You’ve read this story before. Older, more experienced hero exploits innocent young woman, using her as an unknowing pawn in a ruthless quest for vengeance. But even though the plot holds few surprises, in Madeline Hunter’s hands, a familiar story gains an altogether unexpected depth and dimension. Ms. Hunter, fellow readers, is good. Very good.
Residing for most of her life at an obscure and repressive school in the French countryside, Diane Albret isn’t particularly fond of the benefactor who placed her there. With infrequent visits in the years she’s been at the school, Daniel St. John is a glowering, mysterious presence in her life (she thinks of him as Devil Man) and she isn’t particularly pleased when the school’s headmistress summons him to deal with a disciplinary matter.
Upon his arrival, Daniel – surprisingly in Diane’s view – seems to quickly discern both her uncomfortable situation at the school and, equally surprisingly, her efforts to hide her age. Since the school is the only home she can remember, Diane is determined to maintain the only security she knows by keeping her advanced age of 20 from both the school and her benefactor.
But Daniel has a plan of his own, one that will allow him to not only “rescue” Diane, but also provide invaluable assistance in his quest to seek vengeance on his enemies. In ignorance of his plans and believing that Daniel will ultimately assist her in finding a position, Diane travels with Daniel to his Paris home. There, under the guidance of his older sister, a self-possessed and semi-reclusive paraplegic, Diane is groomed for her real role: Bait to attract the attentions of a man Daniel has very good reasons to hate.
One of the frustrations of a plot like this is that the reader always knows that the couple is heading perilously for a major confrontation. In the case of The Seducer, this is magnified even further by the fact that Daniel is also keeping from Diane critical information about her family background. Diane remembers little of her life before the school and even less about her family, and the knowledge that Daniel holds is momentous. While this kind of “big secret” plotting normally frustrates me, I didn’t feel that here. Madeline Hunter does such a wonderful job of making both Daniel and Diane fully three-dimensional and with such complex motivations and feelings, that I was swept up by their story and stayed there right until the end.
Daniel, especially, is an incredibly well drawn character. He is far, far from the typical vengeance-seeking hero (to whom I usually want to scream: Get Over It!) and his character is layered with guilt over his developing feelings for Diane, the concern he feels for the sister he dearly loves, and both his commitment to (and ambivalence about) his ultimate goal. I completely understood his need for vengeance, even though I wasn’t able to altogether forgive him for some of his tactics.
Diane is both equally complex and equally interesting. Proud, determined, and more than able to stand up for herself in the face of Daniel’s steamroller tactics, Diane is a heroine whose behavior is always understandable and never, ever over the top. Though I lost patience with her once (I can’t reveal where or how for fear of spoilers), for the most part Diane is a wonderful heroine and an ideal match for the strong, resourceful, and determined Daniel.
Since the books to come over the next three months are part of a new series for the author, the heroes of those books are introduced here. It’s safe to say, from my perspective at any rate, that things are looking good. Especially since Madeline Hunter – as she more than proves in The Seducer – is capable of breathing new life into even the most tried and true storyline.
As someone not usually drawn to stories set in the Medieval period, I’d never previously read Madeline Hunter. Though medieval romance lovers may mourn (you have my deepest sympathies), those of us who love books set in the 19th century have a new and powerful voice to savor. I certainly plan to.