The Sinner
by Madeline Hunter, historical (2004)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58592-4


Oops, did I mention that The Saint is this author's worst book to date? Obviously I haven't read The Sinner when I made that remark. The Sinner is the story of Dante Duclairc, the brother of Vergil (the hero of The Saint - sinner and saint, geddit?). Dante is portrayed as a rake of all rakes. However, Madeline Hunter, who is becoming more and more like Liz Carlyle's twin sister with each book, comes out with a horribly clichéd "her innocence and desperation redeem his nonsense" and "the hero's debauchery is okay because oh, an evil woman wounded him so badly in the past, sob sob sob" tale instead for Dante.

Maybe this is acceptable if we are talking about some author that can barely string together a coherent plot, but isn't Madeline Hunter supposed to be better than this?

And to add insult to the injury, this book isn't even decently plotted. It's a sad, sad day that an author that created intelligent heroines in the past would come up with a braindead like Fleur Monley. The heroines of the author's last two books are already pushing at the envelope addressed to Imbecile Country, but Fleur takes the grand prize. Again, shouldn't Madeline Hunter be better than this?

Set ten years after The Saint, the story starts with Dante calling in a surgeon to treat a wounded woman in his bed. This woman is Fleur. What happened actually is that Fleur was dressed up as a boy and waved a gun at Dante's face to scare the man away. Dante took one look at her and mistaking her for one of those Luddites on a rampage across the countryside, opens fire himself. Yes - I mean, oops. The heroine goes down. Realizing that he had shot Fleur, he took the time to strip her naked, cleaned her up, and then called for the doctor. Fleur will later explain how she has retreated abroad after her aborted engagement to Dante's brother and now, she's all about giving her money away to charities and hoarding just enough for her Great Plan. After all, as she declares, money comes with great responsibility and she refuses to buy pretty dresses for herself. Everything for charity! Her guardian tried to get her declared senile so that he can get hold of her money (and can I blame him?), she escaped, waved a gun at Dante when he stumbled upon her, and that was how they ended up in this sticky situation.

As expected, these two then get compromised, upon which Fleur asks Dante to marry her so that she can have some freedom to give away more of her money. Because it makes a lot of sense to marry someone who's a well-known reprobate and who is in danger of facing time in debtor's prison in order to prevent the bad guy from taking her money. And yes, later on she will start saying that she doesn't trust him and she maybe ought to call up one of her friends to check up on what he is doing with her money, and I really want to kill someone because Fleur is just so infuriatingly stupid. And making things worse, she also has some sexual trauma that requires lot of sexual healing from Dante to make her whole again (or some nonsense), which makes me want to go up to the roof of my apartment block and scream, "Then why the heck do you marry a rake if you can't bear to be touched, idiot?!!"

"A lovely woman, bright-eyed with a child's innocence, laughing in watery melodies," Dante describes Fleur. I can't take this anymore. Someone hand me some sleeping pills.

The story then proceeds along the usual tedious and utterly predictable path. He is so bad but that's because he has been hurt before by evil women, and apparently the heroine's desperation, helplessness, and chronic pathetic stupidity are enough to motivate him to be the new poster boy of uxoria. To convince me, Ms Hunter even puts in the ever-reliable scene of Dante turning away a slutty ho because, you know, he has seen the child's innocence in Fleur's eyes and lo, he is now a changed man. Fleur is a one-note damsel-in-distress. In a way, this story makes some sense because it's probably only the most desperate and too stupid to help themselves kind of women that will want to marry someone like Dante in the first place.

The Sinner is not a good book at all. It relies too much on overused amateur psychology that allows the hero to avoid taking responsibility of his actions, thanks to the author giving tired justifications for his past behavior. It avoids developing the characters or introducing complex emotions by making the heroine so emotionally needy that she doesn't have the luxury to ask for anything more than a man to bail her out of her contrived dilemmas while showing her that orgasms and love are interchangeable. Character development is as deep as a puddle, the plot is filled with contradictions, especially in the heroine's behavior, and all in all, The Sinner is a very poorly-written "fake rake and the damsel in distress" story. If it isn't for the name on the cover, I'd have thought that this book is a badly-written debut from a first time author. But this is a Madeline Hunter book. If she keeps this up, she's well on her way to attaining the "maybe she's overrated after all" status.

Rating: 49


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