Lady of Valor

Lord of Vengeance

White Lion's Lady

Heart of the Hunter
by Tina St. John
(Ballantine, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-345-45994-6
Lady Ariana of Clairmont has traveled to London in February 1257 to hire a ship to take her to Rouen in France. Her beloved brother Kenrick is being held captive. His ransom is a satchel of papers, and she is to bring them alone. Ariana’s arrangement with the ship’s captain turns desperate. Rather than taking her to France, he’s going to sell her into slavery. His men kill her lone guard and seize her, but a large, grievously scarred man comes to her rescue. Something strange happens when he holds the captain’s cloak – the man shifts into a rat and escapes.

Ariana’s rescuer Braedon le Chasseur (called “the Hunter” because of his extraordinary powers of perception) takes her to the home of a friend and arranges that she be transported back to Clairmont. Ariana learns, however, that Braedon owns a boat so she follows him to the dock insisting that he allow her to accompany him to France. She claims that she needs to reach her brother because he is ill and needs her care. Braedon wants to separate himself from Ariana but cannot help being attracted and impressed by the young woman.

Soon after they dock in Calais and procure a room in an inn it is apparent that Ariana is in great danger. Intruders make an attempt on her life – they too shift from human to animal form. Braedon and Ariana flee. At last Ariana, who has grown to trust him, tells Braedon the truth about her brother’s captivity. He examines the papers in the satchel she has so carefully guarded and realizes that Kenrick has possibly located various pieces of the Dragon Chalice, a powerful relic from a mythical land. Braedon is already familiar with the chalice; the gruesome scar on his face is a result of a fight over it. He knows that the wicked Silas de Mortaine must be behind Kenrick’s fate.

As they continue on their dangerous journey to Rouen, Ariana and Braedon are bound in mutual determination and desire.

Heart of the Hunter is the first in the Dragon Chalice series. The story mixes the classic “road story” format, historical fiction, and fantasy. The historical details are sometimes inaccurate. Braedon thinks that at thirty he is too old for the nineteen-year-old Ariana, but a considerable age gap between a married couple was the norm in the Middle Ages. The name Braedon seems inconsistent with a character of French origin. Some of the dialogue sounds jarringly modern: “I should have been there more for you.” Furthermore, an all-too-familiar anachronism pops up again – potatoes in a medieval. Potatoes were unknown in the eastern hemisphere before their discovery in the New World. Ariana’s potatoes are at least 250 years too early!

The fantasy element becomes stronger as the story progresses and starts to overshadow any historical foundation. The details of Ariana’s and Braedon’s difficult journey are more realistic. Travel during medieval times, particularly in winter, was slow and dangerous. Ariana and Braedon are on the road for days facing the perils of travel as well as the constant danger from their adversaries.

This is a more plot-driven than character-driven story. Ariana and Braedon fall solidly into the current tradition of giving heroes and heroines a psychologically stressed background – they both had serious issues with their fathers. Nevertheless, they are rather one-dimensional characters, never really coming alive. Their developing romance is more convincing. This is not love at first sight. Braedon and Ariana have time to discover each other. They know they’re from different backgrounds, but neither can resist the attraction.

Readers who enjoy stories with supernatural elements may be interested in Heart of the Hunter, but readers who want stories well grounded in reality and historical veracity may be disappointed.

--Lesley Dunlap

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