Monday, October 8, 2007

The Saint, by Madeline Hunter [1]

*/***** (1/5)

This series on the Dueling Society marks some of the more monotonously leaden writing I've read from Madeline Hunter. I thought THE SAINT couldn't possible be any worse than the novel that started this series (THE SEDUCER **) but it manages to anyway. Like its predecessor, THE SAINT grasps at setting the stage for subsequent books rather than focusing on telling its story. Worst, I found THE SAINT bereft of an engaging storyline. After the opening chapter, the plotting floundered for over 250 pages while the deadpan hero-and-heroine interaction further paralyzed this plot's pacing. THE SAINT reveals the crux of the mysterious plot in conversations spanning 10 discontinuous pages or so towards the end. Rather than inviting interest, I found the contrary dynamic between our hero Vergil Duclairc Viscount Laclere and his heroine American Bianca Kenwood very blase.

Based on THE SEDUCER and now THE SAINT, this series on the Dueling Society seems to explore how love muddles the best laid plans (or enriches, depending on you look at it). In THE SEDUCER (**), love with Diane obfuscates Daniel's single-minded plot for revenge whereas here, "Saint" Viscount Laclere's love complicates a gifted heiress' dream to sing in the opera, something considered taboo for the time period. Although I found THE SEDUCER's plot drab and its hero Daniel's contrivances to call out a superior shot stupid, THE SAINT's plot is worse as it conveys the salient points of the mystery in prosaically conversationalist diction. Nothing happens for the first 250 pages in this one other than Countess Glasbury's (Vergil's sister) vocational party lasting a few days. More than ever, I wanted this MH book to "show, don't tell." For example, Bianca and Vergil discuss the background behind Vergil's older brother's death from discovered letters, while Adrian Burchard and Vergil reveal other elements in two separate discussions. I also found THE SAINT more predictable than most, as I guessed Vergil's deceased brother's blackmailer from the mysterious blackmailer's first reference in the novel. The finale feebly concludes the novel with a duel to decide everything including the fate of the love story. I thought a very stagnant plotting and pacing supported its lackluster love story.

I can't say either the hero or the heroine really stood out, though both had potential. A contradicting dichotomy of innocence and desirous promiscuity characterizes our virgin heroine Bianca. Despite the book's efforts to make this contrasting dichotomy seem like a novelty in virgin heroines, it was nothing new. Good romance novelists usually present their virgin heroines with a hint of aggressive reciprocation. With the exception of the opening chapter, I found the verbal exchanges and love scenes between Vergil and Bianca in this novel incongruously uninteresting and completely forgettable. The last two or three pages seemed to rush a resolution to the strained love story which didn't fit. I thought Bianca should have went on to perform in Italy for a few years if Vergil was going to conveniently throw propriety out the door at the end anyway. With his sister Penelope, a dubious reputation mars Vergil's family already, so what's the point in preserving some pretense with Bianca and her dreams? I mean you have all this tension in the love story due to society's rules and norms and at the end, you throw them all out the window like it was much ado about nothing. Weak!

I thought Bianca "won" her way most of the time in this novel in spite of Vergil's so-called guardianship restricting her, while Vergil's love seemed to overshadow Bianca's (I discount Bianca's protestations of love in the throws of virgin passion, and no, her reassurance of that love later didn't balance the scales). THE SAINT reverses gender roles a bit: the guy here wants marriage and a life together while the girl wants to just have sex. I thought Vergil made all the concessions and he's the only one who considered both of their individual dreams and combined futures. Vergil has to be careful not to spill his seed inside her so she can continue her dreams to sing. It's Vergil who reiterates again and again that he doesn't want to coerce Bianca into marriage with a pregnancy or a soiled reputation. It's Vergil who refuses a strictly sexual relationship with Bianca to protect her from a notorious reputation. Later, Vergil concedes Bianca's platonic sexual liaison when she persists in refusing marriage. At the end, it's Vergil who first concedes defeat by agreeing to disperse Bianca's money so she may travel to Italy for her singing career and promises to visit as often as possible. Vergil does all of the servicing in the love making; for a virgin heroine with advertised hints of a mistress' aggression, she's pretty self-absorbed in all the love scenes. The love scenes are primarily described from Bianca's egocentric perspective. Losing yourself to passion is one thing, losing yourself again and again without the least bit of any desire to reciprocate is quite another.

This book gave me flashes of Emma Holly's BEYOND INNOCENCE (**) where its hero attempts to pass off the heroine to his brother (for different reasons), though falls in love with her himself. Here, our hero Vergil wishes to marry Bianca off to his rakehell younger brother Dante, a vapidly standard romance-hero characterization whose story in THE SINNER I have no desire to read. I could have done without so much Dante and this book's attempts to make him seem deeper for a future novel wasn't very convincing. Between returning THE SEDUCER's hero and heroine Daniel and Diane St. John, trying to paint characterizations for this book's story and setting up characters for future novels, I thought THE SAINT had its hands full. As a result, THE SAINT failed to tell a compelling tale of its own. I'm trying to remember if Cornell Witherby appeared in THE SEDUCER. I don't remember Witherby dueling in THE SEDUCER. Both Adrian Burchard and Julian Hampton continue to intrigue and I'll have to read their stories in THE CHARMER and THE ROMANTIC, respectively.

The Premise.

American Miss Bianca Kenwood's grandfather Adam left her a fortune and named the Viscount Laclare her guardian until she turns 21 or marries, whichever comes first. A talented singer, Bianca dreams of singing with others for a big audience in a grand setting. Vergil Duclairc the Viscount Leclare gets in the way. Titles, money and English propriety mean little to American-born Bianca, and she forges her own path towards disreputable singing career. After a very engaging opening chapter, the book sags considerably for over 250 pages under the guise of a gathering amongst Penelope's "inner circle" of friends and acquaintances at Laclere House in Sussex. There's two apparent attempts on Bianca's life while other characters arrive for the social gathering. Bianca's cousin Nigel Kenwood, Dueling Society members St. John, Witherby and Dante all join the party at Laclere House. Penelope's friend Mrs. Gaston, an eccentric sponsor of the arts, also joins the party. The ill-reputed Duclairc family is in full form: Vergil, Dante, Penelope and Charlotte all appear. While Bianca plots to realize her dream as an opera singer in Italy, Vergil investigates his older brother's suicide.

The action moves to London for a bit before returning to the country in Manchester where Bianca owns a percentage in a mill. It returns to London as Penelope prepares Charlotte for her first coming-out. The book concludes on the coasts of luscious Normandy in France where a duel lasts about 2 pages found in the last 7-8 pages of the novel. The pacing lolls for days and vacuously zips along for weeks and months. It all seemed disjoint and incongruous. Besides the opening chapter, nothing in the novel invited interest or attention.

I'm thinking THE CHARMER and THE ROMANTIC are better.

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