The Devil You Know, by Liz Carlyle

>> Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I read Liz Carlyle's The Devil You Know (excerpt) over a week ago, but I've been very remiss in posting.

Bentley Rutledge is a rake, a rogue, and an out-and-out blackguard. Scandal trails in his wake, and fair maidens steer well clear of him. Frederica d’Avillez knows better than to trifle with Hell-Bent, but her youthful heart has been crushed by a fickle suitor, and she burns to throw caution to the wind. Who better to burn with than that handsome, hell-bound scoundrel all the ladies whisper about?

Unfortunately, Rutledge is far from the carefree charmer he pretends to be. And when Freddie’s impulsive decision has dire consequences, Rutledge forces her to choose between the devil and her freedom. Soon, an innocent young woman is battling the dark undercurrents of Bentley’s life, struggling against an evil so poignant and painful, it could undermine even the deepest devotion. No one believes this impetuous marriage has a prayer...except Freddie.
This was a book with certain elements which I would have thought I'd hate, and yet given my reaction to it, I have to give it a keeper grade. An A-.

Since the AAR reviewer mentioned that one of the biggest problems she had with The Devil You Know was that too many important things were tied up to events happening in previous books, I decided I had better reread those books before tackling this one. I'd enjoyed them all and hadn't reread them in some time, so it wasn't much of a hardship.

TDYK is the story of Bentley Rutledge, brother of Cam (Beauty Like the Night) and Catherine (No True Gentleman) and of Frederica d'Avillez, niece of Evie (My False Heart).

Note: I'll try to be as cryptic as possible below, but be advised that there might be some spoilers.

I was so very enthusiastic about reading The Devil You Know, that I became more than a little worried as I started it. It fascinated me at once, so that was not the problem. What worried me was that I didn't know if I was going to be able to enjoy a book with certain elements that this one had. There was the very young (18 years old), very innocent heroine, paired up with an older, much more experienced, extremely promiscuous hero. Thank god, he was quite young, about 26 and a bit boyish, so it wasn't too icky in that sense (I didn't get the pedophilic vibe I would have got if little Freddy had ended up with a 35 year old, very serious and mature hero!), but I'm afraid Bentley was the most disgustingly slutty hero I've read in ages. There's something he says at one point, about how he didn't sleep with the same woman twice, never went more than two days without sex, that horrified me. That would be well over 1000 lovers! Add to all this that Bentley and Frederica end up married because she's pregnant, and she spends most of the book in this condition, and you get a set-up that looked pretty problematic for someone with my tastes.

I don't know how Carlyle did it, but I adored this. For hours after finishing it I couldn't stand to read anything else. I watched a couple of football games on TV, worked on a crossword puzzle, read newspapers... I just wasn't up to getting into another story, because TDYK, and especially Bentley, haunted me. I couldn't stop thinking about what I'd just read. I even went back and reread certain scenes, something I've done only very few times. One scene in particular (Bentley and his brother Cam talking, near the end of the book, the scene where B. reveals all) I think I must have read 4 or 5 times. A book this powerful, one that affects me so strongly, has to be a keeper! An A- for me.

How on Earth could I like Bentley so much? Carlyle gives us some circumstances that give him an excellent explanation for his promiscuous past. In general, I hate it when an author feels she needs to make excuses for a character's sexual past, when she implies that the sex was only a reflection of a deeper problem, especially when the character in question is the heroine, but in Bentley's case, I don't know, I guess I thought it was necessary. If he'd been so indiscriminate only because he enjoyed it, I don't know that I would have been able to buy that he'd now be faithful to his wife for the rest of their lives.

I guessed his secret pretty early, probably because I'd just finished reading the previous books, but, like Freddie, I didn't realize the significance of certain dates (was that cryptic enough?). Thus, I was as horrified as she and Cam, and the final scenes, where everything is revealed, hit me hard. I enjoyed that there was no psychobabble. It's pretty obvious the modern psychology behind Bentley's actions his whole life, but Carlyle doesn't make the mistake of anachronistically put it into the words of the characters. This is set in the 19th century, and she doesn't forget it.

I still think, though, that there was no need to make Frederica so young. Or rather, to have Bentley with such a young heroine. I got a definite feeling that there was a "saved by her purity" thing going on here, and that I didn't like at all.

Another great thing about this book was that there was no suspense subplot. It was all character driven, and I never thought it dragged. I noticed some books ago that Carlyle seemed to be adding more and more suspense subplot with each book, and this was something I didn't like, so I was very happy about the way this process seems to have stopped.

Anyway, this was very enjoyable. I have another new one to read, and then I'm going to have to wait for 2005.


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