Every year, as Valentine’s Day draws closer, I indulge in a series of romance novels ‘- each more ridiculous than the last. Intrigued by the summary, I chose ‘A Matter of Class’ by Mary Balogh as my first romance read for this year.

Not surprisingly, I found myself extremely disappointed in the predictable plot and lack of character development. By the end of the second chapter, the reader is not only aware of how the book is going to come to a close, but also of all the insignificant plot twists in between. Yet, I found myself finishing the book simply because I was hoping the author would prove my assumptions incorrect.

Set in Victorian England, where class is a key component of livelihood, Balogh introduces us to her star-crossed lovers. Annabelle Ashton is not only beautiful and extremely wealthy, but she is also the most sought after lady in the town. She spends her days going to parties, afternoon tea and is observed by the lower nobility to have an arrogant attitude toward anyone except those of her own class.

Even though Reginald Mason comes from a family wealthier than Annabelle’s, they are not allowed to associate because the Masons started poor and worked their way up while the Ashtons claimed wealth as their birthright. Reginald is as wild as Annabelle is aloof and, at the start of the novel, the reader is made aware of his excessive gambling problems.

Typically, Balogh stresses that both are good at heart but misguided in their morals. While she concocts a boring tale of two families who hate one another, she hints eagerly to the reader that Annabelle and Reginald have a mysterious past that has made their fate become intertwined.

Switching from the past to present every other chapter, Balogh depicts the innocent friendship between the two when they were younger and how this friendship was ripped apart because of their differing social statuses.

Her mistake is showing the reader very early on the romantic liaison that budded between the two while they were younger. When the reader is handed the key to the heart of the story in chapter two, it is very difficult not to lose the suspense throughout the rest of the novel.

Naturally, Annabelle and Reginald’s wayward personalities bring shame upon each of their families until both are grudgingly forced to make an alliance with one another because no other family will wed their children to either Annabelle or Reginald.

After Annabelle and Reginald’s engagement is announced very early in the novel, Balogh means to slowly make the reader aware of the pact the two made growing up and how they arrived at the predicament they are currently in. Although it’s meant to be a romance, Balogh dreadfully attempts to make the novel read like a mystery.

While there is nothing wrongwith a romance novel that has an aura of intrigue, the element of surprise cannot be accomplished if the reader already knows everything that is going to happen.

The lack of suspense and the barely-there romance within ‘A Matter of Class’ make it a painful read. Therefore, the conclusion I have come to is that, while most romance books are typically predictable, this romance is by far the worst I’ve read in a long time.

Leonard is a member of the class of 2013.

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