Balogh, Mary. A Christmas Promise. 1992. New York: Dell, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0-440-24634-3. $7.99 USD.
I didn’t hate this one. But unlike some of the other Baloghs I’ve read recently, this one lacked real magic in terms of the romance between the central couple, who seem to go from hate to love without much development. Plus, while there is a futile attempt made to mend their initial misunderstandings, it does not erase some of the cruelty that took place in the early days, including the wedding night, where Randolph gets pleasure out of humiliating Eleanor.
However, while the lines of consent are blurry at best, and she is hurt by the incident, I do not think it was as bad as some reviewers claim. Through my experience with Balogh’s work, I have noticed she has always taken historical accuracy seriously, and the way the events of the wedding night played out is definitely not out of the realm of possibility. Not to mention, it was explicitly stated by her father to Randolph that he wanted the marriage consummated immediately, and I assume that she was aware of it, so she likely viewed it much like women of the time did in her situation: as a “duty” to be done. It is still quite objectionable, given the trajectory of their relationship afterward. The other misjudgments are acknowledged, but the fact that he hurt her on their wedding night is never brought up again as something he must atone for.
One redeeming feature of the book was the presence of family, but for a stand-alone novel, it devoted way too much screen time to an extensive cast who were hard to keep straight at times. There are at least two or three other relationships forming over the course of the book, with one forming a prominent subplot with which both Randolph and Ellie get involved in. However, the other two relationships just kind of come out of nowhere. I question whether all these characters and their relationships to one another were truly necessary, even if their presence did stem from the true meaning of Christmas being about family and togetherness.