Sebastian St Vincent is a wicked, wicked man – he loves whoring, gambling, spending money on beautiful clothes and good food, whoring, ruining the reputation of weak women…yeah…have I mentioned whoring yet? However one day he finds himself penniless (his daddy loves spending too) and friendless (after he tried to kidnap and forcibly marry for money a rich American fiancee of his best buddy, with the blessing of that man’s mother). He sits in front of his fireplace, Faustus-like, waiting for the devil to visit him and offer a deal, any deal at all, thinking about how sad, dowdy and grey the life will be without any money to spend. Will he be given an opportunity to find out whether he was right or wrong about life in poverty? UNFORTUNATELY NOT.
Where devil can’t get in he will send a woman. There’s a knock at the door and here enters another rich, unmarried heiress in the voluptuous form of Evie or Evangeline Jenner, a redhead beauty of very shy disposition and a pronounced stutter. Funnily enough so far the aforementioned stutter and disposition have been able to drive away hordes of gentlemen looking for a steady source of easy income a.k.a a rich wife. Not any longer. Evie makes Sebastian a proposition no spendthrift, idle rake could refuse – she will marry him and provide a living if he takes her from the clutches of her evil maternal uncles and allows her to attend to her dying father. After several seconds of a very deep, very strenuous calculations Sebastian agrees. They elope to Gretna Green, get married, go to bed and…no, no, I know right now you are dying to find out more but if I spoiled you I would have to kill you, right? So guess.
My very nasty impressions
full of spoilers
I don’t feel like reining in.
I feel like exploding.
Yes, the romantic fiction is not for me. I’ve tried, many times, to overcome my natural reluctance. You see, plenty of excellent book blogers which reviews I read and admire devour Ms Kelypas novels and lick their fingers afterwards. They tempt me to try such a dish as well and let’s face it, I love being tempted. Sometimes I succumb and then, more often than not, a romance novel backfires and makes me…ill-disposed. Like terminally ill-disposed. In other words mad as hell.
First how come a supposedly shy girl all of a sudden finds enough courage to propose to a man who not only kidnapped one of her best friends not so long ago but also threatened to rape her and marry against her will? I mean here the girl being engaged to his best friend at that time. Well, it is not courage, it is stupidity pure and simple but wait, I know…Evie looked into the fallen-angel eyes of her future husband and instantly knew that deep down he was a good, compassionate fellow who wouldn’t kick a puppy even if that puppy bit his toe and vomited on his shoes. She simply knew, don’t ask me how and why. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Sebastian was an oh-so-hot-and-handsome-and-well-muscled-and-wicked male specimen that his mere appearance simply screamed at her: white hat in disguise, marry immediately.
On the other hand please, explain to me one thing: how a daugher of a man owning a gambling house, a second-rate establishment to boot, could qualify as a rich heiress, on par or even richer than a daugher of an American soap tycoon? It seems Ms. Kleypas mixed two different ideas: Victorian gambling houses in London and contemporary American casinos in Las Vegas. I would accept the fact that the dowry of Evie allowed her a comfortable, middle-class living any country squire or parson would enjoy and appreciate but it would be NOWHERE close enough to an aristocrat’s idea of fortune.
Now let’s progress to the famous and most acclaimed reformation of the rake. I was waiting and waiting and I have to inform you it is a no-show. What’s more, the rake himself disappeared in the process as well! The author wants me to believe that one day Sebastian is behaving like a tom cat in spring, screwing everything female around, the next, after just one night with his wife, he agrees to abstain from sex for three months just to make himself worthy of his lovely Evie and prove that yes, he can. It was absurdly fast and unsubstantiated and believe me those were the kindest words I managed to find. I wanted to read a book about the deadly clever, overly cerebral seducer who can make fish jump out of water if he wants to- not the tongue-tied, mundane, order-giving, bizarrely myopic person St. Vincent becomes. A former rake who cannot drag his own wife to bed although he is dying to do so – can it sound any lamer?
Then another absurd motion: an idle aristocrat all of a sudden can read ledgers and manage a business better than its long-time owner and his associates. Excuse me? Has he graduated from an economics school all of a sudden? Has he magically downloaded several years of managerial experience Matrix-fashion? No? Ah, but ledgers and accountancy are just about numbers and if you are good with numbers, as Sebastian explains his surprised Evie he is, then you are practically an auditor and a manager born… right? WRONG. That is not all, my dear reader, it is just a tip of an iceberg!
In some sort of misguided attempt to even the playing field between St. Vincent and Evie, Kleypas totally emasculated her hero. He starts the book as an epitome of a male sexual predator – handsome, dangerous, skilled, selfish and ruthless. He promised so much – tension, sudden twists of action, clever scheming, perhaps even a bit of drama. However, apparently the author couldn’t deliver. First he is made to stay celibate and then Kleypas makes him save his wife and get critically wounded in the process. So he has to lie abed like an underfed kitten. The wounding-the-hero trick is a truly hackish way of forcing intimacy between the hero and heroine. The real function of the wound is not to make them get closer but to render St. Vincent utterly WEAK and NOT INTERESTING ANY MORE. A hen-pecked hubby. His lovely wife, so deliciously shy at the beginning, now takes things into her inexperienced hands (no, I don’t mean money here)…and the ex-sex fiend actually protests! Yes, he protests because, you know, he wants to keep his word and stay celibate! It was the silliest scene of this horrible book, so out of character for both Evie and Sebastian that I almost dumped the whole novel. Almost. Then I decided to finish it and take my revenge in a form of a review.
BTW the cover art is highly misleading – I might like the colours and the landscape but I failed to understand how it possibly connects to the novel or reflects its content – it’s really neither here nor there.
I carped long and viciously about Devil in Winter – I bet nobody has any doubts what my final verdict is. Let me surprise you a bit and end my review staying how I would like this book to be written. More or less of course. So firstly: if you want to redeem a rake you should never ever emasculate him in the process. Secondly if your heroine is supposed to be a rich heiress her daddy should own a big fat empire not one measly gambling house – he might be a shadowy mafia boss but the empire must be tangible and real. Thirdly if the heroine wants to marry the rake you should justify their action in more than one way.