Surrender of a Siren

 
Goddess of the Hunt
by Tessa Dare
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0345506863
*****
It’s been a long while since I’ve enjoyed a debut novel as much as Goddess of the Hunt. With a cast of refreshingly realistic characters, a spicy love story, an irreverent sense of humor, and some truly funny dialogue, this is a book certain to cheer up jaded readers of historical romance.

Lucy Waltham has grown up on her brother’s estate, riding, fishing, and shooting. A highlight of the year has always been the fall, when Henry’s three dearest friends – Max, Toby, and Jeremy - arrive for weeks of outdoor activities. Henry’s marriage and subsequent fatherhood only meant that Lucy couldn’t enjoy a London Season, as it seems her sister-in-law is continually pregnant.  Now Lucy is 19 and determined to marry the man she loves: Sir Toby Aldridge, whom she’s loved since she was a child.

There is a slight problem. Max has arrived with his new wife and her sister, Sophia, and Toby has fallen head over heels for her. Sophia is pretty, ladylike, and also wealthy – in short, everything that Lucy is not. So Lucy decides to use Jeremy Trescott, Earl of Kendall, to practice her seductive wiles and make Toby jealous. Surely Jemmy, whom Lucy has also known since childhood, will help her out?

Jeremy is outraged, though he can’t quite figure out why. He tells himself that he doesn’t want Lucy to make a fool of herself and have her feelings hurt. But why is he spending so much time thinking about her delectable beauty and enchanting body? Toby would be all wrong for Lucy.  Jeremy, of course, isn’t interested in marriage, but he’ll do whatever it takes to, um, protect Lucy.

These two are a hoot. Lucy is about as unpretentious a heroine as they come, which is an absolutely delightful breath of fresh air. She fumbles and makes mistakes, but never dwells on them, only pushes ahead to her next idea. Jeremy finds her joie de vivre to be infectious, though he tries hard to hold onto his staid, proper demeanor. Their chemistry is explosive, which ultimately leads to an unexpected marriage and a chance for an equally unexpected love. And the author does it all with a writing style that is as fresh and unpretentious as her characters.

Jeremy has a painful family past, when is presented here as rather matter-of-fact. He’s stuck with the sins of his father, which he accepts, though he’s not quite sure how to get past it. This was an excellent touch as it allows readers to understand him without making him seem like he’s wallowing in victimhood. Jeremy isn’t exactly opposed to love; he’s just not sure he’d recognize it if it hit him in the face. It will be up to Lucy to enlighten him.

Intellectually, they are well-matched. Lucy is bright and sharp-witted, and has a great sense of humor. Jeremy’s just as quick-witted, making their conversations a treat for the reader. Kudos to Ms. Dare for realizing that people must have bantered and wisecracked even in the Regency period. It sure makes Goddess of the Hunt more fun to read!

The secondary characters play out in unexpectedly stereotype-free fashion. Henry is a loving brother, and his neglect of Lucy’s introduction into Society is presented as an oversight as he has little need of Society himself. Sophia could easily have become the villainess, but she and Lucy forge an unexpected friendship. Everywhere you look in this novel, the characters are doing unexpected things.

While we’re on the subject of kudos, Ballantine knew what they were doing with the cover.  Nary a shirtless torso or bare-backed female to be seen, and haven’t we all seen enough of those? It’s classy and lovely.

Tessa Dare hits every note perfectly with Goddess of the Hunt. Lively, funny, with a sizzling love story at its center, Lucy and Jeremy will steal your hearts. This is historical romance at its best. 

--Cathy Sova


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