by Madeline Hunter, historical (2003)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58590-8
It is a good thing that Madeline Hunter writes well enough to keep me reading, because if this book has to rely on its characters and plots to haul itself to the finishing line, it will never make it that far. The Saint is, to be blunt, a cliché-laden story that lacks a tight focus in plot and characterization.
Our hero Vergilius Declairc is now the Viscount Laclere after his elder brother Milton committed suicide. With the title comes the responsibility of he becoming the guardian of our twenty-year old American heroine Bianca Kenwood. Since his family coffers are running low, he concocts a plan to marry Bianca off to Dante, his brother, behind her back. So now all he has to do is to bring her here to England, right?
Wrong. Bianca wants to be an opera singer and when Vergil insists on keeping her in his estate and stifling her freedom (he says that it's for her own good even as he throws his brother at her), she decides to Plan and Plot to get her way. Then out of the blue she and Vergil begin heavy petting and then she insists that she loves him when just chapters back she is railing against his high-handed ways. So which is which? Or is Ms Hunter saying that despite Bianca's lip service to American egalitarian ways, Bianca is actually just looking for a new Daddy that will make all the decisions in her life from hereon? Vergil is a watered-down version of Daniel St John of The Seducer in that he's another pompous and high-handed guardian taking a hopelessly vulnerable and alone woman into his estates and enforcing his iron will on her even as he plots behind her back to use her for his own selfish purposes. In this case, though, I have no idea why Vergil and Bianca will even love each other. Vergil can be another creepy bastard lusting after a typical hellion-wannabe American heroine in England stereotype, but it is harder for me to determine why Bianca will want Vergil.
The author doesn't even try to flesh out the relationship between Vergil and Bianca, instead having them lust after each other and concentrating on an external conflict involving the suicide of Milton. And Milton, oh Milton. That one can be seen coming a million miles away. Along the way, the author also has Vergil sprouting off egalitarian philosophies regarding democracy, the slave trade, and affirmative action regarding, um, Milton, as if Vergil's out-of-character liberal views (that don't go together well at all with his rigid conservative viewpoint of women and old money elitism) is enough to give this man a character. It takes more than a sexist opportunistic hypocrite sprouting Moral Values to make me care for him, Ms Hunter. I need to see why I should care, and in this case, Vergil is more like a shopping list of clichés rather than a well-developed character. It will be easier to sympathize with Bianca if I can understand her attraction to Vergil. Even if I can overlook that question mark in her personality, Bianca is as much a cliché as Vergil in that she is soon doing that formulaic heroine nonsense: no marriage unless he says the love word (sex is okay though), running away when she should be taking a stand, and developing inconvenient Moral Standards when she should be running away.
It is easy to like this book because it's well written - if this isn't Madeline Hunter we're talking about. When there are many authors that can only dream of writing as well as her, Ms Hunter's coming up with this messy and underwritten paint-by-number story is just not done, really. The Saint is still a readable book, but it's a failure according to the standards the author has set for herself.
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