Grace A. Johnson
Review: Winning the Gentleman by Kristi Ann Hunter
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Synopsis: Aaron Whitworth needs a jockey. Sophia Fitzroy needs a job. It ought to be a perfect fit...but a bit of deception and a whole lot of trouble argue otherwise.
Favorite Quote: “It’s grass. You can’t eat it. Might as well have fun on it.” And… “Because that meddlesome woman thinks true love will make you run after her. She doesn’t understand love doesn’t demand what it wants. Instead it will sacrifice itself to the give the other person what they need.”
I never really know what to think about Kristi Ann Hunter’s novels. Some are quite spectacular—like A Noble Masquerade—while others are mediocre—like Vying for the Viscount—and others yet are sorely disappointing—like A Pursuit of Home.
In the end, I walk away marveling over some aspects and shaking my head at others.
The same applies to Winning the Gentleman.
The foremost marvel, since I shall begin on a positive note, is Aaron Whitworth. From the very first moment I read his infamous line, “My name is Aaron Whitworth, and I’m illegitimate,” in A Defense of Honor, I just knew this man needed a story. (May I also note that I read ADOH not long after its release, so it’s plausible that I had the idea before Hunter did? I may not? Oh, well, never mind then. A thousand pardons, all.)
So naturally I was insanely excited to hear that my lovely Ari (yes, I’ve given him a nickname) was finally getting his story! I’ve been vying for this book (see what I did there?) since word first came out about it, and now that I’ve at long last read it, I am very pleased with the portrayal of Aaron’s character.
Granted, I do not remember him being so serious in ADOH, but it has been a couple years since I read that book, so no doubt my memories are askew.
Whatever the case, Aaron’s stoicism came through loud and clear. His oftentimes emotionless demeanor, frowning thoughts, and nervous little-boy heart poured forth from every word of this novel, in such a clear, arresting manner that I could almost hear Aaron speak. It’s not often that such occurs, but when it does? Oh, the heights it take the story too!
No doubt Aaron was the best part of this book. From the transparency of his portrayal to the overall adorable wonderfulness of his character, he truly shined—which made my heart so happy, since I do so love Aaron and since it’s rare that Hunter ever has such a firm grasp on her characters.
Sophia, on the other hand? Eh. I’m not entirely certain what to think of her. By this point, I’ve come to the conclusion that I either (1) don’t like heroines much at all or (2) just plain ignore them because the heroes are so amazing. Or a mixture of both at times, I suppose. So, yes, Sophia wasn’t as defined as Aaron. She also hasn’t been around for four books, so there’s that. The only part of her personality that came through was her talkativeness, and most of that was show through, well, her exuberant dialogues.
Let me say this, though: what readers don’t realize is how blooming difficult it is to write talkative characters. Trust me, I’ve tried, and it’s extremely hard. It requires a honed focus on the balance and emotion of each scene. Not only do we have to measure each beat according to the tone of the scene, but we’re also impressed upon to write realistic dialogue. That’s difficult enough without throwing in a Chatty Cathy. Once you have a talkative character, your perfect balance is disrupted. Now you must focus on capturing the emotion of the overall scene and the separate emotion (usually nervousness or exasperation) of the talkative character. Then you have to ensure that everything they’re saying is (1) flowing correctly, (2) making sense enough for the reader to understand, (3) long enough to capture their talkativeness, (4) short enough to keep the reader’s attention, and (5) not entirely pointless.
This is exactly why I either don’t write talkative characters or they all end up being not-so-talkative.
On that note, quiet characters are just as hard, since the author always has a point they want made, reaction they want to include, or an emotion they want to capture that simply cannot be captured by an all but mute character. Therefore, Hunter’s mastery of Aaron’s quietness and Sophia’s talkativeness was apparent. She did them both so well. Only once have I ever read the dialogue of a chatty character and heard every nuance of their voice, and that was with Rosemary Gresham in A Name Unknown. (Was she even labeled as talkative? I can’t remember. All I know was that she was, and perfectly so. It takes a truly consummate author to bring readers to conclusions about characters without stating them outright, you know.)
And there was your writing lesson for today. Take it to heart, dear readers, for the next time you stumble upon an unusually chatty or quiet character, and know that the author took special care to ensure their personality and tendencies came through clearly.
Now, where was I?
Oh, yes. My marvels.
My second marvel was how well Hunter handled the horses. I’m not a full-out horse-lover, since I’m rarely around them, but I’ve always admired them from afar (and the comfort of my couch as I watch John Wayne and Heartland). So getting these special glimpses of horsemanship, horse training, and horse races in not only this book but also the entire series has been a splendid experience.
Speaking of splendid experiences, may I just say that I greatly enjoy the almost Austen-esque setting the Heath is? Unlike most Regencies set during a London Season, Hunter took pointers from Jane Austen and set her story in the countryside, during a long span of months, and highlighted the everyday aspects of life away from London. It’s always so refreshing to see a different setting.
Now, for my head-shakers. Sigh. I’m almost never completely satisfied with a book—makes you wonder why I haven’t become an editor or how I’ve managed to publish my own books.
Kristi Ann Hunter is one of those fluctuating authors. Now, I don’t mean an evolving author, like Karen Witemeyer or Laura Frantz, whose books have only gotten better (although their first ones will always been some of my favorites). I don’t even mean an author with multiple voices, like Roseanna M. White.
I mean just what I said—an author who fluctuates. Let me explain: Hunter’s first series, Hawthorne House, was fun and light. Her prose didn’t stand out, but it was well-balanced, and every single book was a unique romantic adventure.
Her second series, Haven Manor, wasn’t as adventurous or romantic. Rather, it was almost poetic. Boring at times, yes, but her prose had morphed into something lovely and deep—kind of like Austen’s—that kept you reading even if the story and characters were lacking.
Then comes Hearts on the Hearth (man, this woman likes hs). It keeps with the gentler, slower stories of Haven Manor, but all of a sudden her prose is back to the simplicity of Hawthorne House. Rather than taking the best from both series—HM’s gorgeous prose and HH’s intriguing stories and endearing characters—she drew the lacking aspects into a series of its own.
I digress. There are good things to Hearts of the Hearth in and of itself. The setting is lovely. The characters are unique and more defined than HM’s characters (although not as much as the Hawthornes). The writing is balanced and even, and the stories are almost like classical escapism.
And maybe that’s your style, in which case, Hearts on the Hearth is perfect for you! Me personally? I like my stories a little more scintillating and a lot more romantic.
Honestly, I would just like to see more consistency in Hunter’s writing, or at least a difference in her voice. I appreciate authors who have a different voice or tone for each series or genre they write in, but when nearly every book is on a different spectrum, I’m not sure what to think of the author.
All in all, what matters is how much I enjoyed Winning the Gentleman…or, better yet, if it lived up to all of my hopes and dreams for Aaron’s story.
And the answer?
It did. I mean, I would’ve liked him to say “My name is Aaron Whitworth, and I’m illegitimate” a couple more times, but I’m not broken up over that. His character was so intense, and that was awesome to see, since very few of Hunter’s characters have possessed his same strength.
And I enjoyed this book. I really did. It was so…promising. (And I say that because my fingers are crossed in the hopes that Aaron’s half-brother gets the next story!!!! Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?)
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.