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Sir Benedict Harper was not expected to live and he was never expected to walk again, when his legs were injured during the Napoleonic wars -- but he has defied both expectations and, not only survived, but live and walk again, albeit with the aid of crutches.
It has been six years since his injury, and he is ready to return to the world of the living, after hiding so long in the idyllic life of Penderris Hall with his fellow survivors.
But, where does he begin? The estate he inherited is being managed by his younger brother, who had expected to be its new owner after what happened to Benedict. At Kenelston, Benedict feels more like a usurper/an unwanted visitor rather than rightful lord. He has avoid confrontation with his younger brother, but he knows it is inevitable.
"It must have been a severe blow to him, Ben said with a rueful smile, "when I lived. I am sure he has never forgiven me, though that makes him sound malicious, and really he is not. When I am away from home, he can carry on as he has since our father died. When I am there, he no doubt feels threatened -- and with good reason. Everything is mine by law, after all. And if Kenelston is not to be my home, where will be?"
- loc 315
During his visit to his sister, he encounters Samantha McKay, who lives in a neighboring estate. A war widow, Samantha still has half a year of deep mourning before she is allowed a small degree of social freedom, but, even before her husband's death, Samantha had already been living a reclusive life -- living her days caring for her injured (and demanding) husband.
When I first found out the title for the third installment in Mary Balogh's Survivor Club series, I immediately thought it was a bit odd, considering that the hero, Benedict Harper, is crippled and uses two specially-designed crutches in order to walk, but, when I started reading it, I experienced a lightbulb moment: Ah, it's that kind of escape.
Benedict and Samantha are physically free, but both are bound by invisible ties: Benedict to his disability and perceived inability to manage his own estate, and Samantha by her late husband's family's dictates. I felt sad for Samantha, who jokingly (and not jokingly) referred to walking as a "forbidden word" and made me realise that something as simple as a walk could be a grand experience for someone who has been deprived of it for a long time.
Ah, it felt so very good to breathe in fresh air at last, Samantha thought, even if it must be filtered through the heavy black veil that hung from the brim of her black bonnet. And it was glorious to see nothing but open space about her, first on the lane, and then on the daisy-and-buttercup-strewn grass of a meadow onto which they turned. It was sheer heaven to allow her stride to lengthen and to know that at least for a while the horizon was the only boundary that confined her.
There was no one to witness her grand indiscretion, no one to gasp in horror at the sight of her.
- loc 446
In each other they enjoy a small degree of freedom and a companionship with no strings attached ... Or so they thought. I enjoyed reading their conversations -- they were so brutally honest with each other and I loved that they were comfortable enough to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets to each other, which was a revelation -- because they weren't at all dark -- Benedict really just wanted to do things he had been able to do before and Samantha just wanted to be able to walk around and meet people.
"...You must forgive yourself for being alive, Mrs. McKay, and for wishing to go on living."
"And for wanting to dance?" She half smiled at him.
"And even for wanting to ride."
- loc 1460
When I was talking to my book buddy, Mary, about this, I said that this story has all the wonderful elements of a classic Balogh story:
*An impossible situation: she is still in mourning for her husband and he has plans of reclaiming his estate from his brother. If he stays with her, there would be a terrible and ruinous scandal. If he stays with her, there was nothing for him there. If she goes with him, she will ruin her reputation and lose the chance to make friends and move in society.
*Admirable protagonists: Half-crippled, broken self, one quarter gypsy, half Welsh ... Balogh's novel also touches on labels, impressions and all those things that try to pin down our identities. I have always been in awe of Benedict's struggle to overcome his injuries and Samantha is on the verge of her own breakthrough.
*A most human love story: there is no dazzle or sophistication in the way these two very awkward souls fell in love. It happened through conversation and companionship ... And the genuine desire for the other's well-being. Samantha helps Benedict break through even more barriers, without really pushing too hard, and Benedict helps Samantha find a direction for her future.
Does that future include Benedict? It is a question both our hero and heroine ask. The tug between something/nothing ... Of weighing things out ... Of making a choice. I thought Benedict and Samantha had the fight of their lives on their hands --
"Don't leave," she said again, and she lifted her hands to cup his face. He had even shaved, she realised. He must have brought his razor with him. He must have expected to stay.
"Are you sure you will not regret it?" he asked her. "I cannot take you with me, Samantha. I am, at least for the present, a nomad. And I cannot stay. There is nothing for me here. Besides, it is too soon for you to remarry. And I cannot ... ever marry. I do not have wholeness to offer."
- loc 3479
I think this is my favorite, so far, of Balogh's Survivors Club series -- there is just so much story, so much heart, and so much joy when Samantha and Benedict find their happy-ever-after.
The Escape is Book 3 in Mary Balogh's Survivor's Club series. To find out more about Mary Balogh and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC via Netgalley and Edelweiss. Thank you to Random House and Mary Balogh for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.