by Madeline Hunter, historical (2010)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-515-14844-2
Celia Pennifold is the daughter of a courtesan. Her mother had recently died, and when the story opens, Celia inherits her mother's house. By living in her mother's house, she also gains the pariah reputation that comes with being her mother's daughter. As you can imagine, Celia learns that her mother left her with no money. After all, how can a heroine find love without a reason to depend on the hero? She also wants to learn more about her past and discover the identity of her father.
She also gains a tenant of sorts. Jonathan Albrighton is a mysterious fellow who was a good friend to her mother (really, they were just good friends - honest!). He is actually a... yes, you've guessed it, a secret agent of sorts who is charged to look into any writing left by Celia's mother - journals, letters, that kind of thing. So he has to get close to Celia in order to look through her mother's drawers, and as you can imagine, he'd soon rather look into Celia's drawers, if you know what I mean.
The whole story seems set up like another typical Spy and the Heroine Who Had A Reputation She Doesn't Truly Deserve story, but the story develops in a manner that can be quite interesting indeed. There is some intriguing character introspection here, although I personally feel that Jonathan's story is far more interesting than Celia's.
Indeed, a strange thing about this story is that the story starts out focused on Celia and her rather familiar "Oh, I want to learn more about my family so that I can finally learn that I have always been loved!" story arc, but as the story progresses, Celia's story takes a backseat to Jonathan's personal story arc. Because Jonathan is a guy and therefore isn't always constrained by the genre rules that allow heroines to behave in only a handful of acceptable ways, he gets to rage, angst, and bend the rules a bit. This is why I find his story more interesting - unlike Celia, his reactions to his various predicaments aren't limited to enduring through hardships while trying to save the poor kids and other oppressed people on the streets.
Fortunately for me, I don't find Celia an annoying martyr like most heroines in this kind of romances tend to be. She's still a familiar heroine, though - she's that kind of heroine who would rather endure than to sort out her personal messes because she's too busy trying to right the wrongs of the world when she's not walking around sighing over not having a normal family that cherishes her. Yes, she's that heroine. Still, she has some good degree of self-awareness when it comes to her own capabilities and limitations, so she doesn't run around acting like a fool. I've no idea how she suddenly becomes so wise when it comes to understanding Jonathan's wounded soul after they have decided to become an official couple, but I'm just glad that she's not as annoying as some of the author's previous heroines.
Jonathan is that hero too, but in the context of a book by Madeline Hunter, he is a novelty. He's not a stubborn asshole with a sense of entitlement a mile wide. A hero of this sort in a book by this author is like snow in the middle of the Sahara: I have to see it for myself before I can believe such a thing exists. Jonathan has to fudge the truth due to his assignment, but he is pretty open with his displays and words of affection when he decides that he's in love with Celia. The last quarter of this book is pretty much Jonathan moving mountains to protect Celia and make her happy. How can I stay cynical when it comes to such a man? Sigh.
There is a good story in Sinful In Satin, perhaps, but the author's attempts to heat up the romance prevents the relationship between Celia and Jonathan from truly coming to life. For a very long time, these two only think of the other person in terms of how that person turns his or her love engines on. And then, wham, they have consummated their attraction and they are suddenly acting like a cozy couple. It's like following a couple who start out walking only to turn the page and discover that they are now flying first class. How did they go from being in lust to being in love? The more romantic atmosphere in the later half of the book is cozy and nice to read, but the abrupt jump from constant lusting to constant cuddling is disconcerting to me.
All in all, Sinful In Satin could have been a good read. In some ways, it is. But the romance swings from lust to love in the blink of an eye and for a long time, the characters are being that hero and that heroine. Things don't really become interesting until the couple becomes more romantic and Jonathan begins actively protecting Celia from her mother's past. This book is almost there, but not quite.
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