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REVIEW: Ravishing in Red by Madeline Hunter

Dear Ms. Hunter:

Ravishing in Red by Madeline HunterRavishing in Red begins a set of stories about a home for beguines. As the book describes it, “They were common in medieval France. Lay-women would live together as we do. Some would take employment outside the walls, and none took vows, but they lived communally.” After the war, many women were left without fathers, fiances, and husbands, and without a viable support system. Banding together is one way for the women to live without placing unnecessary strains on their family and to retain a certain form of independence.

Audrianna came to live with her cousin Daphne, a purported widow with a small property, after Audrianna’s father killed himself upon being accused of allowing bad gunpowder to be used during the Penninsular War. There are four women that live there and they all contribute to the household funds. Audrianna sells songs but she also helps to garden and harvest the flowers for Daphne’s trade, The Rarest Blooms.

Audrianna is determined to clear her father’s name, post mortem. She reads a notice that asks for an assignation with her father and immediately believes that this will lead her to information that will exonerate her family name. Once there, however, she is confronted by Sebastien Summerhays who is also seeking to discover the source of this bad gunpowder. A gun goes off, winging Sebastien. Sebastien obtains Audrianna’s agreement that they will present this as some sort of lover’s tiff which will damn Audrianna’s reputation but keep her from being hauled away for attempted murder of a Marquess’ brother.

Eventually the scandal becomes so big that Sebastien is villified and there is nothing to do but to ask for Audrianna to marry him.

Sebastien was a very engaging hero. He dallied in all sorts of scandalous activities until his brother, the Marquess went off to war and returned paralyzed. Sebastien becomes the de facto leader of the family. He notes that his life is not his own anymore, but instead he lives a shared existence.

"The life you must share with your brother. It was the reason you gave me for the investigation. You named an uncomfortable truth."

"I did not mean that the two of you live one life."

"Except we do."

"I do not see-‘"

"Then look again. I wield his influence. I have his power. I play the lord on his estates and I sit at his place at tables. I have molded my life and myself to this duty of standing in for him, but not replacing him. Had he died in the war, it would have been a more tragic reason to take his place, but the duty and role would have been a natural inheritance.”

Sebastien is not a brooding hero but one beset with guilt, anger, and resentment. He falls easily for Audrianna yet she does not seem to reciprocate his love, instead sharing her confidences and smiles with his brother and only her body with Sebastien. The brother relationship was also compelling with both brothers thinking that the other is so much more worthy.

I’ve written the most about Sebastien in this book because Audrianna was a pale bloom for me, if I can use the flower metaphor. Audrianna acted silly, trying to insert herself into dangerous places assuring Sebastien that she had a gun (even if she never could use it). The hard lines she drew in the sand were quickly smudged away by her own behaviors. In found her to be lackluster in the portrayal. My attention was riveted on Sebastien and the struggles he had to cope with his new life, his love for Audrianna, and his duty and devotion to his family and Audrianna felt like a placeholder. B-

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon, Kindle or in ebook format from other etailers.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. GrowlyCub
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 16:44:56

    Is the brother’s story finished in this book? I read the first two chapters or so but found the setup so incredibly incredible that I didn’t want to buy and read the rest. But the brother intrigues me.

  2. DS
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 17:20:15

    This is set in England I assume from the title. From the reference to the Peninsular War I also assume Regency. A shame. I think I would like to read a Medieval involving the Beguines and their male counterparts the Beghards.

  3. Jane
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 19:06:48

    @GrowlyCub: There is no romance for the brother but his story is complete, at least as it relates to Sebastien and the mystery of the gunpowder.

  4. Jane
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 19:07:29

    @DS: It is set in Regency England. At first I thought the four women living together was kind of silly but Hunter sold me on it.

  5. Diana Peterfreund
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 19:14:17

    Jane, are you familiar with Millenium Hall by Sarah Scott? I haven’t read this Hunter but the set up reminds me vaguely of that book and I wondered if it was mentioned. It’s a 1762 utopian novel about a bunch of women who basically band together after the world and the patriarchy do them wrong and create a little farm/haven for themselves out in the English countryside.

    I bet the characters in this book would be familiar with it.

  6. Jane
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 19:15:55

    @Diana Peterfreund I haven’t. I may have over emphasized the Beguine storyline, although I don’t think so. I did think it was intriguing. Ironically, it’s through Sebastien and his brother that Hunter sells the normalcy of the set up.

  7. GrowlyCub
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 19:25:04

    @Jane:

    Yeah I figured he didn’t get his own book either; too bad, that would have made me pick up this book. He was the most interesting character in the bits I read.

    Just wanted to make sure he doesn’t conveniently die at the end or something, just in case I buy this used later.

  8. Jane
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 21:05:15

    @GrowlyCub: Not only does he not die, but his storyline is very interesting.

  9. GrowlyCub
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 06:24:10

    @Jane:

    Thanks! I might have to pick it up after all. I was really intrigued by him.

    Wouldn’t he make a really different hero? No baby epilogue, instead a truly interesting relationship conflict!

  10. Kim
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 11:04:35

    Thanks for the review. I’ve always enjoyed Hunters books for being a little different than other Regencies. Having lived in Netherlands for two NATO assignements, I visited the beguines in the area. To learn more about the historic beguines, log onto:

    http://www.antwerp-tourist-guide.com/Beguinage.html

    Many traditions of the Low Countries trickled into English life as the two countries are the closest trading partners. In fact, Old English is closely related to Flemish. As for Regency ladies banding together, why not? War makes fast friends from desparate people. And that’s the best part about Hunter – she offers non-traditional storylines.

  11. Daigon
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 12:53:56

    The Low Countries were dependent upon England for wool to fuel their textile industry and France for food supplies. It was one of the most densely populated areas in Europe by the 13th century.

    Recent scholarship has shown that it was not an overabundance of women due to the Crusades but a variety of factors–a primary one being the increasingly urban environment of the Low Countries and alterations in how to express piety.

    Beguine communities could be found in France and Germany as well.

  12. Madeleine Conway
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 13:53:46

    All my alarm bells are ringing with this – I live in Belgium and have visited beguinages and one way or another picked up a bit of information about them.

    First of all, they are in quite a restricted geographical area, and I’d want to know where Hunter was siting her beguinage. There was only ever one in what is now France – they were in a limited area in what is now Belgium, with some spill into parts of the Netherlands, Germany and one in modern France (Cambrai). Altogether, there were beguinages in an area of Europe roughly the size of the state of Maryland.

    Secondly, they are essentially religious foundations where the women who joined them had to have funds to join but were not obliged to take holy orders and could leave without major legal or spiritual implications. But they had a strongly spiritual element to them and the women who lived in them were generally as committed as any nun. It wasn’t just a question of a gang of women deciding to hang out together – they were under clerical jurisdiction of the local diocese – and vulnerable to attacks if they were seen to be heretical.

    Thirdly, beguinages were in their heyday in the late middle ages, and although there were some beguinages still open in the early 19th century (and in fact there are some beguines – albeit very aged – in Ghent, I think), these were tiny tiny communities – no more than a total of 1000 women.

    They did work – chiefly nursing and/or teaching. They did not run flower businesses…

    I’m not sure that importing the idea of the beguinage into regency England could fully work.

    Of course there were plenty of households that were primarily female in Georgian and Regency england – just check out Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford as an example of early Victorian women. But you don’t need to invoke the spirit of the beguines to rationalise a social construct that was alive and well in Regency England.

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  14. GrowlyCub
    Feb 18, 2010 @ 21:30:15

    I finally picked this up used and liked it a lot better than I expected from the setup. I don’t disagree about Audrianna, but since I read for the male character that didn’t bother me overly. There were a couple of truly interesting moments.

    I’m kind of disappointed in the developments with the brother, but I guess it was too much of a different setup to let it stand as it was… too bad.

    I’m still looking forward to the next books in this series.

  15. Jane
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 09:32:38

    @GrowlyCub I am glad you enjoyed it. I liked the way the brother story was resolved. What would you have enjoyed?

  16. GrowlyCub
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 10:08:38

    @Jane:

    Below are spoilers don’t read if you haven’t read the book.

    S

    P

    O

    I

    L

    E

    R

    I’d have preferred he not regain use of his legs. I’d have been really interested to see what Hunter could have done with a truly disabled hero, one who’s imperfect and not just physically.

    I can’t find info on who the hero for Daphne will be, been wondering since the first mention of her not accompanying Audrianna into the house.

    The gunpowder thread was resolved satisfactorily and the setup was necessary for A and S to meet, but I kinda wish people would just stop with the suspense-y subplots altogether.

    I’ve started Lessons in French and I cannot for the life of me see how Kinsale doesn’t see this book as melancholy, because, man, it *is*! :)

    So far, I really like it. Will see if it can sustain my interest! I hope so, it would be grand to get out of this reading slump for good finally!

  17. Jane
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 11:04:09

    @GrowlyCub
    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R

    I thought the lack of use of his legs was symbolic. It punished both brothers in different ways, extended their symbiotic relationship; and represented their current situation, a helplessness of their own making.

  18. GrowlyCub
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 11:13:55

    @Jane:

    I’m sure you are absolutely correct. I just wish she’d have found a different way to sever that tie. He was the most interesting character to me and once the ‘miracle’ happened he was much less so.

  19. Jane
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 11:15:41

    @GrowlyCub I don’t disagree that he was less interesting after the miracle.

  20. GrowlyCub
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 11:17:25

    @Jane:

    I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, happens with him later in the series.

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