The rating is really closer to a 3.5. This was my first Madeline Hunter novel, and it encouraged me to try her other books. Audrianna inadvertently meets Lord Sebastian at an inn where she had planned instead to meet a mysterious figure, the Domino, the man she hopes will help clear her late father's name. Accused of conspiracy in a plot to profit from sales of faulty gunpowder to the British army, her father committed suicide after Lord Sebastian's investigation implicated him. The meeting at the inn goes awry when the Domino escapes after seizing Audrianna's weapon and firing at Sebastian, drawing a crowd and exposing them to public scrutiny. Caught in an compromising position, Audrianna is ruined. The news of her disgrace quickly travels to London, where, no surprise, she must marry Lord Sebastian to save her reputation. But she is determined to continue her quest to exonerate her beloved father.
The depth of research and attention to detail are impressive, the plot is off the beaten track, and the progression of Sebastian and Audrianna's relationship is credible, meaningful, and emotionally satisfying. But the two story lines, the gunpowder investigation and the couple's deepening relationship, are at odds with each other. The author effectively describes the truly horrendous effects of the gunpowder on the soldiers in battle and the sufferings of the survivors. Then we jump to a romantic love scene??? The juxtaposition is jarring. And Audrianna's attitude toward Sebastian: --"You hounded my father into an early grave, oh, Baby, you are so hot!"--was too much for me. In the hands of Carla Kelly, the late Edith Layton, or Mary Balogh, this novel might have soared. But for me, the two elements of the story never gelled. Also, the continuing investigation of the gunpowder sale meandered and plodded along without building suspense or intensity.
Don't get me wrong. Ms. Hunter is clearly a writer of merit, far above the many semi-literate wannabes currently polluting the historical romance environment. I applaud the realism, the grit, the emotion, the honest communication among the principal characters--it's so rarely found in these novels. I'm thrilled that the author didn't dumb this down to mitigate the consequences of anyone's actions. This book is an absorbing read. But I suspect that Madeline Hunter has written better books, and I certainly plan to start reading them.