>> Saturday, July 24, 2010
TITLE: Ravishing in Red
AUTHOR: Madeline Hunter
SETTING: Regency England
SERIES: First in the Rarest Blooms series.
REASON FOR READING: I think I've enjoyed every single Hunter book that I've read, and a fair few have been outstanding. I've no idea why I've left such a long time go by since my last!
Armed with her cousin’s pistol, Audrianna travels to a coaching inn, to meet with a man who may have information that will clear her dead father’s name. She does not realize that the handsome man of commanding sensuality who shows up is not the person she expected, but instead Lord Sebastian Summerhays, one of her father’s persecutors, lured to the inn by the same advertisement that brought her there.Audrianna Helmsleigh's family is in a very difficult position. Her father was accused of, whether by negligence or corruption, allowing defective gunpowder to reach the front lines, causing the death of many soldiers. He committed suicide soon after a parliamentary investigation implicated him in the affair. Since then, Audrianna has been trying to clear her father's name. When she discovers a mysterious notice in the newspaper, requesting her father's presence in a coaching inn, she decides to go there herself.
When the pistol accidentally fires, the situation becomes mortifyingly public, and thoroughly misunderstood. Audrianna is prepared to live with the scandal. Lord Sebastian has other ideas...
Lord Sebastian Summerhays was one of the MPs responsible for the investigation into the gunpowder affair. He, too, sees the newspaper notice, and like Audrianna, decides to go to the inn to see what information he can pick up. Both arrive before the person who placed the ad, however, and find themselves in the same darkened room. And then the potential informant arrives, a pistol is fired accidentally, the magistrate is called and Sebastian and Audrianna are found in the room together. Can you say marriage of convenience?
I was completely engaged from the very beginning. For starters, Hunter completely avoids cliches with the path she takes towards her characters having to marry. It's not Audrianna who's rescued by marriage, but Sebastian. She's pretty much already ruined, after all. He, on the other hand, has his work in Parliament to think of, and it's clearly very important for him. The scandal (and most especially the way the papers are presenting him as a mix between laughingstock and cartoonish villain) soon begins to affect his effectiveness. Sebastian used to be able to make things happen, but people are now reluctant to work with him, and not even his title brother's influence can help that.
And when Sebastian and Audrianna finally do marry, their relationship was lovely to read. There's obviously a strong attraction there, one that neither bothers to deny. Their physical relationship is good and enjoyable for both, but Sebastian soon starts wanting more. He sees that while Audrianna is happy to share her body with him, she gets her friendship and warmth elsewhere... with her friends, and even with his own brother (who's paralysed due to war wounds and whose relationship with Sebastian is wonderfully complex). And he can't really blame Audrianna for not wanting to love the man who, after all, was partly responsible for her father's suicide.
Audrianna, meanwhile, is cool to Sebastian purely as a defense mechanism. She has come to care for him, but obviously, such a cool, controlled, powerful man is not going to fall in love with his wife. Better to keep some healthy distance in their relationship, then. I ate it all up. There were points, however, where I felt a slight sense of distance from the characters and their feelings, and that was the only thing that kept the book from being an A.
In addition to being a lovely love story, Ravishing in Red also sets up a new series, the Rarest Blooms. After the scandal, Audrianna had gone to live with her cousin Daphne, in Daphne's small property outside London. There, they and two more friends live quietly and work to contribute to the household, all also helping Daphne with her flower business. All four women clearly have their secret, and the reason they can live so peacefully together is that they have a pact not to ask questions. They each know the others are there to offer support if needed, but they won't be interrogated, whatever happens.
Audrianna's friends play quite an important role in the book, and so do two of Sebastian's. This meant that there was a fair bit of sequel-baiting. I believe the next few books are going to be about Audrianna's friends, and they were all interesting characters. I have some suspicions about what's up with Lizzie and expect to see her story in the next book. What we found about about Celia's history was very intriguing, and while I have no idea what direction Daphne's story will take, I really liked her and would like to read more. As for the heroes, that was a bit more hit or miss. I was very interested in Hawkeswell and look forward to his story, but found the Duke of Castleford a quite disgusting, even while suspecting I was supposed to be finding him oh-so-sexy. But then, I'm one who doesn't think promiscuity in a hero equals manliness, so what do I know.
MY GRADE: A B+.