Ah yes. The historical romance, to balance out the heavy reading I have been doing lately. I'm not sure if it's just contrast, but I must say that I found First Comes Marriage to be particularly light. (On a completely shallow note, though I'm not wild about this cover, it's infinitely preferable to a half naked viscount. Just sayin'.)
This book has a marriage of convenience plot -- the viscount, Elliot, needs a wife, and also someone to present his three newly discovered female charges to the ton. The young widow Vanessa, one of those newly discovered female charges, steps in to prevent the viscount from marrying her elder sister and marries him instead. Prior to the marriage, both parties are pretty sure they dislike each other strongly, but they're about to find out differently.
That's really simplifying it. There are subplots involving an ex-mistress, a [supposedly] debauched cousin, long-lost relatives, and more, but the focus is on the protagonists and their increasingly fascinating relationship with each other.
The main problem seems to be that they get off on the wrong foot. Vanessa is very outspoken. Because she has grown up in a tiny, out-of-the-way village, she has none of London society's niceties standing in her way of saying what she thinks. What she has to say to Elliot doesn't sit well with him at all, because she thinks him a cold, humourless, and arrogant snot. Which, in her defence, he is. Of course, there are always complicating factors, and Elliot is only cold, humourless and arrogant because he is wounded and deeply duty-bound. I know this kind of hero appeals to a lot of women, but I found Elliot to be seriously annoying until much closer to the end. Not Balogh's fault; the writing is good, the characterization fine, but Elliot's just not my type.
In the end, as befits a book about marriage, this book is almost entirely about communication. Things go well when people communicate well with each other; things go poorly when they don't. Vanessa is a great champion of honest communication between partners; ironically, though she does speak a lot she often has trouble laying out exactly what she wants to say. The juxtaposition is really cute. However, it does mean that Elliot often misunderstands her, and he's not particularly interested in talking with anyone at all, so misunderstandings go on for a long time with him. But this changes. And by the end of the book, even I had a little more fondness for Elliot, who wasn't so much of a snot after all.
Mary Balogh is a new romance author for me (and I just discovered she's Canadian! well, British first, but now she lives in Saskatchewan [UPDATE! Melanie informs me that Balogh is not British, but Welsh -- my bad]). Readers of Julia Quinn will very likely enjoy Balogh, although I found the writing to be a little more candy floss than Quinn's, and the setting and secondary characters slightly less realized. She's highly spoken of in many reviews, and her books are fairly popular at our library. I certainly enjoyed this book even if I wasn't wild about it, as it was just the sort of thing I needed. I don't think I'll be searching out her other books, but if one fell into my lap when I happened to be in a romance novel mood, I'd pick it up.