By Arrangement

By Design

By Possession

Lord of a Thousand Nights

The Protector

The Seducer by Madeline Hunter
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58589-4
What does one say about a book that is well-written and cleverly plotted, but fails to engage the reader? The Seducer is a quality book from a technical standpoint. Madeline Hunter definitely writes well. But I felt as though I was watching characters in a play, and it was all very cool and remote. Add to this an older hero whose actions are manipulative at best, and it’s a borderline uncomfortable read.

Young orphan Diane Albret has spent years at a French boarding school, visited once a year by her guardian, Daniel St. John. Daniel is so uninvolved with Diane’s life that he doesn’t know how old his ward is, and when summoned to the school on a disciplinary matter, pulls a fairly reprehensible trick on Diane to force the truth out of her. She’s twenty. Daniel’s interest is captured by her beauty, and he decides she will be the perfect pawn in a revenge scheme.

Daniel takes Diane to his home in Paris, which he shares with his crippled older sister. Diane expects Daniel to honor his word and help her find a position as a governess in London, where she can start to search for the truth about her past. But Daniel has other plans. Diane will be groomed for her real role – to attract the attentions of Daniel’s sworn enemy.

Daniel knows the truth about Diane’s past, but withholds it in the interest of revenge. As Daniel comes to know Diane, his growing feelings for her make him begin to doubt his plans. Diane, for her part, is unsure how to handle her feelings for her guardian.

This is one of those books that some readers will adore and others will close with a feeling of distaste. I leaned more toward the latter. Daniel’s plan, in which he holds all the power and control over a young woman who must depend on him for survival, had unsavory overtones. He procures this lovely young woman, to whom he is a guardian, for heaven’s sake, and thinks nothing of dressing her up as bait for a man he knows is evil to the core. Diane is nothing more to him than a pretty shell, an object to be used for his own means, yet we’re told he loves his sister dearly. His actions toward Diane are so remote and calculating that I found it hard to accept his change of heart.

Diane, for her part, is intelligent and has a backbone, which comes in handy when she discovers Daniel’s duplicity. She’s self-aware, too, a trait not always found in romance heroines. Her growing feelings for Daniel make her a bit uncomfortable, but she doesn’t spend any time denying them. And the sex between them is technically hot.

But the emotional connection was missing, somehow. Part of it may have been the author’s writing style, which also felt rather remote. The words were all placed properly, but the effect was one of distance. I certainly wasn’t drawn into the story. That observer thing, again.

A secondary romance between Daniel’s sister and her devoted manservant was more intriguing. Hints are given that her injuries and subsequent paralysis are part of Daniel’s revenge, but all is not revealed until late in the book. I will say this – the motivation was certainly there for Daniel to bring down his enemy.

It’s a familiar plot. Virginal young heroine, angst-ridden, revenge-driven older hero, and salvation along the way. If it’s one of your favorites, you may find The Seducer to be far more engrossing than I did.

One final note: the choice of names was interesting. Add an “L” (for “Love?”) to “Diane” and you have an anagram for “Daniel”. Coincidence? Maybe…

--Cathy Sova

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