The Ravenels, Book 5
Heat Factor: It’s a slow warmup, but when it gets going, it really goes
Character Chemistry: It acts like hate to love, but it’s really just getting to know and like what you see in another person
Plot: Does she hate him? Is he not good enough for her? Does she face a threat? So many options here
Overall: I was looking forward to this one, and I was not disappointed
I do love Lisa Kleypas. I didn’t realize how much until I started rereading some of her books about a year ago. She writes exactly the type of hero I like. Please take this under advisement.
The Ravenels series is a little bit of a twist-but-not-really for Kleypas. All of the usual characters are present – the alpha males who might also be morally questionable, the unique and unflinching strong females, the external conflict plot device that brings about the climax, and so on. And yet, the Ravenels are set in Victorian England, when cultural power dynamics are changing and trains exist (this is a big deal for me in books). What’s a little more fun is that Kleypas has introduced a second generation of Wallflowers folk in this series. Cold-Hearted Rake and Marrying Winterborne don’t entwine themselves with the family of Evie and Sebastian of Devil in Winter (which, let’s be honest – swoon), but the next three stories in the series absolutely do, and in at least the two directly involving Evie and Sebastian’s children, the effect is delightful. That’s where the twist of the twist-but-not-really comes in, because Sebastian is, as always, marvelous.
So. Sebastian is the Devil of Devil in Winter. Ergo, Devil’s Daughter is Sebastian and Evie’s first child, Phoebe. She’s a widow at this point, her elder son having inherited his father’s title of Lord Clare, her younger son being basically a baby. This storyline was obnoxious to me when it started in Devil in Spring and it didn’t get much less so in this book. That is: Phoebe’s best friend throughout childhood was Henry, Lord Clare, and even though he was terribly sickly she decided he was the one and married him even though everybody knew he’d die young. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except that Phoebe clearly has a strong personality and Henry honestly doesn’t. His plan for her after his death is for her to marry his cousin, a man that she’ll certainly never love, so that she can be looked after and not worry her pretty head about a thing. Please. She’s the daughter of an extremely powerful and wealthy Duke. Even if she couldn’t take care of herself, her family could certainly take care of her. Fortunately, other than finding her a life partner who’s her equal, her family knows they don’t need to take care of her. I don’t doubt Phoebe’s grief, but I fully understood Sebastian’s position when he told Evie in this book that the only reason he consented to his daughter marrying Lord Clare was because it would be a short marriage.
Enter West Ravenel, a man who was a bully as a child (Ravenels not historically having terribly responsible or loving parents), and a wastrel and roué as an adult until his brother inherited an Earldom and he became de facto steward of a crumbing estate. He’s turned his life around, but he still basically thinks he’s worthless. This hero therefore falls into the “not worthy of you” Kleypas hero class, which is a totally normal level of angst that needs to be overcome for the HEA in a historical, but in this case (as in Devil in Spring), we have the delightful entrance of Sebastian coming in all, “Would you young people please for the love of God get over yourselves with all your drama, and stop sabotaging yourselves?” Of course, nobody came in and said the same to Sebastian during all the crazy drama of Devil in Winter, so it’s a fun twist in a romance novel that would normally be hanging on an outrageous level of dramatic flair.
But I digress. West bullied Henry in school, so Phoebe is determined to dislike him, which lasts for about a second because West has realized that his personal history is terrible and has become a genuinely awesome guy. He’s found his calling, which is managing his brother’s estate, and he’s a good manager. He listens to his tenants, has developed a rapport with them, and understands the need to adapt as times and technologies change. I’m sold. Also, he’s hot now that’s he’s lost his roué paunch from all his hard farm labor. I’m even more sold.
Enter the external conflict, in the form of the not-fiancé, Henry’s cousin. He’s been managing the Clare estate because Phoebe shouldn’t worry her pretty head about it, so she wasn’t. When she talks to West about management of the Trenear estate, she realizes that maybe her husband wasn’t as smart as he seemed and that maybe she should be taking more responsibility for understanding her son’s inheritance. Upon her arrival at home, she tries to do this and is rebuffed. This is the basis of an excuse to call in the cavalry (West), at which point the relationship transforms from wistful musings to something really sensual. It all snowballs into just the sort of resolution one would hope for. I enjoyed both the silliness and heartstring-tuggingness of it immensely.
At the end of the day: was this my favorite romance, or even one of the top 10? Nah. But Phoebe and West have some really wonderful conversations, so the relationship development is much more than “you’re hot → let’s have sex”, which shouldn’t be refreshing, but unfortunately sort of is. Children of a protagonist in a story also add a fun narrative element, and throwing in Sebastian and Evie on top of that is excellent. West is a great character, being quite self-aware for an alpha-type hero. And even with Phoebe’s first marriage clouding her judgement, I appreciated that she was a mature woman with her own mind who chose to grasp at a life she wanted rather than the one she thought she should have. I’d read it again.
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