readers who enjoy Regency romance along the lines of Jane Austen would enjoy this story.
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