Heart of the Hunter
Ariana of Clairmont is a gently-bred English maiden who finds herself in dangerous circumstances in Heart of the Hunter, the first of a new Medieval/Fantasy romance trilogy by Tina St. John. In the prologue, we learn of a sort of faerie realm called Anavrin, and of the magical chalice that was stolen from Anavrin by a wily human. It seems that the bejeweled chalice was broken up into four smaller cups. Legend has it that whoever assembles the four pieces will have unimaginable power.
Our heroine’s brother, Kenrick, is being held hostage in the French city of Rouen. Kenrick was searching for the four cups, and has been taken by other cup-seekers more ruthless than he. Ariana has been instructed to hand over Kenrick’s notes to his captors, or she’ll never see him alive again. When we first meet her, Ariana is attempting to buy passage across the English Channel from a Frenchman who turns out to be a creepy villain. Ariana is rescued by a big, powerful, and very menacing man named Braedon. Ariana is almost as terrified of Braedon as she is of her assailant – on top of everything else, the man’s face is disfigured by a large scar – but Braedon owns a boat and Ariana is desperate. She bargains with him for passage to France, promising that she will give him anything he wants. Intrigued, Braedon agrees.
It isn’t long after they reach France that Braedon reaches the end of his rope with Ariana. He has been repeatedly attacked by Ariana’s pursuers, and he wants to know what’s going on. It turns out that Braedon is also connected to the search for the cup, in more ways than he realizes. Soon Ariana and Braedon are working together to rescue Kenrick and, ideally, keep the magical cup from falling into the evil hands of Silas de Mortaine (and if that isn’t a sinister name, I don’t know what is).
I’m afraid that this summary makes it all sound rather more exciting than it is. The problem is that I never found these characters or their romance terribly compelling. As we all know, certain types of characters recur over and over in romance novels – in this case, the scarred, tormented loner and the good-hearted woman who rescues him with her innocence and sweetness. In the best romance novels, the protagonists overcome their “type” and come to life as original, interesting, and sympathetic people. That doesn’t happen here. Ariana remains stubbornly similar to so many other naïve-yet-plucky heroines who have gone before her; Braedon is yet another dark-haired guy with a scar, a troubled past, and a mistrust of love. They’re agreeable enough, but not very memorable.
This book features an extremely strong paranormal element; it is really right on the borderline between Romance and Fantasy. The author does a good job of showing the shock of Ariana and Braedon when they realize just how supernatural the villains are. However, the paranormal plotline, like the romantic plotline, is generally well-written but not particularly original or fresh. For instance, I immediately guessed the secret behind the beautiful she-wolf who befriended Braedon.
I didn’t dislike this book. St. John is a capable writer, and some of the scenes between Braedon and Ariana are romantic and tender. But overall, if you’re waiting for the next great medieval, keep waiting. Heart of the Hunter is unobjectionable, but run of the mill.