Evangeline Jenner's father, a successful gambling club owner, is dying, and Evie's family on her mother's side has been trying to keep her from seeing him. Desperate to get away from the people who have been abusing her all her life and only want her for the inheritance she can give them, Evie sets a dangerous plan into motion. The painfully shy young woman approaches the notorious rake, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent with a proposal of a marriage of convenience. In exchange for the freedom to care for her father during the final days of his life and a small stipend for her to live on, Sebastian will get Evie's entire fortune when her father passes. She agrees to only one night of passion to make their marriage legal and binding, but no more than that. What's a girl to do when more is exactly what she wants, but she must guard her heart from being broken by a rogue who cannot be trusted?
Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, has an infamous reputation for never sleeping with the same woman more than once. He also took an ill-advised turn at villainy when he kidnapped his best friend's fiancée in hopes of gaining her fortune and avoid becoming penniless within the month. When Evie shows up on his doorstep with her outrageous proposal, it is exactly what Sebastian needs to get himself out of financial trouble, but the mousy girl was not really what he had in mind. Having no other viable options in the foreseeable future, Sebastian accepts and the pair elope to Scotland. Along the way, he realizes that Evie is a far stronger person than he would have expected, and after spending one night in her bed, is surprised to discover how much he still desires her. When Evie challenges him to a bet involving celibacy to show her that he can be monogamous, Sebastian reluctantly agrees, but will this unrepentant scoundrel ever be able to prove that he has fallen in love with her and no other woman will do?
In all honesty, I approached Devil in Winter with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation. I was excited by the prospect of reading a book that had been so highly praised, but at the same time, all the hype made me anxious. In my experience, a book that has so many ardent fans can either be a sure-fire winner or a huge disappointment. I had also finished It Happened One Autumn feeling a little skeptical about the possibility of redeeming a character whose villainous actions had made me go from mostly liking him to really disliking him in very short order, but I figured if anyone could make me like St. Vincent again, it would be Lisa Kleypas. Unfortunately, I finished Devil in Winter feeling that Ms. Kleypas did not fully accomplish that redemption (at least not in my eyes), and therefore the story as a whole ended up being something of a let-down to me. Of course, this makes me very keenly aware that I'm now part of a very small minority who was not wowed by this book and its hero, so I'll be ducking all the rotten tomatoes from St. Vincent fans as I continue with the rest of my review.;-)
Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, is a larger than life character who has gained a massive fan following among romance readers, but I am sorry to say that I will not be one of the ladies who is panting after this fictional hero. As I mentioned earlier, my dislike of him began in It Happened One Autumn when he kidnapped the heroine of that story and threatened to rape her. At that very moment, I was immediately turned off to the character, who I, for the most part, had previously found to be charming and gentlemanly. I was hoping for some deeper explanation of his actions in this book, but nothing beyond the mere desperation of being penniless within the month ever surfaced. Because of that, I could not understand why he had taken such extreme measures when by all accounts his charm and ravishing good looks could have gotten him almost any woman of his choosing. Sebastian's impulsiveness even cost him a life-long friendship with Marcus, Lord Westcliff, and all of this made it seem like he cared more for money than people. Granted he did admit to himself (though sadly not to anyone else that I recall) that his actions had been stupid and eventually apologized to Marcus and Lillian, but disappointingly, it was all done off-canvas.
Even if he hadn't done something so terrible in the last book, I probably still would have had a love/hate relationship with Sebastian simply because he was like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. He was awfully rude and condescending to Evie when she came to his house to make her proposition and insulted her even further in his introspections which included a disdain for her shyness and her stutter. He did start to grow on me a bit when he showed some human kindness toward Evie during their arduous trip to Gretna Green, as well as during and after the wedding ceremony. He also made full use of his seductive skills when making love to her the first time. Then almost instantly, the honeymoon seemed to be over with him returning to his previous rude, arrogant, cocky self. Overall, it seemed to me that he behaved in a very dissolute, manipulative and selfish way, only occasionally seeming to think of anyone or anything else besides himself. His ping-ponging between being nice and gentle with Evie and treating her rather badly, in my opinion, continued throughout more than half the book. I'm normally pretty good at interpreting characters, but in this case, I didn't even realize until the end of the book that Sebastian had some fear about allowing himself to love Evie, so up to that point, his contradictory behavior was just simply confusing and irritating to me. I will admit that he was quite the silver-tonged devil when he wanted to be, as well as an incredibly skillful lover, but I really wish that those qualities had been embodied in a more pleasing overall package. He also literally put his life on the line for Evie which definitely showed he cared for her on some level, but in the end, he just didn't exhibit enough warmth and vulnerability to make me believe in the sincerity of his love and his claims that he wanted nothing more than a lifetime of fidelity with her. I'm all for the reformed rake plot, but there has to be reasons for his rakish behavior in order for me to sympathize and believe that he can and truly wants to change. In short, his characterization just didn't dig deep enough for me to fall for him in the way so many other fans have.
Now, on the other hand, I absolutely adored Evie. She reminds me very much of myself, so I felt like I understood her pretty well. Outwardly, she is a painfully shy but sweet girl, yet inwardly, she has a strength of spirit that can be easy for others to miss. She was treated atrociously by her family which gave her a desperation of her own to get away from them, and in my opinion, she had to be pretty darn desperate to propose to an unrepentant rake like Sebastian, especially after what he did to one of her best friends. At the same time, I think she had a whole lot of courage and backbone to take such steps, in addition to sometimes taking little jabs at him when he was being rude to her. I loved her creative bet with Sebastian to prove he could be faithful to her, but felt like she let him off rather easy and didn't take it far enough. I do think that Sebastian was willing to accept the bet because Evie really got under his skin. He saw her as something of a challenge, because he wasn't used to women turning him down for sex. I also loved Evie's tender care of both her father and Sebastian when they were ill. The only thing about her that I thought could have been better was, once again, a deeper characterization. She was so ill-treated by her family and had no one to truly love her all her life which should have made her very tortured, yet she didn't really exhibit those kinds of characteristics. She also desperately needed someone to love her, and in spite of Sebastian supposedly becoming a changed man, I didn't feel that intense love connection between them. I suppose I was just a bit skeptical of Sebastian's ability to love Evie in the way she deserved. Most of the time, it seemed to me like she was the one giving her all to him while he was returning meager crumbs.
Devil in Winter introduced handsome, half-gypsy Cam Rohan who becomes the hero of the first book in the spin-off, Hathaways series, Mine 'Til Midnight. Cam was very gentle, likable and easygoing. He was a loyal employee to Evie's father and more like a son. He's quite the seducer too, giving Daisy her very first kiss, and what a kiss it was.;-) Much like with Sebastian and Lillian in It Happened One Autumn, I couldn't invest myself in it much though, because I knew that their respective mates are other characters we've yet to meet. All the Wallflowers and their husbands returned in this book as secondary characters too, although the breezy interactions between them are not as prominent. Marcus and Lillian played fairly important roles, particularly Marcus, who once again showed his magnanimity by being there when his old friend Sebastian needed him most and offering a measure of forgiveness. There was also a light mystery side plot involving someone who was out to kill Evie, but it was rather anti-climactic since I figured out the person's motive long before it was revealed.
Since I've had a number of criticisms of this book and didn't really care for the hero, some readers may be wondering why I still gave it four stars and there are several reasons for that. Evie as the heroine was positively lovable, and even though I didn't feel like Sebastian was the best match for her, I liked her as an individual enough that she helped to carry a large part of the story. In spite of feeling that the characterizations and the mystery portion of the plot could have been better, I did think that the book as a whole was pretty well-written, at least equally as well as the first two books of the series, and Ms. Kleypas did stay true to the innate natures of the characters. Lastly, I do respect the author for making the attempt at redeeming a villainous character even though it didn't work for me. I also think that this story may have stirred up some personal issues (a very rare thing), and out of a sense of fairness to an author I've admired for a long time, I wanted to make sure that I didn't penalize the book/author due to my own objectivity being somewhat clouded by my personal prejudices. Even though Devil in Winter was not as enjoyable of a story as I was expecting, I do look forward to continuing the series to see what's in store for Daisy and what other developments the future might hold for all the Wallflowers.
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