A Study in Seduction
“Gee, that math is so romantic!” Um…yeah. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard those words uttered. I like trying new-to-me authors, and I’m almost always up for reading historicals, so I decided to try out A Study in Seduction even if I feared the mathematician angle wouldn’t exactly sweep me off my feet. Oh, how wonderfully wrong I was.
Lydia Kellaway is a mathematical genius, but perhaps not the most skilled in maneuvering through society. Keeping this in mind, one can understand why she might barge in at the home of Alexander Hall, Viscount Northwood, a man to whom she has not been introduced. All she really knows about Alexander is that he purchased her mother’s locket from a pawnshop and she is determined to have the heirloom piece back. After what is best described as an uncomfortably odd encounter, Alexander finds himself intrigued by the unusual Lydia and her puzzles.
Lydia’s quest for the locket and her puzzles, couched as challenges to Alexander, start a friendship between the two that sizzles with chemistry from the beginning. The story that follows is a remarkably complex one, following Lydia and Alexander’s budding relationship, Lydia’s interactions with her grandmother and younger sister Jane, and Alexander’s own complicated family. Lydia lives in rather reduced financial circumstances with her grandmother and sister, while Alexander comes from a much wealthier family. However, each has known real pain in their pasts. In addition to a secret which Lydia hints at throughout the story, we learn early on that her mother suffered from some form of mental illness and spent her last days in an institution. Her family’s finances went downhill after this, and Lydia has had to lead a very quiet life at home with her family and her equations for company. For Alexander, life has been a struggle to regain respectability after his mother’s affair and choice to run off to Russia with her lover ruined the family’s social standing and caused Alexander’s fiancee to break off their engagement. He has worked to build a successful business, he is trying to put together a successful international exhibition, and he longs to see his sister marry well. His own marital prospects have not factored into his thinking very much, but he starts to realize that if he did marry, Lydia would be an attractive prospect.
The richness of the story really made this book for me. The author created a real and multidimensional world for her characters, and I loved just letting myself sink into it and see the story unfold. The setting is filled with historical detail, and the author does her best to transport readers to an anxious England on the brink of the Crimean War. In addition, both Lydia and Alexander are mature, intelligent characters. We see Alexander’s love of his family and his wish for respectability and perhaps even a second chance at marriage and happiness. Lydia’s character reflects the importance of the life of the mind, and I appreciated how the author portrayed her. Lydia doesn’t proclaim that she intends to rebel against society and we don’t have to be told by the author that Lydia is something of an eccentric. We see it quite clearly as Lydia marches through life to the beat of her own drummer.
While A Study in Seduction is definitely a strong novel, it has its weaker moments. For starters, Lydia Kellaway seemed to find unusually easy acceptance as a female mathematician in mid-19th century England. Instead of resistance, we see professors all but begging her to lecture publicly in academia with almost no hint of controversy. That attitude felt just a tad too modern. In addition, I suspect most readers will have absolutely no difficulty guessing at the various secrets in the story, and the suspense element just felt a bit superfluous.
Still, even with these issues, I found myself looking forward to reading this book after work and I genuinely liked the main characters and their families. The romance in this book had plenty of sexy moments, but also some wonderful, emotional scenes, and that mixture made this a romance that felt truly romantic. The next in the series will feature Alexander’s piano instructor brother, and I’m looking forward to revisiting this world.