By Arrangement

By Possession

 
By Design by Madeline Hunter
(Bantam, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58223-2
****
Iíve heard so many positive comments about author Madeline Hunterís previous books that I was excited to have the opportunity to review her latest. There have been several occasions when Iíve heard raves about a certain book or author, but have been slightly let down when Iíve read the book. Is all the glowing praise for this author accurate? In a word: yes.

By Design features a hero, Rhys, who was a secondary character in Hunterís last book, By Possession. Rhys first notices Joan in the marketplace peddling her crockery. He is struck, not only by the potterís beauty, but by the perfection of the little statues sheís crafted. As a mason, he recognizes Joanís talent and decides to purchase one of her statues.

He barely recognizes her the next time he sees her. In the stocks, covered in the filth of rotten fruit that the crowd had been using to torment her. For some reason, he is compelled to stand by her side and watch over her until her punishment, for selling shoddy tiles, has ended. When Joan is released from the stocks, he carries her tortured body back to his home to care for her.

Rhys discovers that Joan is an indentured servant to the tile manufacturer and buys Joanís papers so she and her less than appreciative brother Mark can stay with him. Instead of being grateful for the improved living conditions, Joan is furious that Rhys is becoming further involved in her life. The more time she spends with the mason, the more she realizes he could distract her from her obsession for vengeance that has been the only thing keeping her going for the last three years.

Joanís history is revealed slowly throughout the book, so I wonít mention the reasons for her need for retribution. I will say that until I fully understood Joanís motivation, I had difficulty warming up to her. Once I understood everything that she had endured, all of the elements of the book came together and it became impossible to put down.

Although it took me awhile to warm up to Joan, I had no such problem with Rhys. He is the perfect hero from the start: selfless, tender and considerate. But heís written as a real man, not a paragon whoís too good to be true.

The authorís knowledge of the medieval setting is flawless. As I read the book, I never felt hit over the head with medieval minutia, as if the author felt it was necessary to impress me with all the historical details she had unearthed in research. The time period was as much a part of the story as the characters and everything flowed seamlessly.

By Design is not a light fluffy romance. Thereís plenty of angst (which I love), rich historical detail and superb characterization. And for readers who enjoyed Hunterís previous book By Possession, appearances from Moira and Addis de Valence, as well.

For readers who have been clamoring for an intelligently written romance with impeccable historical detail, this is the book for you. As for me, I need to sift through my overwhelming TBR pile to ferret out Ms. Hunterís previous books. I have some terrific reading to catch up on.

--Karen Lynch


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