REVIEW: Devil's Own by Veronica Wolff
Dear Ms. Wolff,
I happened across your books by accident. A couple years ago I was at the library seeking books by an author everyone was talking about-‘J.R. Ward. There weren't any books by Ward in the Ws but I saw your name-‘Veronica Wolff-‘and, truth?, I liked your name. Veronica. Cool. I thought Veronicas must have lots of fun. And I took home Sword of the Highlands. When I saw that Devil's Own was forthcoming, I asked for an advanced reading copy so I could review it here at Dear Author.
There's no comparison between the content of these books, but I have to tell you, Devil's Own started for me in the same vein as The Lovely Bones. I read the first bunch of pages, learned that a child's life is horribly ruined and I had to stop reading. Since becoming a mother I have a very hard time reading about violence against children. In the prologue to Devil's Own Aidan is kidnapped from his home and put aboard a ship. I have a son not too much younger than the ten-year-old fictional Aidan. But this is a romance novel and it must have an HEA so I started reading again a few days later. (I didn't have the same expectation of an HEA in The Lovely Bones, but I was compelled by others to keep reading.)
What I love most about Devil's Own is our heroine, Elspeth Josephina Farquharson (what a great name). She is a smart but shy bookworm who captured my heart, and watching the sweet evolution of the growing affection and love between Elspeth and Aidan is what makes this book so compelling.
Elspeth is the sole source of labor on her lazy father's sheep farm and she escapes the hard reality of her daily life by escaping into her imagination, and when she has time, reading. Her love of books is well-known in her community, which is how she and our hero end up spending time together: Elspeth is hired to teach Aidan to read.
Aidan was kidnapped at age ten and sold into slavery on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. He has escaped his not-so-smart owner and sailed back to Aberdeen to exact revenge against the man who kidnapped him. He has stolen papers that probably identify his kidnappers, but he can't read them. Aidan barters with Elspeth he works on her farm in exchange for reading lessons.
Elspeth is painfully shy. She has never been the focus of male attention and when she first meets Aidan, who she finds attractive, she's flustered and awkward; her vulnerability is part of what draws Aidan. As he uncovers the smart, sharp woman underneath the faÃ§ade of the plain spinster, he begins to respect Elspeth, desire her, and eventually love her.
Aidan is ashamed of his past as a slave and he hides his scars from the world. As he uses his knowledge of farming (gained while enslaved) to help Elspeth improve her business, he reveals his inner self to Elspeth, bit by bit, and begins to see a life for himself beyond his plan for revenge.
Watching Elspeth emerge from her shell was a real joy. Take this passage after her first kiss:
"She opened her eyes to find him starting at her with a look so tender it filled her with a rush of feelings, all strangely new. For the first time, she felt seen, and known, and safe, and wanted. But most of all, Elspeth felt bold."
In literary-land (you know, the books that get reviewed in major media), I'd characterize Devil's Own as a coming-of-age novel. This story is about Elspeth coming into her own as a woman and gaining the confidence to actively be the woman she hides from the world intertwined with Aidan's coming to terms with and moving beyond the fetters anchoring him to the past.
About half-way through the story the focus changes from Elspeth's and Aidan's growing affections to the drama and intrigue of finding the slaver from Aidan's past, and coincidentally, Aidan's past barrels into Elspeth's present.
Earlier I mentioned Elspeth's lazy father. To continue being lazy without also being poor (his present state) Mr. Farquharson plots to marry his daughter to a wealthy man. Unfortunately for Elspeth he chooses a corrupt, wealthy man who happens to have a connection to the slaver who abducted Aidan. There's intrigue, encounters with pirates, a race to save Elspeth from an abusive, arranged marriage, and a good (if short) fight scene.
Like many romance readers, I enjoy historicals on a regular basis. Many of the books I read are set in an ideal world-‘wealthy people wearing fancy clothes going to fancy parties and they fall in love, maybe dodge a scandal, and then live happily ever after. Stories set in the past fire my imagination and I am transported to another place and time to escape, for a few hours, from the daily grind of real life. This is part of why accuracy in historical novels doesn't always matter to me. As long as the story is plausible, I'm in, because with historical romances I'm reading to escape to a place where people can live happily ever after, not immerse myself in the messy facts of real life. Even so, a story must maintain a certain level of believability. If a story takes place in France in 1250 and Marie Antoinette is the queen, I'm throwing the book at the wall. (Well-unless it's a time travel romance and M.A. gets transported back to 1250.)
I bring up historical accuracy because in Devil's Own some things happen that made me wonder, did that really happen back then? In 1660, were poor children stolen off the streets of Aberdeen and sold into slavery? It's possible. Did it really happen? I don't know. Could a farming family's daughter become a bookworm, even have learned to read, as well as manage her family's accounts in a ledger? It's possible. Did it really happen? I don't know. In 1660, in Aberdeen, would men really respect a smart businesswoman? I'm doubtful on this one, but hey, it's possible, and it made a great story.
Devil's Own, the story of a sheep farming bookworm heroine who captures the heart of her scarred ex-slave prince charming earns a B+.
This book is published by an Agency publisher meaning that the publisher sets the digital book price and there are no discounts.