Title: Ravishing in Red (The Rarest Blooms #1)
Author: Madeline Hunter
Year of Publication: 2010
Length: 341 pages
Genre: Regency romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 4 stars
I really enjoyed this book. More than I’ve enjoyed a new romance (or a new author) in quite some time.
Ravishing in Red is a compelling read. It nicely balances a good, steamy romance with an interesting mystery plot. Audrianna (who I will forgive for having a bit of an excessive name) is trying to clear her father’s name, after he was accused of, either negligently or traitorously, passing along non-functional gunpowder to the British army during the Napoleonic war. Disgraced, he hanged himself, leaving his wife and two daughters in a rather tight spot. When Audrianna reads a newspaper ad from someone called “the Domino” claiming to have information for him, she decides to turn up. Unfortunately for her, so does Sebastian Summerhays, the MP and younger brother of a war-injured marquess, who led the investigation against her father. They get caught in a compromising position, Sebastian accidentally gets a little bit shot, and eventually the scandal starts to spread.
In what I think is a really great move on Hunter’s part, they don’t leap to the “We must marry to protect reputations!” solution immediately, as a lot of books will do. Quite sensibly, they rather hoped the incident would blow over without scandal — but when it doesn’t, they have to take action. I also like that it’s not just about her reputation. It’s very much about his as well. The scandal paints her as a poor, beleaguered innocent caught in a bad situation and him as a conniving cad, abusing his power and authority to seduce her. Her virtue may be seen as compromised (even though it wasn’t), but in a way that the public sort of sees as romantically tragic, whereas Sebastian’s political clout is very much in jeopardy. It was a nice rebalancing of the gender issues and assumptions you generally see in the compromised-into-marriage trope.
Neither one of them is willing to give up the chase regarding the truth about the gunpowder, though, even though it pits them against each other and uncovers quite a few nasty secrets along the way. They start getting unwittingly tangled in each others’ viewpoints and considerations, and it’s a nice way of drawing the couple together, as each eventually ends up pulling for the other team a bit.
The sex is really quite good. A lot of historical authors, particularly of Regencies, pull their punches a bit when it comes to the dirty stuff. Hunter doesn’t, and I’m thrilled about it. I don’t like reading contemporary romances, but I do like to see interesting, creative sex. (There was also a very naughty moment involving a secondary character, but one who I believe gets his own book later in the series — and I’m really looking forward to it, considering that his wickedness got me even more hot and bothered than anything the hero and heroine did). I also like the Hunter indulges in the descriptions a bit, both of the physical and the emotional. It would sound absolutely ridiculous read out loud, because it verges just a touch into the overblown and excessive, but read to yourself, it’s heady and entrancing.
Much as I enjoyed the book, there are some flaws. I think both the hero and heroine get over their issues regarding each other a bit too easily. I feel like Hunter glosses over some of the trust issues a bit, burying them beneath raw lust. There’s also something about her writing style that sometimes makes shifts in point-of-view a bit jarring and abrupt.
So, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So much so, in fact, that I went ahead and ordered the rest of the series before I even finished this one — and I’m already halfway through Provocative in Pearls. They’re not the most outstanding romance novels I’ve ever read, but they’re quite compelling. Hunter balances the traditional romance tropes with enough other twists, turns, and complications to make these books real page-turners.