Pros: Wonderful emotional development by characters, both within the context of the romantic relationship and outside of it; interesting secondary characters.
Cons: Beginning of book felt clichéd and slightly unoriginal.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review book (uncorrected proof) courtesy of Penguin Group
Expected publication date: January 2010
Audrianna Kelmsleigh is determined to find a way to clear her father’s name. Accused of sending bad gunpowder to the front, he committed suicide to escape the shame. When she finds a notice in the paper from a person calling himself the Domino requesting a meeting with her father, she sets out to meet him. Lord Sebastian Summerhays, the investigator assigned to figure out how the bad gunpowder passed rigorous quality control inspections, also sees the notice and sets out to find the truth in a case that he hasn’t been able to solve. After a mishap involving a pistol, the Domino, and Sebastian, Audrianna is seen as compromised in the eyes of Society. She and Sebastian marry, but both are unsure of how the marriage will work out. Will their budding feelings survive the continuing investigation of Audrianna’s father, or will the truth of what happened with that gunpowder create a divide too deep to bridge?
I have to admit, when I first picked up Madeline Hunter’s Ravishing in Red and started reading, it felt like what I refer to as a “cotton candy romance”. Fun to read, sweet and enjoyable, but not very filling. The plot is one that I’ve run into before in several books. Heroine has family member with a problem, decides to take care of it, runs into hero along the way, and together they solve the problem so that they can live happily ever after. Ms. Hunter also combined this plot with that of the “compromised” heroine that marries the hero to satisfy Society’s idea of propriety. I don’t inherently have a problem with these plot lines; they can work quite well if done compellingly. Ms. Hunter’s characters at the beginning (to me at least) feel a little bit like cardboard cutouts. Emotionally they feel a little flat, and the storyline is predictable. I was glad that I kept reading, however, because after the first third or so of the book, things improve dramatically.
One of the things that made my opinion of this book go up dramatically was the way that Sebastian and Audrianna go about their relationship after they are married. Ms. Hunter makes the wise decision to eschew emotionally violent misunderstandings between the couple as a means of adding a sense of conflict. Yes, the two have misunderstandings and there are occasionally hurt feelings, but one or the other will generally attempt to set things to right. Their marriage is not so much about conflict, but about learning to live as a couple and acting together as a unit. This made the book feel extremely relevant to me. (I’ve been married for less than two years, and have had similar adjustments to make.) Neither of them expects the match to be a love match, but they want to make it work as well as possible. Their expectations contrasted with their growing feelings for each other make watching them discover their feelings an absolute joy for me. How wonderful to watch a couple try to be respectful of each other in what both fear may become a difficult situation, only to discover something amazing.
The secondary characters found throughout the novel also make it a joy to read, and allow the reader to see things about the hero and heroine that they might not have otherwise. Morgan, Sebastian’s older brother, has lost the use of his legs in the war, and Sebastian owes a great deal of his position and influence in Society to his brother. But their relationship goes beyond that. Audrianna is able to observe firsthand the care and devotion that Sebastian gives his brother. Morgan is also the reason that Sebastian wants to know the truth about the bad gunpowder, so that others in Morgan’s situation can know justice. Morgan’s personality, for me at least, struck just the right balance between melancholy moods and the lighter side that the reader sees when he’s with Audrianna or Sebastian.
Audrianna also has three women that she is friends with—her cousin Daphne, Lizzie, and Celia. They all live together at Daphne’s house which she shared with her husband before he was killed. The four are almost like sisters, with each pitching in to help in their own way with the trouble that Audrianna quickly finds herself in after meeting Sebastian. They decorate the church that Audrianna gets married in with beautiful flowers, and provide her with the lingerie she wears for her wedding night. They even help her try to track down the Domino, so that she can find out the truth. And their kindness is repaid.
As the book develops, we find ourselves closer to finding out just how the bad gunpowder got to the front lines. Emotions become painful for both Sebastian and Audrianna, and the two of them tend to take solace in each other’s arms. These scenes were some of the most moving in the book for me, because instead of there being just a sexual release, there is an emotional release and bonding as well. One or the other will soothe emotional hurt with compassionate loving. I’ve never seen catharsis handled in quite this way in a romance novel, but I would dearly love to see more of it. The selflessness needed to give such comfort is vast, and I am glad to see both characters possessing that quality, trading it off as needed, as opposed to the heroine possessing it while the hero abuses it only to atone for it later.
This book, despite the clichéd beginning, is one that I am definitely going to add to my keeper shelf. The emotional maturity possessed by both Audrianna and Sebastian allowed the focus of the book to be on the development of their relationship as a married couple. Aided by a cast of memorable characters, they discover love and the truth about the tainted gunpowder. But although the truth will hurt people they know and love, their relationship becomes stronger because they faced uncertainty together. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in the quartet, which is due out in February.