>> Tuesday, June 07, 2005
The Sinner (excerpt) is the only book I hadn't read of the Madeline Hunter series which starts with The Seducer. It's not the last book in the series, that's The Romantic, which I'd intended to read only when I finished The Sinner. But I'm weak.
Wearing nothing but a man’s nightshirt, Fleur Monley woke to find herself in the bed of England’s most charming and reckless libertine. But it was stray gunshot, not passion, that put her at the mercy of a man as infamously handsome as he was famously talented in the arts of love. Believing herself immune to any seduction, Fleur thought herself perfectly safe to make him an offer no sensible woman would dare risk: half her fortune for the freedom she would gain by being his wife—in name only.After the second book in the series, The Saint, which was the one in which both Fleur and Dante were really introduced, I couldn't wait to read their book and see how a marriage in name only would work between the very proper Fleur and that Duke of Slut Dante. I hadn't particularly liked Dante there (he came across as a hypocrite), but I was interested in seeing what Hunter did with him.
Desperately in need of funds, Dante Duclairc could do worse than the "white marriage" proposed by this idealistic beauty too naive to know the danger she courted. But the rashest thing he ever did was tell himself he’d be able to resist the invitation to sin that this lovely innocent would arouse at every turn—or that he’d be able to protect her from both the enemies that ruthlessly sought her ruin, and his own dangerous desire.
I was a bit underwhelmed, but more because my expectations were too high than because of this being a bad read. In fact, it's pretty good. A B.
The main problems I had with The Sinner were three:
The first was that I never really saw the change in Dante. That is, he's not the little creep he was in The Sinner, but the change from that into the mostly (more about that later) honourable man he's here has already happened off-scene. As the book starts he still seems to be a bit of a wastrel, but the minute he marries Fleur, he's all responsible family man.
The second problem has to do with his being an honourable man. I hated that he seemed to shrug off his promises to Fleur so easily. He's explicitly promised that she'll be free to handle her own financial affairs and the rest of her life, but the first thing he does is to give orders right and left. She's not to walk out alone, she's not to sell of any more land, she's to have some pretty dresses done.
He does have some good reasons for all this, and it's all for her own good, but the point is, he gives zero thought to the fact that he's going against the very promises he made. That was a problem because one of the things I was looking forward the most was to see Dante's reactions in a marriage in which his wife was the one to have all the power, and his reaction, simply grabbing all the power back, was the worst possible.
Third problem has to do with how The Sinner didn't stand alone very well. It would probably have been fine if I'd read it right after the previous books in the series (especially right after The Saint), but I'd forgotten a lot about the suspense subplot in that one, so the references to blackmailers and duels and so on left me lost.
But not everything was negative about The Sinner. One of the things I like best about her books is that she makes excellent use of the historical setting. She writes about people (both her heroes and heroines) who are not typical for that place and time, but I don't get the same anachronistic feel I get from other authors, because it's very clear in her books that these are people who are behaving outside the norms.
In Hunter's books, the extreme powerlessness of women is very, very clear. Her heroines manouver against it and triumph, and her heroes are happy to help them, but the fact that this is extraordinary behaviour is always right there on the forefront.
The romance in The Sinner could have been better, IMO, but I ended up enjoying it, mostly because I truly liked Fleur. She's a character who's got plenty of secrets, secrets she's very reluctant to share, but I never got the feeling that she was being stupid by keeping her mouth shut. It's always obvious that these are very important to her, and Dante really needed to prove his trustworthiness to her before she could even consider sharing with him.
I also liked the ending of the book, especially Dante's reactions when he finally found out what Fleur was trying to do. He pretty much won me over then.
The Sinner was my least favourite of the series, but it was still a good read.