Dear Ms. Kleypas,
I realize I’m probably the last person in the solar system to read this book, but read it I did. It took me a while to get to it because I was disappointed in the previous entry in your Wallflowers series, It Happened One Autumn, so I am happy to say that I enjoyed Devil in Winter very much.
Evangeline “Evie” Jenner is shy, prone to stuttering, and the daughter of an ex-boxer and gambling club owner, so despite her considerable fortune, no gentlemen have offered for her. Evie lives with her mother’s nasty relatives, the Maybricks, and now the Maybricks have decided to keep her father’s fortune in the family by marrying Evie to her cousin Eustace. Not only is Evie not even a little attracted to Eustace, she knows that she will never get out from under the Maybricks’ thumb if she marries her cousin. And getting away from the Maybricks has become imperative: Evie’s father is close to death, and the Maybricks’ won’t let her go to him.
So Evie takes matters into her own hands. She escapes the Maybricks’ home and goes unchaperoned to see Sebastian, Viscount St. Vincent, a notorious rake who kidnapped Evie’s friend Lillian because she was an heiress and he desperately needed to marry into money. Evie figures that if Sebastian is that desperate, he won’t sneer at the idea of marrying her instead.
And indeed, Sebastian, once he’s done getting over his surprise, agrees to Evie’s proposal. He will marry her for her fortune and free her to visit her father at his deathbed. There is one condition of Evie’s that Sebastian doesn’t care for: they will consummate the marriage to make it legal, but after that, no sex. Evie doesn’t want to fall in love with a man who is sure to become a philanderer.
Sebastian and Evie journey to Gretna Green together in miserable, snowy conditions. They marry, and that consummation scene? Hot, hot, hot. Once back in England, the newlyweds move into the gambling club. Evie nurses her father while Sebastian takes stock of the club. He realizes that its worth isn’t as much as Evie and he had believed, so he throws himself into the work of turning the club around. For Evie, her now hard-working husband is a temptation, and she wonders if she should allow their marriage to become real.
What Devil in Winter proved to me is that as tired of rake-and-virgin pairings as I sometimes feel I am, an author with a talent for creating chemistry between her main characters can still find gold in that much-mined vein.
Chemistry is one thing the pairing of Sebastian and Evie has plenty of. Sebastian isn’t quite the devil of the title, but he has a languid and slightly dangerous demeanor that makes him magnetic to Evie. Intellectually I know that a stuttering virgin like Evie should not attract a rake like Sebastian, but when I read their scenes together, I can feel the attraction between them, almost as if I were in the same room with a couple who can’t look away from one another, and that makes all the difference.
Another aspect of the book I liked was its gambling club setting. It was a welcome change from the London houses and country mansions where so many nineteenth century historicals take place.
My main quibbles with this book are twofold. First, I felt that the characters’ transformations were too easy. Evie loses her stutter and finds her confidence without much of a struggle, and in Sebastian’s case, his overnight transformation from bored pleasure-seeker to an industrious club owner should have left me in disbelief. That I was having too much fun to care is a tribute to your ability to make the interactions between Sebastian and Evie sparkle. Second, I felt that the book wobbled a bit when the other wallflowers entered the stage. Anabelle, Daisy and Lillian’s presence felt obligatory at times, and in particular, Lillian and her husband Marcus’s forgiveness of Sebastian for kidnapping and threatening to rape Lillian felt much too quick.
All of this made me aware that the people I was reading about inhabit a happily-ever-after world that doesn’t bear much resemblance to this one. But again, my thoughts on these are just that — thoughts. My feelings, on the other hand, were completely engaged when I read the book. This was the most fun I’ve had reading one of your books in years. B.