How To Kiss a Hero

The Lover's Charm

A Most Reckless Lady

 
The Suitor by Sandy Hingston
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-18543-5
*****
Sandy Hingston offers a masterful, compelling story of a young miss coming of age and a blackguard rogue. I have often wondered what a book would be like if the heroine was one of the snooty members of the ton. This story answers my question.

Katherine, Lady Devereaux, is the daughter of a Duke. After her mother’s death, her father married an actress, creating a scandal and delaying Katherine’s debut. She is sent to a school for young women, where she finds herself trying to maintain the haughty demeanor she thinks is required of her high station in life. Katherine is miserable. She has no close friends because she is rude to everyone she thinks is beneath her, which is, of course, everyone. As rude as she is, Katherine is still compelling.

But unbeknownst to her, this school has the hidden goal of helping young society girls think for themselves. One of the founders, Madame Christiane, was once a gambling hall owner who then married well. Her French background and this dubious start keeps her from being fully accepted in society. But to those who know her, she is sensible and trustworthy with their daughters. She agrees to assist the Duke in taming Katherine’s self-importance.

Madame engages an old friend, Alain Montclair. She bargains with him to seduce Katherine - without ruining her - and bring her down to earth. Alain is a man of mystery, who travels about gambling and charming the ladies. There are hints he is a French aristocrat who lost his title in the Revolution. As we get to know him, we find he is a man who cherishes liberty and loves his native France.

After several comical attempts, Alain finally woos Katherine and convinces her he is sincere. She impetuously leaves England to follow him to France, discovering her strengths, her character, her sense of adventure, love of life and her passion. Alain, however, is in danger - he is wanted by the French for murder and escaping the Bastille. But he truly loves Katherine and together they explore the French countryside.

I hesitate to share more details of this rich, complex story in fear of giving away its unique flavor. Suffice it to say, the two lovers are torn apart and many obstacles are thrown in their way. The final resolution is not assured until the very end, and there are some surprising twists thrown into the tale.

Katherine changes her personality from a snobbish prude to a truly engaging heroine, but the author weaves this transformation in a most believable way. The depth of Katherine’s character is superbly written. Alain is a delicious hero. He is a true romantic, and even when he appears to be farcical and roguish, there is a sense that he is more than meets the eye. His motivation is ambiguous, but becomes clear as the story progresses, creating a more intriguing character.

The secondary characters are equally well written and important to the story. The friends are all distinct and their actions understandable. Parents are more than stereotypes. Lord Dalrymple, a competing suitor, is the least developed of the characters, and yet there is a sense of his motivation and an understanding of both his good and bad traits. One of the few things I lament is that the author succumbs to the temptation to show all his “bad” traits so clearly, lessening the impact of the final choice Katherine makes.

Hingston’s writing transports readers to the world of the Napoleonic Wars, hinting at all the intrigues of the time, without getting bogged down in the details of the war. It is strictly used as a backdrop. The details of the settings are clear without slowing down the flow of the narrative.

There is much to absorb in this complex story. Readers may enjoy revisiting The Suitor and discovering nuances missed the first time around. Alain’s character, especially, may reveal more to readers upon re-reading.

This enchanting tale will be ranked as one of the best of the year. Discover for yourself the sophistication and romanticism of The Suitor.

--Shirley Lyons


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