"The Romantic" is the fifth and final official installment of Madeline Hunter's enjoyable Seducer series, set in Regency and pre-Victorian England. The entire series is a revelation: Engaging plotlines and remarkably period appropriate, yet readable dialogue propel these books beyond the usual light romance reads.
Hunter writes quality, detail-rich stories, appealing to educated romance readers who enjoy a great book with a lively plot, superior historical accuracy and vibrant characters with full, rounded lives, and interesting goals.
Throughout the Seducer series, Hunter's characters face believable challenges within the social and political context of the Regency and pre-Victorian time setting, interspersed with steaming hot sex scenes that are sensual as well as quite anatomically workable, and unlike some authors' scenes, don't leave the reader wondering if a winch, truss, or chiropractor would be required by either participant afterward.
This novel picks up the relationship story of the fifth major ongoing male character in the Seducer series - that of Mr. Julian Hampton, the Laclere family lawyer and lifelong friend of all of the Duclairc siblings. Over the course of a thoughtful storyline, we experience the resolution of Penelope, the Countess of Glasbury's tragedy of a marriage which has been chronicled as a fifteen-year secondary story in all of the Seducer series. Needless to say, the quiet, enigmatic, darkly handsome Julian Hampton is involved.
The Romantic is a fitting finale to this fine quintet, and I rated this book a five. Read in sequence, it is easily a five-star read. The only flaw (and it is a small one) in the Seducer series, is that the books are each richer if you have read the series in sequence, as there are delicious details throughout each book that expand upon and update previous storylines. Indeed, the series, when read in order, more resembles a single epic-length novel with five distinct parts written in different characters' voices.
Each hero and previously introduced heroine is featured as an important secondary character in each of the subsequent novels, and because of this, the details of the stories can be harder to pick up in the first chapters if the books are read out of sequence. In some reviews, Hunter receives some criticism for slow exposition in this series. Given that each book (except for the Seducer) opens with characters we already know, so we have an immediate understanding of the motivations for their actions and interactions, I have some sympathy for stand-alone readers who must play catch-up for a chapter or two. I argue that this effect is entirely eliminated when the series is read in order. However, because of this issue, as a stand-alone book, I would withdraw half a star, and rate The Romantic a four and a half -- Still a pretty great read!
My recommendation if you haven't read the rest of the series: Buy all five! -- You will not regret this. For the most enjoyable experience, read them in chronological sequence: The Seducer set in 1818, The Saint set in 1823, The Charmer set in 1831, The Sinner set in 1832, and as the grand finale, The Romantic set in 1833. Or, if you want to jump in and read The Romantic today, the synopsis below includes the prequel elements of Pen and Julian's story that readers of the previous four books know.
The prequel story to the plot of "The Romantic":
Cruelly and dishonorably treated, in 1817 the 21-year old Countess of Glasbury made the extraordinary decision to leave her abusive husband. This was an act singular for the courage required to do so, due to the scandal attached to such a move in early 19th century Britain. Well-bred women of high station simply didn't leave their husbands in Regency London, regardless of the circumstances, trebly so if said husband was a peer of the realm.
The former Penelope Duclairc, the young countess, might never have been able to arrange for her separation from the Earl if not for the skill, intelligence, and empathy of a similarly young London solicitor and lifelong family friend, Julian Hampton. Deeply embarrassed, Penelope cryptically described the horror and degradations of her marriage and asked for Mr. Hampton's help to leave her husband. Looking to Penelope's future happiness, Hampton had advised her to divorce the earl, but the countess did not want to ruin her family's reputation and her younger sister Charlotte's chances of making a good match of her own during her upcoming debut season. As was her way, Penelope sacrificed her future joy to spare her family.
Using what little information Penelope was not too embarrassed to reveal and seeking out more on his own, as Penelope's solicitor, Julian Hampton was able to use wht he learned to legally blackmail the Earl of Glasbury into allowing the countess to separate from him with a small support allowance, with the caveats that they would not divorce, and that the countess would do nothing to "embarrass" the Earl of Glasbury, ever. The meaning was clear: No one in society would know the real reason she left the earl, and Penelope would live a lifetime alone, as were she to have an affair the deal would be off, and she would be forced to return to the abuses of the earl.
Hampton had grown up with Penelope and her brothers, but on that day when the Countess confided her darkest secrets of her miserable marriage, he listened to Penelope as more than a lifelong friend and more than her family's lawyer. As Julian Hampton listened, his solemn, sympathetic demeanor hid the black rage that grew as he swore a dark oath to himself that the Earl would never be able to touch or hurt Penelope again.
For the reserved, enigmatic Julian Hampton had his own secret: He had been deeply in love with Penelope since they were both adolescents, but his deep sense of honor has kept his true feelings for her locked within his mysterious, tormented soul.
As The Romantic opens, sixteen years after their seperation, the Earl of Glasbury has decided that he wants his Countess back so that she can provide him with his heir. In desperation, Penelope turns again to her trusted adviser, Julian Hampton, to protect her from Glasbury's depraved clutches.
Against this backdrop, Pen and Julian's long-awaited story unfolds.
Why I love Madeline Hunter's Books:
Besides the fine, well-researched writing, another attribute that sets all of Madeline Hunter's books apart is her ability to weave legitimate political and social debates and developments of the time and setting of the stories into the plots. Previously in the Seducer series, Hunter tackled the aftereffects of the French Revolution, particularly the bloodshed that was Robespierre's Terror; the social scorn and the assumption of loose morals heaped upon any woman who chose a career in the performing arts (no such scorn awaited similarly-situated men, of course); the tradition that gentlemen and aristocracy did not engage in trade and to have "real job" was scandalous; the inability of married women to own and control property in their own name; the desperate lives led by closeted homosexuals; the "chattel" state of married women in general; and the political hot potato that was the parliamentary reform movement in Britain in the early 1830's. In this, Hunter's books remind me of the West Wing on TV - highly entertaining and an accurate history lesson, to boot.
It's to the benefit of all the smart women readers out there who enjoy relaxing with a romance that Hunter's well-written works (that could easily hold their own on the popular fiction bestsellers shelf) just happen to be historical romances.
A final note for those who may not care for Regency and pre-Victorian romances:
Although I am an historical romance fan, the one era that has always left me cold in the past is the Regency period. Far too many authors writing stories taking place just before Queen Victoria's ascension and long reign take more unwelcome liberties with the period than a London rake on a drunken tear, and manage to stuff so many anachronisms and unnecessary inaccuracies into the story that the net effect would be hilarious, if not so distracting to the historically-informed reader. Had any of the books in the Seducer series been my first Madeline Hunter, I would have never even cracked the cover due to my distaste for the usual mess that passes for Regency romances.
Lucky for me, Madeline Hunter's first literary efforts in the historical romance genre were set in my favorite time period and place - 14th Century England and France. This was Hunter's fabulous Medieval Series (I think of it as the David d'Abyndon series after the series' keystone novel's heartthrob and a character that reappears as a secondary character in each of the other books.) After the delights that were these six medieval stories, I felt a stab of disappointment when I first learned in early 2003 that Hunter's next series would be Regency. ("Regency! UGH!" thought my rebellious little mind.) However, my joy in reading her Medieval series convinced me to give The Seducer, the first book of the series, a chance. I will be eternally grateful to Fortune's caprice that my previous exposure to Hunter's excellent work led me to go ahead and sample the Seducer series, as within this quintet, each book is a stand-alone marvel, and together they form a delicious, rich and satisfying series.