Honoria Wetherby suffered the loss of both her parents and two younger siblings in her youth, so the only family she has left that she's close to is her older brother. Having an inheritance of her own, she doesn't really have to work, but chose to fashion herself into a governess, specializing in assisting young girls during the year before their come-out ball. She's been working at an estate in the countryside where she's heard an elusive duke lives nearby. While heading home from the village one day as a storm is brewing, she chances upon a young man who's been shot, lying on the side of the road. After thunder scares away her horse and cart, Honoria has no idea how she's going to get help until a rider on a great black steed comes to her rescue. They spend the night at a nearby woodsman's cottage, trying to make the dying young man comfortable, and the next morning she finally discovers that her new companion is none other than the duke she's heard so much about. After they're found together in a compromising position, he insists upon marrying her, but Honoria isn't interested in wedding someone she barely knows to satisfy society's dictates. However, the prospect of helping him search for his cousin's killer tempts her to stick around for a while, and soon she finds herself falling for the arrogant duke.
No one ever thought that Sylvester "Devil" Cynster, Duke of St. Ives, would marry anyone. Then he meets Honoria on the road, trying to help his mortally wounded cousin. He's impressed with her cool head, so when she loses her governess position because of being found in the cabin virtually alone with him, he decides she'll make the perfect bride. However, convincing her to accept his suit proves a challenge. Since she doesn't really have anywhere else to go, Devil offers her a bargain: stay under his roof, chaperoned by his mother, for the next two months, getting to know him, and if at the end of that time, she still doesn't want to marry, he'll let her go. While doing his best to woo the lady, he also sets about ferreting out his cousin's killer with the help of all the other Cynster men. But soon the investigation places both Devil and Honoria in the killer's crosshairs before he can even convince her to marry to him.
Devil's Bride is the first published book in Stephanie Laurens' Cynster series. There is one prequel novel that precedes it chronologically that tells the story of Devil's parents, but it was published after the first seven novels of the series were already released. This one is, of course, Devil's story. He's the oldest of a group of Cynster cousins, and as the Duke of St. Ives, he's the head of the family. His heroine, Honoria, is a governess, working at a nearby estate. While returning from the village one day, she chances upon a young man in the woods who's been shot. She stops to render aid, and along comes Devil who she presses to help her. With a storm brewing and her having lost the cart she was driving when the horse bolted, Devil carries the young man to a nearby woodsman's cottage, where they spend the night. Honoria doesn't discover until the next day that the young man who passed during the night was Devil's cousin, Tolly, or that Devil is a duke. Having compromised Honoria, Devil proposes marriage, but she's an independent-minded woman who is determined to become a lady adventurer, traveling the world. She's also not too sure about marrying an arrogant "tyrant" as she likes to call him, but after reaching an agreement to stay in his home for the next couple of months, getting to know him, she slowly falls under his spell. But Tolly's murderer is still on the loose and could spell disaster for their blossoming love when he sets his sights on both of them.
Sylvester Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives is known to his family and close friends as Devil, a shortening of a nickname bestowed on him by a governess when he was just a boy. Devil knows that he'll have to marry soon to carry on the family line, but he hasn't been in a hurry to find someone. Then Honoria all but falls into his lap. She impresses him almost from the moment he meets her with her cool head in the face of a crisis, so when they are forced to spend the night together in the cottage with his dying cousin, he decides right then and there that he wants her to be his bride. However, convincing the lady to accept his proposal proves to be a challenge. When she loses her current governess post due to them being found in a compromising position, he suggests that she live under his roof for the next couple of months so they can get to know one another, and if at the end of that time, she's still determined to go travel the world, she can, although he has no real intention of ever letting her go. While wooing Honoria, Devil and his other cousins set about investigating Tolly's murder, which eventually leads to Devil himself, as well as Honoria, ending up in the killer's crosshairs. I came away from reading this story feeling like Devil was a very underdeveloped character. What I've outlined here is pretty much the extent of how well we get to know him. He doesn't have much of a backstory to speak of. He's merely a protective and possessive, arrogant alpha duke who's determined to get his way and eventually does. He didn't get on my nerves like some alpha heroes do, but neither did I really fall for him. There just wasn't enough to his characterization for me to really get to know him. Also, although it became pretty obvious through his actions that he'd fallen in love with Honoria, he never once utters the words, which was a little disappointing.
Honoria experienced the loss of both her parents and two younger siblings in a tragic accident when she was a teen. Her older brother, Michael, is really the only family she has left. There's a grandfather, but due to them having a complicated relationship, they're estranged. Being a lady of quality, she has money and doesn't really need to work, but she chooses to for the experience and the challenge. She fears losing another person she loves, so not intending to marry, she set herself up as a finishing governess, helping young ladies prepare throughout their final year before coming out. Honoria has heard of a mysterious duke who lives near her latest post, but hasn't met him yet. Then she finds Tolly in the woods mortally wounded and Devil comes to her aid. The next morning, he declares that they'll be married, because of them being found in a compromising position. Needless to say, Honoria is rather put out by his high-handedness and insists that she has no intention of marrying anyone. However, after losing her job and having nowhere else to really go at present, she agrees to his proposition to stay with him. She's also intrigued by the investigation into Tolly's death and wants to help even though Devil is adamant that she shouldn't be anywhere near that kind of danger. In spite of butting heads often, the two eventually fall in love and marry, but when several attempts are made on their lives, they must work together to ferret out the killer. Honoria was a little better developed than Devil was, but there were still times I thought her characterization could have been deepened. Her fear of losing another person she loves was probably the most interesting facet of her persona, but even that doesn't really come into play until the very end of the book.
The Cynster series is a prolific group of novels that is now thirty books long. Main characters from the first eleven books are introduced in this volume. Devil's cousin and best friend, Vane, is probably the most prominent player, and he will become the hero of the next book, A Rake's Vow. Devil's half-brother, Richard aka Scandal, is the hero of the third book, Scandal's Bride. The remaining adult male Cynster cousins, Harry aka Demon (A Rogue's Proposal), Gabriel (A Secret Love), and Alasdair aka Lucifer (All About Love) all help out with the investigation, vowing to find their cousin's killer. Tolly's younger siblings, sixteen-year-old twins Amanda (One Wild Night) and Amelia (On a Wicked Dawn), and their younger brother Simon (The Perfect Lover), all play roles, too, and grow up to find their own HEAs. Devil's sort-of-friend-but-mainly-rival, Chillingworth, who he loves to goad and who gets drawn into the intrigue, becomes the hero of Book #7, All About Passion. Then Honoria's brother, Michael, becomes the hero of Book #11, The Ideal Bride. We see a fair bit of Cynster matriarch, Helena (The Promise in a Kiss), and somewhere much further down the line, Devil and Honoria's children will get their own HEAs.
Prior to reading Devil's Bride, I'd only read two of Stephanie Laurens' stories, the Cynster prequel, The Promise in a Kiss, which I thought was just okay, and a stand-alone novella, which I'd loved, so going into reading this book, I didn't know what to expect. Unfortunately it went the way of its predecessor in the series and was also just an okay read for me. Aside from my previously cited issues with the characterizations, the story itself plodded along with not a whole lot happening. When it opened with a murder, it seemed to be getting off to a good start, but after that, it simply didn't draw me in. Devil and Honoria go back and forth to a repetitive extent with him insisting they're going to marry and her being equally insistent that they're not. Then after quite some time she finally capitulates. She's also curious about experiencing passion with him, but despite his rakish past, he's the one who keeps scuttling all their sensual encounters until she finally agrees to marry him. All the starts and stops started to become rather frustrating. Then there's the investigation into Tolly's murder, which would have been a lot more interesting if we'd actually gotten to see Devil and the Cynster cousins in action. Instead we're simply told what they discover after the fact, which initially was absolutely nothing. Then a few tidbits start to take shape, but in the end, it all seemed needlessly convoluted and drawn out. Also, despite me not usually being particularly good at discerning the culprit in mysteries, the villain of this story was blatantly obvious from the moment he appeared in the story. Yet, the characters kept waltzing around him, making me feel like they were too dumb to figure it all out. The only thing that wasn't entirely clear until later on was his motive. In addition to the weak story elements, the author has an extreme penchant for overusing eyebrow raising (something that was the case in the prequel novel as well), which drove me batty. If someone tried to play a drinking game with this phrase, they'd likely get alcohol poisoning and I'm not being hyperbolic. It was on nearly every page, sometime multiple times per page. Then there's her fondness for semicolons, which were also overused and sometimes improperly used. Both of these things kept me wondering where the editor/proofreader was.
Devil's Bride may have been a rather frustrating and ultimately somewhat boring read, but I've read worse, which is why I gave it three stars. Even though I felt Devil and Honoria were underdeveloped, I generally liked them in spite of not feeling I got to know them well. Although their relationship could have used more depth, too, I did eventually feel a connection between them. Once they finally do the deed, the love scenes were admittedly pretty good, if a bit verbose, and one of the best parts of the book. The last hundred or so pages of the book finally picked up the pace a little, giving the reader a bit of action and laying out the resolution to the intrigue. Although flawed in many ways, I did manage to get through it without setting it aside for something else, so in the end, I felt it was worth a middling rating. However, after two so-so reads in a row from this author that had many of the same weaknesses, I'll have to see where I go with her work from here. I have a number of the other Cynster books on my TBR pile and Vane did interest me a bit, so perhaps eventually I'll read further in the series to see if Ms. Laurens can give me another awesome read that the one novella of hers was for me.
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