GUEST REVIEW: A Study in Seduction by Nina RowanWednesday, August 29, 2012 1:00
I admit it. I love books with brainy/geeky heroines (and heroes,too), and I love books with a Victorian timeframe. So I was already predisposed to like A Study In Seduction, since it features a brilliant mathematician in Victorian England. In addition, the hero is of Russian heritage, and I find that unusual. This book is not a light romp through various ballrooms/musicales/afternoon teas in 1854 London. Ms. Rowan has written a meatier book that deals with some weighty issues, and despite a couple of personal niggles, I think this is an excellent book.
Lydia Kellaway knows numbers as very few people do. They are her friends, her comfort in troubled times, and her ease in social or emotional crises. When she’s nervous, she mentally recites various theorems, equations, or number series. Her younger sister, Jane, puts it succinctly: “She needs her work like she needs air.” It is that essential for her. Numbers ground her as nothing else does.
Lydia is such a sympathetic character – awkward in society, always considered an “oddity” and very “serious, academic.” Though she has an absolutely brilliant and well-developed brain giving her authority over all things mathematical, she recognizes she is powerless in so many ways. One of the most emotion-filled passages is when Alexander Hall, Viscount Northwood, pushes her to answer what she wants for herself. Lydia finally erupts angrily, telling him she wants her locket back from him, that she wants her mother back healthy and happy, that she wants her father’s career as a scholar to be what he deserves instead of it being derailed, that she wants her sister to have the happy childhood she did not have, and, finally, that she, Lydia, will do something that matters.
While Lydia’s father and grandmother encouraged her pursuit of advanced studies in mathematics and provided tutors for her toward that goal, it is heartbreaking that Lydia was so lonely and isolated. She became accustomed to people gawking at her, whispering about her, and shunning her because of her aptitude with numbers. Growing up as Sir Henry Kellaway’s daughter, a man who was knighted for contributions on Chinese history and literature; seeing her mother, Theodora Kellaway, gradually descend into mental illness when she was five; as well as dealing with the results of her own special gift for numbers meant Lydia was pretty much without friends. She’s never known what it’s like to confide in a best friend, share silly stories or hopes and dreams with anyone. Her life, her world, has always revolved around numbers and their patterns. When Lady Talia, Alexander’s sister, befriends her, Lydia realizes this is the first friend she has ever had.
Lydia reminds me of one of those Japanese yosegi puzzles that requires a series of tugs, pushes, pulls, and slides to unlock the good-luck charm hidden deep inside. Why would a brilliant mathematician choose to shun symposiums, lectures, and any public forum for her field? Why is anonymity so important to Lydia? What happened to Lydia to make her so fearful? What is the reason for the strained relationship with her grandmother? Like the hidden charm in the puzzle box, Lydia is in hiding, keeping her secrets, locking down unwanted emotions until she is trapped in a self-imposed prison. The mystery of why the locket is so important to Lydia and Jane’s mysterious (and sinister) correspondent are all pieces of the puzzle as well. It will take a persistent, patient person to move the blocks in the right sequence to solve this conundrum.
It is Alexander Hall, Viscount Northwood, with that first wager, who pushes, probes, and even goads Lydia into a reaction that will dispel her “rigid, colorless exterior.” He is the perfect catalyst to enable Lydia to embrace her true brilliance and throw off the fear and half-life in the background she endures each and every day. He does not fail to meet each and every challenge she throws down – be it a mathematical problem or puzzle or a dark and troubled past. Lydia, too, precipitates corresponding liberating changes in Alexander. He has spent the past two years attempting to restore his family’s reputation, enduring gossip and whispers about his scandalous mother, his parents’ divorce, and the intolerance of some in Society because of his Russian heritage. His ties with Russia endanger his plan to rehabilitate his family name, a goal that has been his only priority for two years. With Lydia, he learns that the only thing that really matters is the life they make together.
Sir Henry and Lydia’s grandmother always had confidence in Lydia’s intelligence and abilities, but it is Alexander who challenges Lydia to believe in herself, not just her magnificent mathematical mind. Lydia attempts to explain things she is not comfortable with or finds incomprehensible (like love and lust and passion) by reducing them to an mathematical equation, something she can understand and is familiar with. Alexander is the one who forces her to acknowledge that there is no “pattern in love.” Passion, attraction, and relationships cannot be bound by a variable or a quantifier. He sums it up nicely when he tells her that “all you can do is feel it.”
As mentioned before, this is not a light, fluffy historical romp through jolly old England in 1854. There is a darkness interwoven throughout the entire book – the mental illness of Lydia’s mother, the mysterious notes Jane receives, Lydia’s solitary, lonely life. I’m particularly creeped out by the parts describing the one who secretly watches Lydia and corresponds with Jane. However, there are some light-hearted moments. For instance, Alexander challenges Lydia to make him laugh. She proceeds to haltingly tell some of the corniest jokes.
Like this one:
What is the proper length of a lady’s skirt?
Answer: A little above two feet.
Alexander teaching Lydia to fish and her explanation of why she fell into the river is a laugh-out-loud moment for me. The relationship Jane develops with Lord Rushton, Alexander’s father, is heartwarming and funny. I love how easily Lydia solves the ring puzzle and flummoxes not only Lord Rushton but Alexander as well. The parade of mathematical geniuses following Lydia into the meeting of the Royal Society of Arts to explain “the dynamics of crowds in relation to flow density relationship” in order to prove the exact point where the riot started is priceless.
A couple of things do bother me, however. Toward the end, the revelations regarding “C” result in a series of events that are hard to follow and perhaps a little overdramatic. Events happen fast and furious, and I had to re-read that section to figure out exactly what happened and why. The consequences of those events have a lasting and radical impact on what happens to Lydia and Alexander, with a surprising, to me at least, resolution. In addition, one revelation makes me rethink my perception of Lydia and not in a positive way. Although the explanation for her actions is understandable, it’s still difficult for me to reconcile that revelation with my initial impressions of her.
Alexander and Lydia are very much like the fenghuang engraving on her mother’s locket – the yin and yang, dark and light, fire and water, male and female – seemingly opposing forces that somehow complete each other. Alexander recognizes that Lydia’s “intelligence, her wit, her passion” complements his own nature. He knows that her stubbornness is a milder reflection of his own inability to compromise. Her kindness is a trait he should work harder at achieving.
I love the depth of this story and the complexity of the characters, especially Lydia and Alexander. The steamy, sensual relationship between Lydia and Alexander is integral to the resolution of Lydia’s past and a glimpse of a future in which Lydia and Alexander can have their happily ever after. Ms. Rowan deftly and skillfully includes an intriguing mystery to go along with the romantic elements, doling out clues enticingly that kept me turning pages. Historical details surrounding England, France, and Russia just before the Crimean War provide an excellent backdrop for the events in this book to unfold. A Study In Seduction is well above the average historical romance and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
A HEART DIVIDED
Blessed with an uncanny gift for mathematics, the lovely Lydia Kellaway can solve the most complex puzzles. The one thing she can’t figure out? How to manage the most infuriating man she’s ever encountered.
A PASSION MULTIPLIED
Alexander Hall, Viscount Northwood, has purchased a one-of-a-kind locket from a pawnshop, unaware of the priceless sentiment it holds for Lydia. The gentlemanly thing to do would be to simply return it. But Lydia sparks a desire that has Alexander curious to see just how bold this brilliant beauty will be…
A LOVE UNEQUALED
What begins as a playful wager quickly escalates into a contest of the minds, a clash of the wills—and a battle of the sexes—as their fiery attraction grows. Even a genius like Lydia can’t account for the feelings Alexander arouses with his smile, or the fire he ignites with his touch. But when a dark family secret is suddenly thrown into the equation, it just might divide them forever.