Katherine Archibald was orphaned as a young girl and has lived with her uncle's family ever since. Her uncle has always been kind and her cousin are like siblings to her, but Katherine's aunt never treated her as one of the family. Following her aunt's harsh punishments when she was a child, Katherine took comfort in the stars. She has the spirit of adventure and a deep love of books. She wants to use her inheritance to open a bookstore and then travel throughout Europe in search of rare tomes for her store. Although Katherine longs for a family of her own, love doesn't seem to be in the cards until she meets a handsome business associate of her uncle's.
Matthias Duma went to school with Katherine's cousin and has come to strike a business deal with her uncle. He is a widower with a young daughter, but few outside his household know of his true nature. He was bitten by a werewolf in the same attack that killed his wife, and each month, on the full moon, he now turns into a wolf. Because of his condition, Matthias has no plans to remarry, but Katherine stirs his desire in a way he hasn't felt in a long time. He also connects with Katherine through their shared love of books and the stars. Matthias finds himself wanting nothing more than to make Katherine his wife, but can she be trusted with his secret, and more importantly, his heart, after his first wife's cruel betrayal?
I began the Budapest Moon series with the third book, Danube in Candlelight, and have now backtracked to the first book, The Hungarian. Doing so has given me a much clearer picture of the overall story arc, and I have to say that the mythology is quite a bit different than other paranormal romances I've read which also makes it rather interesting. While most paranormal romances celebrate their supernatural heroes and heroines and more often than not have them acting as warriors for their race, The Hungarian treats the hero's lycanthropy as more of a medical condition that must be weathered through and treated each month on the full moon. He also struggles against the effect that the phases of the moon has on his emotions. There are those among the werewolves who embrace a more violent lifestyle, but there is no common enemy to be vanquished. Instead, the hero was turned against his will and is now simply trying to live as normal a human life as he can with his condition, while not really using his enhanced werewolf abilities for any particular purpose. This all gives the book (and the series in general) more of the feel of a historical romance in which some of the characters happen to turn into wolves a couple of nights each month.
Katherine was a very nice heroine. I really enjoyed her being so passionate about books and having a dream of opening her own book store which is something I can really relate to. I very much admired her for not allowing Matthias' personal problems with his former mother-in-law, Lady Ashton, and the potential harm it could do to her reputation, to scare her away from seeing him. Katherine definitely showed she had some backbone when she stood up to Lady Ashton and her English nanny "spy" on a few occasions. Katherine was very sweet and loving with Matthias' daughter, Emily, treating her like she was her own child. Katherine had a sympathetic past, being partially raised by an aunt who didn't seem to want her around and was emotionally abusive toward her. She sees something similar happening with Emily and her grandmother, and is determined to do whatever she can to prevent Emily from suffering the same fate she did. The thing I liked most about Katherine was her willingness to accept Matthias for what he was, and her open-mindedness in believing him when he told her he was a werewolf. The only thing about Katherine that I disliked was that she was a little too stubborn, and toward the end of the story, I wished that she would be more sympathetic to Matthias' feelings about Anton. Instead, she secretly went about trying to prove that they weren't brothers, so that they could put their feud to rest. On the surface this was an admirable cause, but her secrecy seemed a bit hypocritical, since earlier in the story, she was disappointed in Matthias for keeping secrets. I also didn't see any particular reason for her doing so other than it being a plot device to stir up a little trouble for our newlyweds. Otherwise, I really liked Katherine and thought she was a good match for Matthias.
Matthias was an appealing hero. He's a very attentive father. Deep down, he's something of a romantic, and he treats Katherine with a great deal of tenderness and care. He also inspires supreme loyalty in his servants. Matthias is just an all-around good man. He has a huge amount of self-control, not only in his passion for Katherine, but also in his dealings with Lady Ashton. I liked how he patiently took the high road with her even when she constantly pushed his buttons, and by doing so avoided giving her any fodder to help her case against him. He was a near-perfect hero and I almost had him pegged as a beta until toward the end of the book, when he develops a major jealous streak. I understood that he was deeply hurt in the past by his first wife encouraging Anton's attentions toward her, but I thought he took his jealousy a bit too far. Even after sensing out Katherine's feelings for him with his wolf powers, he still questioned her fidelity toward him, at least in an emotional sense. I also thought that Matthias overcame his reluctance to have more children a little too easily, but other than those two things, I found him to be an intriguing hero.
As a couple, Matthias and Katherine possess a potent sexual tension right from the opening paragraphs. Even though they had a strong, immediate attraction for one another right from the start, the author took the time to the slowly build their romance in a palpable way, with each encounter becoming progressively more passionate. The teasing banter they share was a lot of fun to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the sweet, romantic things Matthias and Katherine did together: The walks, the rides, the bonfire and dancing, and most especially looking at the stars. The only thing that slightly disappointed me was that Katherine learns a lot of details about Matthias and his background from his servants. I do understand that he had an unusual relationship with them, and that they were much more than mere servants to him. I also comprehended that they wanted nothing more than to see Matthias happy again, but when third-party information-relating occurs, I can't help but feel that it is a stolen opportunity to create more intimacy between the hero and heroine by allowing them to communicate directly with one another. I'll admit that it wasn't as troublesome to me as it has been in some other romances I've read, and at least Matthias' biggest secret, that of being a wolf, came directly from him, so alls well that ends well, I suppose. Ultimately, this was a story about loving and accepting someone for who they are, and that message was conveyed beautifully, in my opinion.
Late in the story, the reader is introduced to Anton and Amelia who become the hero and heroine of the next book, The Count's Lair. Anton appears to be a very complex character who I think has great potential yet to be explored. Even here, he is a man with a troubled family background which he thinks includes Matthias being his illegitimate half-brother. He was also turned into a wolf on the same night as Matthias. As a result of these things, Matthias has become a scapegoat for Anton's anger over the past, with him doggedly pursuing Matthias' wives for what appears to be no other reason than revenge. When Katherine shows him some small kindnesses, Anton realizes the error of his ways. I'll be interested to see him fully redeemed in his own book. Then there is Amelia who is a lovely woman with a true talent for music and a husband who doesn't appreciate her. When Katherine moves to Hungary with Matthias, Amelia becomes her best friend, and after a tragedy strikes, Amelia also begins a friendship with Anton. Amelia is a woman who seems to be in need of some happiness in her life, so I think I'll enjoy seeing these two get together in the second book of the series.
Overall, The Hungarian was a pretty good read. Stephanie Burkhart is good at telling an interesting story that holds my attention. Other than the small critiques I've mentioned already, the only thing that would, in my opinion, have made it better is if her writing itself was just a little stronger. Ms. Burkhart has a tendency toward repeating certain words and phrases, and in general, has a somewhat simplistic style. I found a number of places where sentences could have been worded a little differently to make them more engaging and compelling, as well as less repetitive. I think making more interesting word choices would have really made the narrative pop. Otherwise, I enjoyed the story and characters that Ms. Burkhart has created in The Hungarian, and I look forward to continuing the Budapest Moon series. I think Anton and Amelia certainly have the potential to become my favorite couple in the series so far.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook