Sunday, May 13, 2007
Rules of Seduction, by Madeline Hunter 
Five-star Material, without a doubt
Also my first Madeline Hunter novel, and it slowly but surely sneaked up on me because it is the first "romance" novel I've read which I consider 5-star material.
The characterizations seemed poignant and strong, the plotting and romance meshed seamlessly, the prose was deliberate yet eloquent, the settings and imagery vivid almost dripping from the book into your room, the romance realistic, and of course true to the romance genre, the ending very satisfactory despite the real and gritty nature of the romance itself. The supporting cast of characters exhibited shades of gray, which I also appreciate. I have nothing but praise for Madeline Hunter's story and writing, which I consider top-notch, but interestingly enough, the characters, story, settings and imagery are all =captivating=, and overall, very =enjoyable=.
A rare combination: critically top-notch yet enjoyable at the same time.
The Story, possibly spoilers.
RULES OF SEDUCTION begins with our tall, dark and handsome Lord Hayden Rothwell casting a "shadow" on the Longworth home where a destitute yet strong-willed Alexia Welbourne lives, her Longworth cousins having taken her in after Alexia's own family is ruined. Hayden invades the Longworth home after Hayden discovers evidence of Timothy Longworth's embezzlement in the Darfield and Longworth Bank, a bank Hayden's wealthy family has invested in. Instead of removing his family's fortune from the bank and consequently thoroughly impoverishing the Longworths and destroying the bank, Hayden instead evicts Tim Longworth, his 2 sisters and Tim's cousin Alexia from their home and only partially ruins them. He doesn't disclose the embezzlement evidence which would take Timothy Longworth to the gallows, and leave his two sisters and cousin shamed, abandoned.
Timothy Longworth however is outraged at Hayden despite Hayden's leniency. Timothy Longworth prevaricates to his sisters and cousin Alexia that Hayden removed his family's fortune from the bank and Hayden is responsible for ruining the Longworths. Hayden is honor-bound not to refute Longworth's deception and bring to light Timothy's embezzlement which would not only kill Timothy but permanently shame his sisters and cousin. Alexia slowly but surely builds an unwarranted animosity towards Hayden because of Timothy's lies, and finds herself again without a home or protection as the Longworths can no longer support her. Alexia is very bitchy towards Hayden, but Hayden slowly but surely breaks down her defenses.
The story takes off there as Hayden honorably attempts to assuage Alexia's untenable position after the Longworth demise, while Alexia desperately tries to maintain her enmity towards Hayden. Hayden is intrigued by Alexia's quick mind, sharp tongue and brutal honesty. While Hayden is described as a rich, handsome man, Alexia is described as a very ordinary woman, plain-looking, not necessarily beautiful. Hayden however finds himself drawn to her and Alexia just can't seem to resist Hayden's advances.
Another character's shadow unfortunately haunts our leading pair forming the link between them: that of Benjamin Longworth, Timothy Longworth's older brother, Hayden's friend, Alexia's love. When Benjamin drowns on his way home from a war, Hayden blames himself that he couldn't do more since he was on the same ship and spoke to Ben last. Whereas Hayden is dark, austere and calculating, Benjamin is described as flamboyant, sanguine and smiling.
Benjamin & Hayden are polar opposites and Alexia's journey of love from the bright Benjamin to the dark Hayden comprises the crux of the story.
After a moment of weakness over reading Ben's love letters and discovering of another woman in Ben's life, Alexia grieves, and Hayden is there to lend a comforting hand. After Hayden's unintentional seduction, the rules of seduction are laid out, and Hayden propositions to marry a stunned Alexia, who only expects a status of mistress, not wife. Similar to Hayden, Alexia is very practical and cannot afford to flaunt her pride or wait for love, she accepts her relationship to Hayden for nothing more than a sexual desire and abandons her little girl's dreams of true love. Little does she know...
Even though most romance novels belong to the heroine and her plight, this novel belongs to the character of Lord Hayden Rothwell. Not to take away anything from Alexia, but a cold and calculating Hayden learning to love Alexia and fight for her at the end really represents the heart of the novel.
I only have one complaint: the love scenes are too often described as an analogy, very allegorical. Often the allegory supersedes who is doing what in the love scene.
Overall though, this book is 5-star material without a doubt, and I look forward to reading other Madeline Hunter novels.