Tour de force, indeed. A story that breaks your heart.
Adam and Fleur's story made me sigh. It is almost too real. Similar scenarios I have witnessed in life. People struggling with important life decisions they made and trying to come to terms with those decisions that trap them, willingly or unwillingly.
In honesty I think the book deserves 5 stars. The characterization, the story, the emotions, fantastic depiction of an impossible situation some of us have the luck to face in life. I love the book intensely when the spotlight is on Adam and Fleur. However a major section is devoted to everyone else around them, people and circumstances that made Adam and Fleur's story possible. I was not keen on reading about the selfish duchess Sybil, the irresponsible younger brother Thomas, and the imbecile Matthew who framed Fleur with 2 capital crimes. But again, without Sybil and Thomas's pathetic "love", there would be no brooding Adam trapped in a lovelss marriage in name only; without Matthew, the lying scum of the earth, there would be no desparate Fleur who resorted to prostitution. No brooding Adam, no desparate Fleur, no story. But I really had to push myself to read about all these secondary characters who I really did not care about. I think I truly enjoyed about 30% of the story. A 4 star rating is the balance I found between my intense liking of Adam and Fleur and equally intense disliking of having to read about Sybil, Thomas and Matthew.
Some romance stoies offer fluff and sex, which are great. Some of them even manage to make a lasting impression. And there are romance stories which explore the emotion we call love. The Secret Pearl is one of the latter. People have layers, we can be selfish and noble at the same time. I have much respect for writers who dare to challenge us on the fundemental level. Propstitution and infidelity are Mary Balogh's picks in this story. To love sometimes, is not a yes or no, black or white question. Sometimes we make questionable choices because there is no other way. Others may doubt you, may ridicule you. Just like people may damn Fleur for succumbing to sell herself for food, or condemn Adam for falling in love with Fleur when he was still married. I for one, do not find it in my heart to do either. I appreciate the complexity of emotions and feelings in Adam and Fleur's story, the impossible love, the hopeless yearning, and the attemp at grasping for happiness knowing that the end was near, and the decision that was made by a forced hand with honorable intentions rather than free will.
But I digress.
A painful love story that is somehow too real to be beautiful. I wish I did not have to read so much about all the secondary characters. I was waiting for Sybil to die from about 20% into the story. I did not like that Fleur had so many "suitors". I did not like that Adam was so responsible with Sybil, Thomas and the little girl Pamela. As I have said before about Mary Jo Putney, the same goes for Mary Balogh: there are romance writers who write about romance. And there are romance writers who write about love.