REVIEW: Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
Dear Ms. Kleypas,
Having read both Cold-Hearted Rake and Marrying Winterborne within the past year or two, I was eager for Devil in Spring. The pretty cover and the connection to your past book, Devil in Winter, didn’t hurt, either.
Lady Pandora Ravenel and Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, meet when she gets trapped in an openwork settee while attempting to retrieve a diamond earring for her chaperone’s daughter. Before her dress snags on the settee’s acanthus scrolls, Pandora is bored, bored, bored, but once Gabriel shows up and attempts to free her, only to be interrupted by two gentlemen, things quickly get all too interesting.
One of the gentlemen, Lord Westcliff, is willing to look the other way. Unfortunately, his companion, Lord Chaworth, has an ax to grind with Gabriel’s father and soon, Gabriel and Pandora are entangled in a scandal.
But Pandora is the last woman whom Gabriel should marry, since he is heir to a duke and she has none of the accomplishments that a duchess needs to have. Furthermore, Pandora has no desire to marry anyone. Her ambition is to run a board game company and given the property laws of the era, marriage would mean handing over control of her budding business to her husband.
Pandora’s guardian, Devon, assures her that she won’t be forced into marriage. Gabriel’s father, Sebastian, tells Gabriel that another husband can be found for the young lady Gabriel has compromised. But Gabriel is attracted to Pandora, ambivalent rather than wholly reluctant, so his parents invite the Ravenels to their country home in Sussex.
Thus, Pandora and Gabriel are given a week to get to know each other, a week in which to make their decision. Each is drawn to the other. Can desire make up for Pandora’s lack of suitability? Can Pandora trust Gabriel never to interfere with her business if they marry? And if they take a leap of faith, will it all be smooth sailing after that?
Devil in Spring is a book that works wonderfully well as a romantic fantasy, but it departs from reality in ways that I found myself questioning. One of the biggest was the way Pandora’s inexperience of the world was portrayed. There were certain aspects of it that I could believe, but others that I had difficulty buying.
For example, Pandora seems intimidated at the thought of meeting Gabriel’s family because of their rank. Her first thought at the sight of their country house is that it’s “an imposing marble palace, inhabited by haughty aristocrats.”
This sounds like the viewpoint of a commoner. But Pandora herself is an aristocrat. Her sisters are aristocrats. Devon and Kathleen, her guardians, are aristocrats. Lady Berwick, her chaperone, is an aristocrat. Besides her servants and her brother-in-law Rhys, almost everyone she knows is a member of high society, so it doesn’t make sense that this would be what intimidates Pandora.
Pandora’s sheltered, almost abandoned childhood, too, is something I’ve always had difficulty buying. Even if her parents didn’t value girls, surely they would have wanted those girls to make marriages that reflected well on them (the parents)? Wouldn’t they have at the very least provided a governess and lessons in the basics, if only so that when the girls’ come-out time arrived, they could wash their hands of their daughters and not have to provide for them any longer?
Further, while I can perhaps believe that someone as sheltered as Pandora could design a successful board game (though I think it might take closer acquaintance with board games than she had in Cold-Hearted Rake, and more trial and error), that she would also be equipped to run her own board game manufacturing company is a bigger stretch. Running a company takes some savvy and knowledge of the world.
Pandora was so childlike for her age that when Gabriel said things like “Easy, child,” “Poor mite,” and “Let me […] tuck you in like a good little girl,” I wasn’t as irritated as I usually find myself when a heroine is infantilized. But I liked Pandora, and enjoyed her whimsy and her made-up words, which were humorous and endearing.
Gabriel was a somewhat easier character to buy than Pandora, though this may be because he is more typical of romance heroes than she is of romance heroines, rather than because men like him actually exist. Gabriel is urbane, charming, the heir to a duke, great in bed and unbelievably handsome—in short, on the right side of perfect.
Despite the title of the book, there’s almost nothing devilish about him; his one flaw, if you can call it that, is his prior affair with Mrs. Black, a married woman but one whose impotent husband was willing to turn a blind eye to the relationship.
Even this flaw is something Gabriel is deeply ashamed of. Gabriel only stayed in this relationship because he believed Mrs. Black was unusual in her willingness to indulge his kinks. After the big fuss that was made of whether or not Pandora would be willing to do the same, the scene that settled this question seemed anticlimactic in its gentleness.
Another of Gabriel’s conflicts was that as the heir to the dukedom, he will, upon inheriting, need a wife with all the social and household management skills that Pandora doesn’t possess. But this conflict is dropped without ever being resolved (unless you count his father Sebastian’s observation that Pandora could mature with time as a resolution; I don’t).
Late in the novel there’s also a suspense plot I was skeptical of:
Spoiler (Spoiler): Show
So what did I like about Devil in Spring? Quite a lot, actually. As I said, it works wonderfully well as a romantic fantasy, one in which love triumphs over all of the above.
Both Pandora and Gabriel are loveable, appealing characters. Pandora’s antics are amusing and Gabriel is lovely, kind and patient with Pandora. The two of them have good chemistry both in and out of bed. The sex scenes, though they depend on Pandora’s inexperience and Gabriel’s greater knowledge to work, are plenty hot.
More importantly, the romance is present. No part of it is skipped or missed—the meet cute, the reluctant attraction, the courtship, the falling-in-love, the trouble in paradise, the black moment, the resolution and the happy ending are all there, and most are executed very, very well.
Another thing I greatly appreciated was the fine writing (especially in Pandora’s viewpoint, where we get some delightfully whimsical metaphors that made me smile) and the attention to historical details, such as the department store, the railways, the discussion of the Married Women’s Property Act, and the medical stuff.
Speaking of the latter, as in Marrying Winterborne, Garrett Gibson, the intrepid female doctor, steals every scene she’s in. So does Sebastian, now the Duke of Kingston. It’s nice to visit with him and Evie, the couple from Devil in Winter, and I noticed that all their boys are named after angels, so maybe we’ll see more of Raphael and Michael (Ivo) in future books.
But the member of Gabriel’s family whom I am most interested in reading more about is Gabriel’s acerbic older sister, Phoebe. I really liked her, and after three books with virginal heroines and experienced heroes, I’d like to read about a widow with more worldliness.
As for Devil in Spring, I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one sitting. For that reason, it gets a B.