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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.

Devil's Own by Veronica WolffThere'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 façade 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+.

Cheers,

Jaclyn

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
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This book is published by an Agency publisher meaning that the publisher sets the digital book price and there are no discounts.

The first book Jaclyn can recall reading all by herself was Cinderella (a pink Disney edition) and all these years later she remains an avid reader of fairy tales, myths, and historical romances. Jaclyn's TBR also overflows with science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, contemporary, thrillers, and mystery. During the workday she can be found navigating the digital transformation at a university press.

13 Comments

  1. Lynnd
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 12:56:02

    Hi Jaclyn: It is entierly possible, under legislatiion passed by Cromwell in 1652, for poor Scottish (and Irish) children to have been taken off the streets and sent to the Carribean as slaves in this time period. Here is a link to a an article on the subject. http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/white_slavery.htm

    Oliver Cromwell was NOT a nice man.

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  2. Lynnd
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 13:24:24

    P.S. Great review. I’m off to add this to my ever-expanding TBR.

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  3. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 18:30:07

    @Lynnd: It is a great review and I love shy, bookworm-y heroines. Hmm, on second thought that description makes her seem like she needs a dose of ivermectin.

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  4. Laura Florand
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 19:19:21

    I love 1660! :)

    I don’t know about Aberdeen particularly, but in 1660 London, men could respect a smart businesswoman. Probably not all of them did (and not all of them do now!), but I would say for a lot of men it would even have been a highly desirable trait. Certainly at the social class level described. (I haven’t read the book, though, although this review makes it sound quite intriguing!)

    I would think she could learn to read, again I can’t speak specifically to Aberdeen, but there was a strong push during the seventeenth century in England for women of all classes to be literate enough to read the Bible.

    Reading the marriage settlements from that period is fascinating. Obviously there were the expected settlements for noble’s daughters, but without looking up the statistics again, I believe I recall the majority were written for businesswomen (widows usually) bent on protecting what they had when they remarried.

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  5. Jaclyn
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 07:39:39

    @Lynnd Thanks for the link. Fascinating reading. And thanks, to you and to @Jayne for the nice words about the review.

    @Jayne, I’m pretty sure the cure for bookworm-itis isn’t a threadworm medicine, rather it’s regular visits to the bookstore and library. :) I wonder if Elspeth’s dad had sought a wealthy man with a huge library if she’d have been more interested in an arranged marriage…

    @Laura Florand I often wonder why writers choose the periods in history they do. Thanks for the information–I take it you’ve read marriage settlements from the period? I can easily imagine a woman of some independence would be highly concerned that she protect her interests going into a marriage.

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  6. Laura Florand
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 09:45:32

    I haven’t read enough! I’ve barely touched the surface, research-wise. Amy Louise Erickson wrote a fascinating article on marriage settlements (Economic History Review, XLIII, 1990) that got me interested in what was going on with marriage settlements and the differences between common law, equity law, ecclesiastical law, etc. She challenges assumptions modern historians make about this period in England based on common law (while ignoring all the other systems of law concurrently respected). It’s very interesting reading.

    I’m quite intrigued by this book, actually, from what you’ve said. Thanks for the review!

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  7. Debra
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 11:42:02

    Veronica has been nice to come to a few of our romance meetings and I can tell this, the women does her research!!! She told us of the trips she and Monica have made to make sure their research is right. I haven’t read this book yet, but it is in my TBR pile.

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  8. AMG
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:43:47

    The book/plot sounds interesting, but the cover is off putting. A man in the Aberdeen area would have a very small window of opportunity to run around bare chested, what with the wind off the North Sea, and the rain. Could they not have had him in some breaches, with a work shirt of fustian or something. At least as a labourer he would be muscular.

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  9. Jaclyn
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 07:55:31

    @Debra Thanks for sharing that information about Ms. Wolff. I’m not a novelist and I’ve always imagined that the research about a place and time must be part of the fun (and hard work!) of writing a book. I hope you enjoy Devil’s Own as much as I did.

    @AMG I read this cover as a marketing choice (1660 near Aberdeen? Sword-wearing kilted dude!) because it doesn’t fit the character of Aidan that I read. He’s very scarred on his back and wears shirts no matter how hot he is to cover those scars. The figure on the cover has a sword, but Aidan isn’t a warrior, he’s a farmer. Is there a cover trope for troubled, sexy farmers in romance novel land? Maybe we need one. ;)

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  10. FiaQ
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 10:10:42

    Having read the review, I think I’m actually willing to overcome my deep dislike for the Scottish historical romance sub-genre to read this. Does this novel have the horrid brogue? I’ll get a copy if it doesn’t.

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  11. Jaclyn
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 10:56:25

    @FiaQ Nope, no horrid brogue in the dialogue. Though Aidan does shorten Elspeth’s name to Beth part-way through, as a pet name. It’s sweet. I would love to know what you think of the book when you’ve read it.

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  12. JenM
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 11:06:55

    I’m another one that doesn’t usually go out of my way to read Scottish historicals, but this book sounds fantastic. Shy, bookish, competent heroine + tortured hero sold into slavery as a child + a setting on a working farm as opposed to ballrooms/manor houses = a book I would love to read.

    I’m so glad you wrote this review. I would never even have read the blurb based on that horribly unrepresentative cover.

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  13. Laura Florand
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 16:26:14

    Great characters, thanks for the recommend!

    ReplyReply

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