The Devil in Winter, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Devil in Winter (excerpt) is the third (and probably the most anticipated) book in Lisa Kleypas' Wallflowers series, which started with Secrets of a Summer Night and continued with It Happened One Autumn.

IMPORTANT: Please note that the very plot of TDIW is a spoiler for the ending of IHOA, so if you haven't read the latter, you might want to stop reading right now.

book coverA devil's bargain...

Easily the shyest Wallflower, Evangeline Jenner stands to become the wealthiest, once her inheritance comes due. Because she must first escape the clutches of her unscrupulous relatives, Evie has approached the rake Viscount St. Vincent with a most outrageous proposition: marriage!

Sebastian's reputation is so dangerous that thirty seconds alone with him will ruin any maiden's good name. Still, this bewitching chit appeared, unchaperoned, on his doorstep to offer her hand. Certainly an aristocrat with a fine eye for beauty could do far worse.

But Evie's proposal comes with a condition: no lovemaking after their wedding night. She will never become just another of the dashing libertine's callously discarded broken hearts -- which means Sebastian will simply have to work harder at his seductions...or perhaps surrender his own heart for the very first time in the name of true love.
Still here? Ok, then, don't say I didn't warn you. If you remember, at the end of IHOA, heiress Lillian was kidnapped by Marcus' friend Sebastian, Viscount St. Vincent, who, being in need of a cash injection, meant to force her to marry him. However, Marcus managed to catch up with them rescue his Lillian, but not before giving Sebastian a well-deserved beating.

As TDIW starts (and IHOA ends, really, because this was partly in the epilogue), Sebastian is in his house, recovering from his injuries, when he receives a very unexpected visit. It's Lillian's Wallflower friend, Evangeline Jenner, who has got a very peculiar proposal for Sebastian.

To make a long story short, Evie's well-born mother married gambling club owner Ivo Jenner (which many of you will probably remember from Kristie's beloved Dreaming of You). When his wife died, Jenner gave little Evie to her mother's family to raise, and other than a few visits to her dad, Evie grew up with them. They never treated her well, but while Jenner was alive and well, their behaviour was at least tolerable.

At the time the story starts, however, Ivo Jenner is dying of consumption, and Evie's family has left off all masks. They're planning to marry her off to her cousin Eustace in order to get her money, and since Evie is a shy, unprepossessing, stuttering little mouse when she's with them, they don't expect her to make any trouble about it.

But Evie isn't as weak as they think, and she escapes to Sebastian's, where she proposes a marriage of convenience (not really a marriage in name only, because she's aware of the fact that they'll need to consumate their vows so that there's no way her family can take her from his side, but near enough). He'll get money, while she'll get independence from her family and the freedom to be with her father until he dies.

Sebastian is pretty shocked by Evie's proposal (and it's not easy to shock this man!), but it is quite a godsend for him, so he accepts, and they leave for Gretna Green immediately, before her family can find out where she is. And it is during this trip that we begin to see a different Sebastian from the cruel, cold and mocking man we'd seen so far. It's a long, tiring cold journey, and one Evie's ill-equipped to take, and the way Sebastian tenderly and sweetly takes care of her is lovely. It's a convincing, gradual transformation, and we readers start to see a change in the way Evie affects him, too, the way he's more and more attracted to her and more protective with every mile they cover.

I think this part of the book was my favourite. Once they get back to London and they set up in Jenner's gambling club, with Sebastian taking over its running, it's still good and there were certain elements I absolutely loved, but other annoying elements made it not as wonderful as the first section promised.

What I did love was how, to some extent, Sebastian is made to "pay" for his past promiscuity. While Evie understands that they need to consummate the marriage, she refuses to continue to have a real marriage with a man who's sure to make her suffer by continuously cheating on her. So when Sebastian, who's become more and more obsessed with his wife since their wedding night, deigns to promise that ok, he'll be faithful (and be thankful, woman, because you're the first to ever manage to get such a promise from me), Evie very sensibly just won't believe that such a well-known rake will reform and be faithful just like that. She needs much more convincing than that, and Sebastian must make a few sacrifices.

But now we start with the problems. First, around this time, we lose Sebastian's POV for a while, and I really though this section would have been better if we'd really seen Sebastian's internal reactions to the situation.

And around this time, a weird suspense subplot rears its ugly head. Why do I say ugly? It's just that I thought it was something totally unnecessary, and all it did was take space away from Evie and Sebastian, which was all I was interested in. I really think there wasn't any need for more external conflict. I mean, there was more than enough internal conflict there (I would have much prefered to keep concentrating on the rake overcoming his bride's disbelief that he really would want to work at reforming), and if Kleypas thought she needed something external as well, there was her family right there, wanting to get Evie away from her husband and into their control. With villains with perfect reason to want to harm Evie, why would we need a crazy loon with poorly motivated reasons?

And speaking of motivations, in IHOA, I'd thought the motivation for Sebastian's kidnapping of Lillian was the weakest part of the plot. As I closed the book, I hoped it would become better explained in this book why exactly he'd thought the potential benefits would outweigh the very large costs, and why he'd thought he had no other options, but we get no explanations. I still think his behaviour was foolish in extreme and didn't make any sense, and Sebastian sees it, too. He actually thinks at one point that if he'd bothered to look around, he'd have seen Evie was a much better (and less troublesome) prospect. Well, duh!

Coming back to TDIW, something else that bothered me was that the tension deflated as the ending approached. By the time there were some 50 pages to go, there was just no romantic tension. Things between Evie and Sebastian were pretty much resolved, and all we were waiting for was the resolution of the very boring suspense plot. And for some reason, as the book progressed the style became more and more heavy on exposition about what was going on. I started hearing the author's voice, and it was a bit awkward.

And, to finish with my problems with the book (really, this is the last negative thing I'll write), I was completely puzzled by the setting up of the last Wallflower's story. There's a really contrived scene between Daisy and the very intriguing Cam (a scene that felt like sequel-baiting of the worst sort -Kleypas just has no subtlety in this area- and a scene which added nothing whatsoever to the plot of TDIW), but then it turns out that Cam won't be the hero of Daisy's story, Scandal in Spring! This just makes this weird scene even more pointless.

Considering all I've written, it sounds as if I liked this one much less than I actually did. But no, really, considering that I'm giving TDIW a B, in spite of the very real problems I had with it, that gives you a clue of how much I loved the things that worked about the book. I loved Sebastian's change from a cruel bastard to a loving, kind man, protective of his wife and his friends. I loved the way Evie became more and more confident as she felt more comfortable with Sebastian, completely "curing" herself of her stutter when she was near him. And I loved Sebastian's rapprochement with his friend Marcus, from IHOA, and the friendship between the Wallflowers. If only we'd had more of that and less of the annoying bits!


Bona Caballero 28 September 2014 at 16:46  

I remember that, the first time I read this book, it was a disappointment for me. Then when I read it a second and even a third time, I found good things in it.
Now I think it's one of the best Kleypas, but certainly, not one of my favourites.

Rosario 30 September 2014 at 18:37  

Hmmm, maybe I should reread it? I'm certainly having trouble enjoying new historicals, so it's possible rereading older ones is the answer!

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