France, 1433. The land has been overrun by five brothers who terrorize the countryside. When the worst of them, Lucifer de Morte, massacres Seraphim d'Ange's family, she alone is left to take revenge. Not entirely understanding what drives her, Sera sets out to destroy the de Mortes, aided by family retainer Baldwin and mysterious knight San Juste. Along the way she discovers there's still something of the innocent maiden left in her soul and that she possesses powers stronger than she could ever have imagined.
Sera is a strong, compelling heroine, although she tends to revert to the fluttering damsel as soon as San Juste touches her. San Juste is a rather clichéd knight in armor, torn between duty and lust. Baldwin is the fumbling, comical sidekick who nevertheless possesses untapped courage. Despite the medieval setting, the language varies from stiltingly formal to oddly modern, so the characters' voices are never quite distinct.
Despite these flaws, this is a readable book. Hauf excels at delineating Sera's emotional torment and confusion, and it is always refreshing for a fantasy heroine to direct the action rather than meekly submit to fate. There are some very original touches, such as San Juste's oracle, a vision that follows him dispensing unwanted advice. A twist near the end pulls off a surprise denouement, and the action is gripping. (May, 416 pp., $13.95)
Jen Talley Exum