Thoughts on some historical romance novels #4

Lady of Sin by Madeline Hunter

The following review contains spoilers. Click here to read the spoiler-free version.

“It does not matter that you choose not to speak. I do not need words to know everything about you.”

*sighs girlishly* This is a typical but very good Madeline Hunter novel. It has good, solid characters, witty dialogue, delicious scenes and intriguing emotional depth. So far I have read books from Hunter’s Rarest Blooms, Rothwell and Seducer series and I think the last one, which this book is a spin-off of, is the best.

All excerpts from the book © Madeline Hunter All rights reserved

First off, the hero and the heroine… My two primary reasons for reading a story.

Charlotte is not the ideal heroine. She is caring but doesn’t have a strong character which makes her selfish and craven. Her weakness in facing the challenges that befell her family urges her to take refuge in marriage with an ordinary man of poor health who dies a couple of years later. Following an unusually long mourning period, Charlotte finds herself in a self-made cocoon. Her weakness in character has driven her to find peace in widowhood. But after a while, she feels trapped and suffocating in her little world where she has deprived herself of the slightest happiness for fear that she might get hurt. So she does something very bold and dangerous: she attends one of Earl of Lyndale’s orgies. There she meets an anxious-looking Nathaniel who, she knows, just lost a case for the first time and his client is to be hanged. Nathaniel cannot recognize her because she is wearing a mask but he can see through her solitude. And the two troubled souls find salvation in each other for a night. The silent understanding between them, the vulnerability that they both feel and don’t care to hide made my heart ache. I love “living in the moment” scenes and this was simply beautiful.

Her behavior at that party had been shocking. Ruinous. She had thought that one person would not condemn her for it, however. Her lover that night would not see any sin. She had assumed that the man she embraced was as far removed from that salon as she, transported to a private world where an intensification of life’s energy existed and where souls replenished their vitality.

It was very sweet of Charlotte when she later on (being the first chapter of the book) visited Nathaniel to keep him company on the day his client would be hanged. But since the two cannot stop arguing (as we know from The Romantic), the hour was far from peaceful. I usually tolerate the cliche where the hero and the heroine can’t get along well at first and then fall in love, which is the case for Charlotte and Nathaniel, but here I actually liked it. The duel of words between the two were delightful to read. They bickered continuously and after a while things really got out of hand… in a different manner.

“Forgive me. It was stupid of me to think you might need company, when clearly all you required was that decanter.”

“It was not stupid. It was very kind. Quite soft, actually. A very warm, womanly gesture. I am touched.” He smiled softly. “However, if you truly want to help, if you really want to distract me, there are better ways. When I saw that dress, I dared hope you had realized that.”

When Nathaniel realizes that Charlotte was the women at Lyndale’s orgy and informs her about his discovery to Charlotte’s shock, the two choose to deal with the issue in quite contradictory ways: Charlotte doesn’t want the episode repeated for fear that her precious memory will be spoiled and Nathaniel wants to have her again to be sure that what he experienced that night wasn’t merely an illusion. While one is afraid to find out that they didn’t in fact experience the same intensity of emotion that night, the other is afraid of not finding out that they indeed did! Wow. Kudos to Ms. Hunter as this is harmony of contrast at its best.

So here, Charlotte’s cowardice kicks in again. I’m no fan of her but her emotions were described in a very convincing manner. She was a well-founded character, just not my type of character. The jealousy Charlotte feels over seeing Dante and Fleur so happy after the birth of their son is worth mentioning. Surely she is happy for them but jealousy wins over and she finds herself crying her heart out in Nathaniel’s arms. I mentioned above that she was selfish. But this scene touched me rather than making me judgmental. I thought Charlotte’s reaction was a very human one in its rawest form.

Nathaniel’s moment of cowardice is yet to come. But let’s talk about him a little. I like Nathaniel, I really do. He is the son of an earl with a profession, which makes him a rebel. Initially he wanted to be an actor but found that the courtroom was just another kind of stage, so he became a defense lawyer. He is not the typical arrogant and carefree rake, but he’s not the complete opposite either. He is quite serious but unlike Julian from The Romantic, who is a very private person and a man of few words, Nathaniel is more outgoing.

And now the scenes… though I mentioned quite a few of them above. One thing in particular about this book is that it got really amusing from time to time. I don’t remember laughing so hard when reading a historical romance novel before. It was very cleverly written as I was going back and rereading the funny parts again. The repeating “since the day is so fair” bit was hilarious. Also when Charlotte and Nathaniel make love for the first time after they make up their minds about having to “know,” Nathaniel is very sleepy but Charlotte just can’t stop talking, thus preventing him from falling asleep. Finally he makes an insidious joke about her talking which finally earns him sleep accompanied by a teasing punch on the chest. So cute… And finally, the scene where Vergil and Bianca almost walked in on Charlotte and Nathaniel was simply priceless.

“All the same, we should excuse ourselves,” Vergil said. “Although I am wondering if the meeting was already well concluded when we intruded.” He gave Nathaniel a deep look on the last sentence that made Charlotte’s caution prickle. She saw the big brother in him, thinking that a private chat with this man was in order.

Bianca still had not picked up the cue. “You are making plans regarding the petitions?”

“I trust that a petition came up at some point in the visit,” Vergil said dryly. “Correct, Knightridge?”

Charlotte wanted to die. “Indeed one did,” she said. “Mr. Knightridge is proving to be a great help in the cause.”

Bianca beamed. “I always knew that the two of you would find common ground in something.”

“Yes, we have discovered that we think alike in one small area,” Nathaniel agreed.

Charlotte wanted to hit him.

“Indeed,” Vergil muttered.

Lady of Sin is the fourth Madeline Hunter novel I read and the first one I am reviewing. I read two reviews, one positive and one negative, on this book after I have finished it. The positive one by Rosario writes that Charlotte and Nathaniel behave like adults throughout the book, which I completely agree with. Although they don’t always do the right thing, the justification of their actions makes their behavior seem mature and coherent. However, the negative review by hhd-reviews would completely disagree with this. He/she writes that Charlotte is too obsessed with her social status and that Nathaniel is too pleased with having sex with her to care for what is at stake, which is restoring poor child’s birth right. I can’t help but agree with this statement but it’s not as simple as that. When Nathaniel learns about the possibility that there might be a lost heir to the Mardenford house, he feels morally obliged to see where it might lead. But this quest turns him against Charlotte, who resents at Nathaniel for pursuing his suspicion which she fears might harm little Amrose’s (her late husband’s nephew that she loves dearly) future and her name, the only unstained one in her family. Since Nathaniel starts to have feelings for Charlotte, he tries to find every excuse to let go of his investigation. Hence his weakness. Neither Nathaniel nor Charlotte grasps the gravity of the situation, they don’t want to. Until it is revealed that Charlotte’s late husband was the father of the child and not her brother-in-law.

I wasn’t disturbed by this so-called “lack of morality.” On the contrary, it was moving to see them desperately cling to the precious bond they created and try ignore their differences. Remember, I have a weakness for the things people do for love, which are not necessarily good things (though I can’t tolerate manipulation *cough* Private Arrangements *cough*). Besides, I almost never care for the mystery plot in Hunter’s novels. I can really do without it except perhaps in The Romantic where the plot directly involves the heroine. And here, in Lady of Sin, the hero and the heroine end up as a huge family at the end, which I thought was a good thing though not entirely fitting to the story. But this way, they got to atone for their previous ignorance of the matter.

There is one more point I agree with negative review. hhd-reviews writes at one point, “More than ever, I noticed endless paragraphs of insipid, meandering introspection interspersed between the conversation. I often lost the thread of both the thoughts and the conversation and I didn’t care to pick up either of them actually.” I feel the same while reading Hunter’s other novels as well.  I like her long paragraphs of psychological analyses but sometimes I admit that I have no idea what she is talking about. Only I do try to pick up by rereading the passage to make sure I understand everything correctly. I’ll test this when I reread The Romantic to see if it gets better once you get used the author’s style.

Lastly, this book also earned points from me with the scenes featuring other characters of the Seducer series. One of my favorite scenes is when Dante sits behind Fleur to support her when she goes into labour. Normally I go by a somewhat clear distinction between male and female domains but this particular case of trespassing was so moving. Now I’ll have to read their story :) And also a glimpse at Julian and Penelope’s wedding was definitely a plus.

So… At the end, The Romantic still has the upper hand for me, but Lady of Sin got really close. Rereading some passages of the book to write this review reminded me of how much I enjoyed this book. And now, judging by the length of this review, I actually realize that I liked it more than I thought I did. And the book’s appeal owes it to the clever and wry but also eloquent writing of Madeleine Hunter. There are so many memorable quotes in this book and I can’t do but share one more before I conclude this review.

“I realized something today, Nathaniel. There are no neat fits to these things. No smooth roads. A bridge does not appear suddenly to take you forward when you reach a chasm. One either retreats to safety, or one jumps and trusts the stride is long enough. I am thinking that I retreated too quickly, and too often, in the past.”

“Jump with me.”

I recommend Lady of Sin to all romance readers who want to read a good story with mature, flesh-and-blood characters.

Sensuality rating: Hot (according to All About Romance)


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