cover image By Design

By Design

Madeline Hunter. Bantam, $7.99 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-553-58223-9

Although readers new to Hunter's 14th-century London trilogy (which includes By Possession) may struggle to gain a foothold on the background details of this final installment, the sexual tension between Joan, a gifted sculptress, and her protector, Rhys, a Freemason, will engage newcomers and loyal fans alike. Rhys and Joan first cross paths at the market, where she is displaying her wares, and then again at the city stocks, when Joan is unfairly punished for peddling her employer's defective tiles. While attempting to free Joan of an indenture to her drunken master, Rhys unexpectedly purchases her himself. Greeting Rhys with anger instead of gratitude, Joan makes it clear that she intends to cook and clean, not share his bed. What Rhys doesn't know is that Joan is actually the high-born daughter of a lord who was murdered when England rose up to welcome Queen Isabella's invasion, and that, upon her father's death, Joan was forced to trade sexual favors to save her younger brother's life. Now she is in hiding until she can earn enough money to hire an assassin and seek revenge. Despite myriad plot lines, the romance between Rhys and Joan remains central, and Hunter skillfully keeps the relationship fresh and her readers wondering whether Joan can overcome her past in order to embrace the present. (Jan. 9)