I had pretty high hopes for this Madeline Hunter book since I’d read and enjoyed her medieval romances. Additionally, the back cover alluded to a buttoned-up hero – one my favorite kinds. However, The Saint had a lot of my not-so-favorite elements of romance, and those elements added up to a rather mediocre reading experience.
Miss Bianca Kenwood is an American citizen who has been the lucky beneficiary of an English fortune. Her estranged grandfather left her plenty of money in his will, and Bianca has plans to use it to start her career as an opera singer. She comes by her talent naturally as her mother also sang for a living after her father was killed in the War of 1812. Unfortunately for her ambitions, the moment she sets foot in England she runs into a large obstacle – Vergil Duclairc, Viscount Laclere.
Adam Kenwood, Bianca’s grandfather, appointed Viscount Laclere as his granddaughter’s guardian. But when Vergil’s older brother, Milton, died, Vergil inherited the “honor.” When he first encounters Bianca she is dressed provocatively and singing on stage. He immediately intervenes, sending her to his country estate under the supervision of his sister Penelope. He also decides to match her up with his rakish younger brother Dante. Bianca’s fortunes would help his family’s insolvency, and Vergil doesn’t think that any woman can withstand Dante’s charm. But withstand it Bianca does. Not only that, but she begins a campaign of ruining herself in Vergil’s eyes so that he will let her go to the continent to train her voice. But the two of them, in their mutual antipathy for each other, do not count on their equally mutual attraction to each other. That fierce attraction makes things much more complicated – and interesting.
Hunter’s prose was, as expected, smooth, and the story itself was nothing to complain about. If you like emancipated heroines, political intrigue, Regency house parties, and love triangles, this story might be right up your alley. I don’t happen to like any of those things, however.
Bianca was somewhat hard to fathom. As an American citizen she would not have been used to the circumscribed way of life of the British nobility. Her social constraints would have been fewer. And it’s possible that her love for music might have blinded her to the unpleasantness of the social shunning she would endure if she succeeded in her chosen career. But it’s still hard to understand why she wouldn’t make do with her great good fortune of inheriting money and finding a viscount who loved her. And that “ruin yourself socially” plot is one of my least favorites. Think outside the box, Bianca. In five years is that social ostracism going to be so fun?
The book has a subplot involving blackmail. It was not badly done, but neither was it engrossing. It was this part of the story that involved characters from the first book in this series (The Seducer), which I haven’t read. These characters acted in the standard “It’s not my book, but I’m still dashing, dangerous, and gorgeous in my own right” way, so it was easy enough to figure out what was going on.
Vergil was an interesting hero. Hunter played with the reader in describing him, revealing things and then taking them back so that his true character was not exposed until later in the story. He could have used a bit more starch, however. Somehow his guardian/ward relationship with Bianca was both too paternal and not quite paternal enough. More tension (not the sexual kind) between them would have been nice. One of the love scenes played on the guardian theme, and to me that seemed either campy or inappropriate – I couldn’t decide which.
Ultimately The Saint didn’t work for me because I couldn’t accept the story’s conflict, and, therefore, it seemed like as a reader I was treading water for the last 250 pages. Also, a lot of what made Hunter’s medievals work for me was her highlighting of interesting times and the diverse roles people played in them. That was lost in the Regency setting. I’ve run into Biancas and Vergils and Dantes before, and these versions weren’t original enough to be very interesting.