The Charmer
Grade : B-

The Charmer is a well crafted, solidly written book, but also an uneven one. That may be why, in the end, it's an easier book to admire than to love.

Adrian Burchard comes to Paris in search of reluctant duchess Sophia Raughley. After the recent death of her father, the Duke of Everdon, she inherited his title and the responsibilities that went with it. With a reform bill brewing in Parliament, she's needed to ensure the seats Everdon controlled remained in Tory hands. Adrian's mission is to return her to England by order of the King.

But Sophia has no intention of ever going back to England. There was no love lost between her and her father, who hadn't wanted to name her his heir any more than she wanted the title. Running from her past, she's created a seemingly carefree life for herself in France, holding extravagant parties and acting as patron for several artists. England holds nothing but bad memories she's tried hard to forget. But Sophia's protests don't amount to much in the face of Adrian's steel will, and she soon finds herself on her way back home.

That doesn't mean she's about to give in without a fight. Before long, she manages to foil the plans of the men who try to tell her how to manage her affairs, as well as the man she fled all those years ago who still intends to marry her in order to have the Everdon power. Dealing with her memories of the past isn't so easy, and she must also contend with Adrian, the darkly compelling man with a scandalous family history of his own. When a threat to her life emerges, Adrian becomes her protector, refusing to leave her side.

It's a solid premise, and Hunter develops it well, slowly revealing back stories and motivations, painting the complex relationships between her many characters. She provides a wide array of secondary characters, all of whom are distinctive. Though there are plenty of minor characters, it's never confusing or difficult to remember who they all are. That alone is a feat.

The main characters are somewhat less impressive even though both are very well-developed. Hunter provides them with rich histories that reveal what makes them tick and shows through their actions the kind of people they are, but at the same time, she holds them at a distance from the reader. Maybe it's a little too much of that British reserve in action. It felt like I knew a lot about them without really knowing them. Adrian remains a little too cool and enigmatic, all the way to the end, making it impossible for him to really engage the reader's emotions. Sophia is too inconsistent. There are times when she's feisty, demonstrating a strong will in the way she faces down opponents without backing down. But too often her impulse in the face of adversity is to flee which makes her a very weak heroine at times. At one point there is a big misunderstanding when she listens to someone she should know better than to trust, resulting in her trying to run away again. It's hard to get a handle on who the real Sophia is. In the end, she's the character who undergoes the most growth over the course of the story, but she can be frustrating along the way.

The same can frankly be said for the entire book. There are scenes that contain razor sharp dialogue and thrilling showdowns. There are some choice dramatic moments and nice twists. There are some good revelations, and while the ultimate ending might not be a shock, there are some surprises. That's when The Charmer is downright great, but there are plenty of slow spots in between those instances, times when the story drags and merely seems ho hum.

Then there's the suspense aspect, which never generates any real tension, despite several scenes from the villain's viewpoint. It just seems to be there, at least some of the time. At one point the villain reemerges and I was actually startled, having completely forgotten about that part of the story. It hadn't been mentioned at all for more than fifty pages, which made it too easy to forget. The same thing happens later in the book. Like too many romances with a suspense subplot, the element isn't balanced well, too often raising the question of what the villain is waiting for instead of acting more steadily and efficiently.

That's the biggest problem with the book. As well written as it is, there's too little real tension, romantic or otherwise. The danger never seems real, the drama seldom seems all that dramatic. The moments of true conflict and revelation flare to life because they stand out among all the detached, unexciting plot progression. They display the kind of urgency of emotion the rest of the book is missing. Hunter's writing skill and her ability to develop complex characters and stories are undeniable. My admiration for that skill earns the book a marginal recommendation. It is very well written. But it's ultimately a little too stolid and unengaging too much of the time to grab the reader's emotions the way it should.

Reviewed by Leigh Thomas
Grade : B-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : February 19, 2003

Publication Date: 2003

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Recent Comments …

  1. Yep, that’s the long and short of it – I like her more as a contemporary writer because of this.…

Leigh Thomas

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