First Comes Marriage is Book I of a new quintet involving the Huxtable family-three sisters, a brother, and a male second cousin. At the start of this book Margaret and Katherine, the eldest and youngest sisters, are living with their young brother Stephen in a modest cottage in a small English country village. Their widowed sister, Vanessa Dew, lives with her in-laws at nearby Rundle Park. But life is about to change dramatically for all of them when Viscount Lyngate arrives unexpectedly on Valentine's Day, bringing the startlingly unexpected news that Stephen has just inherited an earldom. All four siblings begin a new life at Warren Hall, Stephen's principal seat. There they find a second cousin they have never met. Constantine Huxtable is the elder brother of the young earl who just died, but he could not inherit himself because he was born two days before his parents married and so was officially illegitimate. Con will weave his enigmatic way through the first four books before having his own story in the fifth.
First Comes Marriage is Vanessa and Viscount Lyngate's, story. Vanessa and Elliott dislike each other at first sight and nothing improves on second or third sight. But when it becomes clear that Elliott is about to propose marriage to Margaret simply because he needs a wife and she is a convenient candidate, Vanessa decides to take desperate measures and intervene. Her beloved sister has a strong sense of duty and might well accept the horrid Lord Lyngate for the sake of her family though she is deeply in love with a girlhood sweetheart who is off fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Vanessa has already had her chance at love with Hedley Dew, to whom she was blissfully married for one year before his death. Now is the time to sacrifice herself for her sister, who has had no real chance at love and happiness at all.
Dell Historical, ISBN 978-0-440-24422-6
I've awarded First Comes Marriage a Perfect 10 mainly for its wonderful characterization, but also for its riveting plot. It starts off with a moving prologue that cannot fail to entrap any reader. Then, in chapter one, Ms. Balogh's quick sketches of the people and the town bring them all vividly to life. The rest of the novel follows the Huxtables as they ready themselves to join Society while remaining true to themselves. As for the relationship between Vanessa and the viscount, two more mismatched people are hard to imagine, yet even as they rub each other the wrong way, a strange attraction persists.
Jane Bowers, Romance Reviews Today
Peppered with brilliant banter, laced with laughter (the proposal scene is hilarious), and tingling with sexual tension, this story of two seemingly mismatched people struggling to make their marriage work tugs at a few heartstrings and skillfully paves the way for the stories to come.
First Comes Marriage is classic Balogh, and what Regency period reader could ask for more? Wonderful characters, a pleasing story full of pathos, sensuality and humor, and a hint of mystery surrounding Constantine make this a one-sitting-read. Mary Balogh seems to caress each stroke of her pen to move the story at a perfect pace, thus giving the reader time to savor this wonderful tale.
Betty Cox, ReaderToReader.com