Sinful in Satin

Grade : B
Reviewed by Jane Granville
Grade : B
Sensuality : Hot
Review Date : September 15, 2010
Published On : 2010/10

When I think of the strongest historical romance writers today, Madeline Hunter is definitely on the list. I almost feel guilty giving this book a B, as the writing and characterization are so much stronger than other books that receive that grade. However, the book’s vague backstory pulled me out of my enjoyment more than once.

Celia Pennifold’s reputation precedes her. The daughter of an infamous courtesan, she had been trained and debuted at seventeen, and a bidding war ensued to find her first protector. However, before she committed to that life, she fled and lived anonymously for five years in a home outside of London with several other women. Now twenty-three, her mother has died, leaving Celia with unanswered questions regarding her paternity, renewed speculation and scorn, a lot of debt, and a home that comes with a tenant.

Jonathan Albrighton isn’t there coincidentally. The bastard of an earl himself, he was sent to search for a list of Celia’s mother’s lovers. There are rumors that she had been involved with a French émigré, and may have passed information to him during the war with France. His plans to search her papers for the list are complicated when Celia decides to move into the house in which he’s staying. However, he’s intrigued and attracted to Celia, and the feeling is mutual. When a man from her past reappears holding her future in his hands, though, Celia is forced to reconsider whether or not she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps — while Jonathan lacks the money or the status to protect her.

The romance between Jonathan and Celia is lovely, a strong connection between two jaded but hopeful adults. Celia, in particular, captivated me. I could clearly feel the agony of her decision and the frustration at the precariousness of her dreams. She was a well-developed and interesting character, caught between love and money. Jonathan was a good character as well, likable even in his mild deception of Celia. It was a nice change to see a hero that isn’t an absurdly wealthy aristocrat, but rather a government employee with a modest salary. There is a twist in Jon’s identity late in the novel that may upset some readers, though, and takes away some of the credit I had previously given the author; I can’t say too much about it in order to not spoil it, but it just felt like a cop-out to me.

Both Celia and Jonathan have had pivotal events in their past, neither of which are revealed right away. In general, this is a good thing; I don’t like it when an author gives us too much too soon. The reveal of Celia’s past is done well, with details given at a good pace. Jonathan, however, is another story. I still am not entirely sure what the “mission on the coast” was, though I know the basics of what happened. The motivations, characters involved, and end results are much more hazy, though. The whole thing seems sort of vague. I wish the author had given us more concrete details about Jonathan’s work for the government, and how the other characters (husbands of two previous heroines in this series) were involved. I have read one of the previous books, but still had difficulty piecing their connections together.

The story is the third in the “Rarest Bloom” series, and it’s unclear as to whether or not another will follow (though I suspect there will be a fourth). As it stands, though, this is a solidly enjoyable novel with strong characters and dynamic relationships — but it falls just a bit short of being truly great.

Jane Granville

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