REVIEW: Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long
Does it sound negative to say that it feels like your Pennyroyal Green series has been going on for ages? I don’t mean for it to – I was surprised to see that the publication date of book one in the series, The Perils of Pleasure, was 2008. Why does it feel like it’s been going on so much longer? Maybe it’s because Between the Devil and Ian Eversea is the 9th book in the series; I don’t often stick with series for that long (though conversely I sometimes stick with them longer than I want to, if only because I kind of hate to give up in the middle of a series).
My general impression of the Pennyroyal Green series is that it’s a bit uneven. When I started reading Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, it occurred to be that the series seems to be focusing more on the Everseas than their village rivals, the Redmond. A quick review of the books in the series indicates that that’s not really true; the number of Eversea and Redmond books are about equal. What I did notice is that by my hazy recollection, the Eversea books are generally more interesting and memorable, and perhaps received better grades from me, than the Redmond ones. I could check my log to see if my recollection is accurate, but I think maybe no one needs a Sabermetrics-style analysis of my reading of the Pennyroyal Green series.
(I’m not sure I ever even read How the Marquess was Won, which seems by the blurb to be about neither the Redmonds nor the Everseas, but about a marquess who is pursuing one of the Redmond daughters when his attention is caught by her companion. Hmm. Maybe I should go back and try that one.)
So, onto this book: American Titania “Tansy” Danforth has come to England to stay with her relative, the Duke of Falconbridge. He’s the hero of What I Did For a Duke, and his wife is Genevieve, née Eversea. Tansy is actually English by birth; her family moved to America when she was a child. Her father and the duke were friends and cousins, and long ago the duke had promised his friend that he would find a suitable husband for Tansy. Tansy’s family is all gone now (her brother in the War of 1812, and her parents in a carriage accident, surely the number one killer of heroines’ parents in historical romances; those things must have been death traps). She’s alone in the world, but she has beauty and a fortune and it’s up to the duke to make a great match for her.
The duke and duchess are staying with the Everseas in Pennyroyal Green as they search for a suitable home in the area (presumably, Genevieve wants to be closer to her family), so it’s actually the Eversea manse that Tansy arrives at, trailing a lovesick Italian with whom she carried on a shipboard flirtation. The unfortunate swain is dispatched, and Tansy proceeds to charm everyone she meets instantly and repeatedly. The only exceptions are two of the Everseas: Genevieve’s sister Olivia (who is kind of hardened and cold; I suspect it’s because she’s so sick of waiting for her book to come around) and their brother Ian. Ian Eversea seems like every other Eversea hero (granted, my memory of the previous ones is hazy) and a good number of English historical romance heroes in general: devil may care on the surface, but secretly scarred in mind and body by wartime experiences, and of course a total man-whore. He’s also, rather entertainingly, immune to Tansy’s immense appeal, at least at first. Tansy wishes she could say the same about Ian; she is so instantly and totally attracted to the young man that her usual sangfroid quite deserts her in his presence. It’s so bad that Ian starts to wonder if Tansy is perhaps simple or a bit touched in the head. This was amusing and I appreciated that it wasn’t insta-lust on both sides, though I felt a bit sorry for Tansy, who is used to having men fall at her feet and doesn’t understand why the one man she actually wants seems indifferent to her.
Ian’s indifference, is, of course, temporary, and sooner enough both are lusting after each other. But there are barriers to any courtship between Ian and Tansy. For one, Ian is shortly planning on leaving for a long sea voyage; he’s expected to be gone for years. Also, in What I Did For a Duke, Ian was caught by the duke seducing the duke’s then-fiancee, a situation that caused a great deal of tension between the two men, some of which remains. The duke would *never* let Tansy marry a rogue like Ian Eversea.
Between the Devil and Ian Eversea was a little bit of a rollercoaster for me. It started off strong; the effect Tansy has on people, men in particular, was comical. She knows what she’s doing and does it very well. As I noted, I rather liked that Ian didn’t fall into immediate lust with Tansy; in fact, for various reasons, he rather dislikes her at first. But as the two get to know each other, the story becomes both more conventional and bit more oblique. I felt like the underlying reasons for the ways that Tansy and Ian behaved were hinted at a lot but could’ve used a more direct explication. I always feel kind of bad when I think that about a story; I don’t like to think of myself as a reader who needs things spelled out in big neon letters. If anything, I appreciate show-not-tell writing. But in this case I felt like there were little hints and portents of their actions (for instance, Ian observes Tansy on the balcony of her bedroom, attempting to light a cigarette, an action he finds somewhat shocking) that made it seem like the explanation would be more dramatic or lead to a great emotional catharsis, and that’s not the case. Tansy is a flirt because…actually, I’m not sure that’s even explained; if it is, I’ve already forgotten the explanation. I mean, it’s fine if she’s just a natural flirt but it’s clear that Tansy goes out of her way to win people over; she’s actually somewhat manipulative at times (in a fairly benign way, albeit). It’s clear that she misses her family and is lonely, but it’s not clear whether her attempts to conquer hearts is an outgrowth of that loneliness or something she did even before her parents died. That aspect of her personality could have used a little more in-depth coverage, I think.
Ian is a man-whore and adventure-seeker because…of war, I guess? I don’t know. He was in the war, though I don’t know if it was ever mentioned *what* war, exactly. I suppose some of these holes in my understanding of the story could be my fault (my memory is not what it used to be), but I also think it points to a certain hazy quality to the storytelling.
Though I ultimately felt that Ian was a less well-drawn character than Tansy, I think that his slow falling in love with her was well portrayed. That’s one of the strengths of having your hero (or heroine) not fall into insta-love/lust: you get to watch the person actually have to reconsider their prejudices and discover the other person’s strengths and virtues. Now that is something that I find romantic.
My grade for Between the Devil and Ian Eversea is a B-.
My impression was that Tansy flirted because she craved validation of her worth after her parents made it clear that they would rather she had died and her brother survived. I enjoyed this book somewhat, but I agree that the Pennyroyal Green series has been very uneven and gone on far too long. At this point, I am hoping that when Olivia finally gets her book, she ends up rejecting Lyon and realizing she loves the decent man who is currently courting her. I am completely losing sympathy for that particular star-crossed lovers story.
JAL does tend to write vaguely at times, especially when the reader craves concrete details (like the exact war Ian fought in, as mentioned). She also doesn’t explain – or show – characters’ motivations so well. You can maybe piece together an explanation, but it’s not inherent in the text. Honestly, I think JAL could go from a great writer to an absolutely fantastic one if she had a decent editor. Her books often seem half-formed to me, and it’s frustrating.
I gave this book a “B.” I had read a few other Pennyroyal books that mostly featured the Everseas. I liked them. I actually liked the duke’s story better than any of the other Pennyroyal books and gave it a “B+.”
I agree with Elinor about losing sympathy for Olivia and Lyon. I’m actually hoping that Olivia doesn’t get her own book. A novella with her finally realizing real feelings for the great guy who’s been courting her for so long (I forget his name) would be wonderful.
Overall, this book was worth reading, I didn’t feel like I was cheated although I probably won’t keep it or buy a “keeper” copy.
I can’t get past the title. It doesn’t have the same scansion as ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’, so it just grates every time I read it.
I’ve enjoyed most of this series but I thought the editing in the last two books was rather horrid (missing words, missing quotation marks, missing paragraph breaks, side characters whose names changed randomly, exact sentences repeated, etc.). I’ve been holding off reading this one for fear of it being the same.
@Elinor Aspen: You may be right, though Tansy’s anguish over the overheard comment wasn’t given a lot of emphasis in the story, that I recall.
I see your point about Olivia and Lyon – they are like a tv couple that has been teased for so long, by the time they get together it is bound to be anticlimactic. Plus which Olivia’s suitor does seem very decent and worthy of a chance.
@Ros: I vaguely disapprove of cutesy titles but not enough to turn me off an otherwise worthwhile book.
Something else that bothers me with a series like this — concrete ages are never given. I understand on one hand, you don’t want to box yourself into a corner but on the other hand, the Everseas have like six kids. Vague references to birth order is made but it would be much more helpful if actual ages were given. I always assumed Ian was a young early twenties man based on previous behavior but then some reference was made that implied mid-thirties. It’s little things like that that take me out of the book because then I start thinking, well how old are the rest of them? Just a little bothersome.
@Jane, I think it is also a bit unclear how much time has past since the beginning of the series, since some of the stories overlap and the chronology is not precisely linear.