The Dueling Society Series
1. The Seducer (**) - Daniel
2. The Saint (*) - Vergil
3. The Charmer (****) - Adrian
4. The Sinner (SKIP) - Dante
5. The Romantic - Julian
I was charmed by Hunter's 3rd installment in this Dueling Society series entitled THE CHARMER; finally a story in this series I can get behind! Although the inspiration for this novel lies with Adrian Burchard, THE CHARMER soundly belongs to his heroine Sophia Raughley, the new Duchess of Everdon. Remarkably, provisional laws granted by British royalty allows a daughter to inherit the Dukedom of Everdon after sons. Following the death of Sophia's cruel father, Sophia now comes into Everdon's title and vast estates. Only Sophia doesn't want any of it. THE CHARMER contains by far the strongest historical backdrop in this series and I always appreciate a story which offers more than the run-of-the-mill romance. Reform over aristocracy's power in the English Parliament entangles the new Duchess as each side of the Reform movement vies for Everdon's power over its 12 elected M.P.'s in the House of Commons. Everdon also holds a vital seat in the House of Lords and although the Duchess cannot sit in the House of Lords, the one she marries can.
Like most of Hunter's novels, the book is emotionally charged. Sophia's demons and tortured history take center stage and Adrian mitigates Sophia's journey from the frightened girl constantly running away to a woman who finally assumes responsibility and gives in love. Since THE CHARMER gradually reveals Sophia's demons, at first I found myself disliking Sophia who just seemed like a spoiled brat. But I found myself doing a 180 on her by the end of the novel as I grew to empathize her after learning of the treatment she receives from her father and her struggle with her tremendous guilt (over her brother and betraying reform activist Captain Brutus). It's a tribute to Hunter's writing and plotting that compels the evolution of the reader's opinion of a character along with the character. As for Adrian, I truly treasure Hunter's heroes like Adrian Burchard because even though he isn't the notorious rake of every other romance novel, he makes a substantial impact and the story wouldn't work if he didn't push Sophia at every step. He's dark, and unlike heroes who command a room when they walk in it, Adrian's power lies in the background since he's an accomplished spy. I always enjoy Hunter's heroes who aren't born into title and wealth. The prose is excellent, the characters poignant (especially Sophia), the h/h chemistry evident and I found the plotting and pacing equal parts political, witty, engaging, comical and suspenseful. THE CHARMER is the first book in this series from which the meticulous setup from the previous two novels finally hits home. I don't have too many complaints with this novel, and it's worth a re-read actually.
After the Duke of Everdon passes away, the Iron Duke, the Duke of Wellington, dispatches his protege Adrian Burchard to fetch Everdon's errant daughter, the new Duchess of Everdon, Sophia Raughley, from Paris. Wellington and other members of the aristocracy along with the King of England require Everdon's vast influence to defeat a hotly-contested Reform bill currently in the House of Commons. Seven years ago, 29 year-old Sophia Raughley escaped her home, country and father following very traumatic events to while away in leisure and comfort in Paris. Adrian boldly a enters a staged harem scene in Sophia's home in Paris and whisks away a foxed and scantily-clad Sophia from further debauchery. Great, Adrian thinks, he has to deal with a debauched duchess and force her to accept a responsibility she renounces. Adrian perseveres however and after some fun games of wit and clashing of wills, Sophia finds herself back at Everdon's seat in Marleigh and suddenly visited by the King of England, the Duke of Wellington and other key members of the aristocracy. Wellington's political party - the Toreys - want Sophia to direct her subordinate boroughs to vote against the reform currently in the House of Commons while a prior amorous acquaintance, the radical Captain Brutus, threatens Sophia to support the reform. Wellington also wants Sophia to marry Gerard Stidolph according to her late father's wishes.
She's torn from both sides of the reform bill, she's haunted by demons from the past, and the King and Wellington want her to marry someone whom she despises. In the midst of it all, Adrian Burchard accompanies Sophia in her journey to overcome demons from the past and present as she travels to her boroughs and meets her M.P.s in the House of Commons. The tension between Sophia and Adrian slowly builds and their chemistry resonated. Whenever Sophia wants to run away from it all as she's done previously, Adrian lends a firm yet supporting gentle hand of reassurance. Adrian is fascinated by Sophia's layers and slowly but surely, he digs deeper to learn and love each layer.
There's truly some hilarious moments in the novel like Jacques' accusation that English men don't measure up to the lovemaking of Frenchmen and Adrian's funny rescue of Sophia and her menagerie from a burning house. There's really some witty banter between Sophia and Adrian that only Madeline Hunter can deliver on. There's always a danger in this type of novel focusing on a heroine's plight that the hero disappears and blends into the background but that's not the case here. Adrian Burchard makes a substantial impact from beginning to end.
Worth a re-read? No doubt.