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Back to Old School: Devils Week

Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens (1998)

Heat Factor: Devil is going to make the molten heat inside Honoria explode. In a cataclysmic starburst. For 25 pages.

Character Chemistry: You’re my perfect match because our bloodlines make us strong enough to tame each other. But Devil never says “I love you.”

Plot: Murder most foul.

Overall: Erin was tickled. Ingrid powered through. Holly hated it.


versus


Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (2006)

Heat Factor: Billiards and blow jobs

Character Chemistry: Sebastian is such an asshole, but he’s also so soft for Evie.

Plot: Marriage of convenience, gambling hell edition.

Overall: Erin loved it. Holly tolerated it. Ingrid can’t remember the plot.


What’s one key piece of information you think a reader should know before getting Devil’s Bride?

Erin: This is a suspense narrative about two people who are each other’s match because they have innate strength and power.

Holly: Stephanie Laurens has a very distinct writing style. And I just cannot deal with her prose. So, if you do not have patience for slow, extremely wordy writing with lots of power words, then just…don’t do it.

Erin: I think the other thing about Stephanie Laurens in particular is that her heroes and her heroines are all basically the same? So it’s always going to be “powerful man who finds his sort of fated mate and then they solve all the problems regardless of any formal training.” Like, how is Devil able to solve a murder? He’s a Duke.

Ingrid: I am the queen of series. I love series. In fact I have purposely chosen not to read books that are not part of a series because I was like, “What’s the point, it’s only one book, it’s just going to end.” As soon as I opened this book and saw the absolutely bananas flowchart of the family tree, I was like “OH GOD, it’s THAT series.” I had read most of this series a couple years ago, but I had to stop because I couldn’t go on any more. I initially thought this was the perfect series because it never seems to end, but I couldn’t deal with it after a while.

Also, it’s pronounced “Onoria” not “Hhhhhonoria” and there’s a whole paragraph about Devil’s mother not being able to pronounce Honoria’s name because she drops the “h.” 


What’s one key piece of information you think a reader should know before getting Devil in Winter?

Erin: Ok, I have read this book more than three times. And I was a little worried going into this read with an analytical bent, that I was going to have a problem. But…this is a book I would be willing to do a literary analysis of. Like, it’s so good. So good. It was written in 2006 so it’s not without its issues? But it’s just got…all the right beats.

Holly: I would call this a proto-morality chain book where it’s kind of gesturing in that direction but Kleypas doesn’t really go all in on it. And I have to say, the other piece I just have to flag is Kleypas’ weird thing with the Roma people.

Ingrid: Hold on, I loved Devil in Winter, but I literally can’t remember what this was about. Okay. The Gaming Hell. Got it. Uh, it’s really good. As I was reading I was thinking about why these guys are devils, because they’re really sweet. 

Holly: Oh, and I gotta mention the Easter eggs for super Kleypas fans. There’s a whole little side thing about a shopping bazaar that someone is trying to develop. Is that Winterbourne’s? Is Winterbourne’s in St. James? Was she already planning it ten years before she wrote his book? (Edited to add: I later got confirmation that this was unfortunately not a preemptive Winterbourne Easter egg.)

*Erin discusses whole timeline of Ravenels series in relation to the children of the Wallflowers*

Holly: Erin, that’s not important right now. We don’t care. 

Anyway, the point is that there are a ton of Easter eggs. 


What makes a rake a “devil”? Compare/contrast these two devil lords.

Ingrid: So they’re calling these guys devils but they don’t actually seem that bad to me. What it comes down to is that a rake toes the line of what society finds acceptable—they see the line, they walk up to the line, they tease the line, but they do respect that the line is there. Devils see the line and are like, “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.” They see the line and then ignore it. 

Rakes can make seemingly heartless decisions because of circumstance. You can have a rake who is down on his luck and that dictates his choices, like, “Oh he has to marry an heiress and he’s going to be a jerk about it.” Devils often have immense power and wealth (or are in the process of seizing that power and wealth) because they don’t care about anyone else. 

Erin: I agree that there’s a difference between a rake and a devil. I was thinking we should have a separate rakes and rogues theme discussion. (HELLO 2023!?) The interesting thing though is that both of these heroes are written as having rakish characteristics and tendencies before they meet “the one.” So I agree with Ingrid that the Devil component rests in their willingness to accept social dictates and mores. But also Devil’s deviltry is in his looks—he looks like a Devil. And in his stubbornness and intractability. And in the power of his position. Both as the head of his family and as the duke. Whereas Sebastian’s Devil comes from his actions—his refusal to care about anything but his own desires and pleasure.

Holly: Another difference here just in terms of writing style is that I don’t think anyone in Devil In Winter actually calls Sebastian a devil. Or, if Kleypas does, it’s very minimal—like in the opening scene, maybe Evie thinks that she’s meeting Lucifer in his den. He has more Lucifer comparisons because he’s blonde and beautiful…actually, he reminded me a lot of Valentine from Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt, only a lot less so. Maybe that’s why I’m saying he’s proto-morality chain.

Erin: I looked it up, and “devil” occurs 33 times, but it’s true that it doesn’t really describe Sebastian. When we see “devil,” it’s normal conversational usage, so we don’t see much referring to Sebastian himself aside from: “I may prove a devil of a husband in every other regard…” or “You also had a taste for the devil.” Possibly the closest we get is this quote when Evie’s friends and co-wallflowers come to visit and Evie’s worried they’ll reject her because of her marriage: 

“It doesn’t matter if I approve,” Annabelle said gently. “I’ll stand your friend no matter what you do. I wouldn’t care if you had married the devil himself.”

“Who is undoubtedly close kin of St. Vincent,” Daisy remarked grimly.

Lucifer is used twice to describe Sebastian’s appearance and bearing. 

Ingrid: Devil is relative to him, not directly giving him the name. 

Another comparison here is that rakes are known for being with a lot of women, they’re kinda loose, but they don’t seduce innocent women. They have rules. In the devil books when they seduce innocents there’s no hand-wringing—when they are seducing the innocents, that’s part of the enjoyment.

Holly: Well there’s the component where the innocent now belongs to me and only me. In Kleypas there’s definitely a magic hoo-ha situation going on. In the Laurens we maybe don’t have a magic hoo-ha, but he doesn’t even have to have sex with her. He just sees her and is like, “That’s mine.”

Erin: I LOVE THAT! That works so well for me. Maybe that’s why I went through the MC romance thing. It’s a competence trait, I think—”I know what I want and I’m gonna get it.” There’s a little bit of competence porn in that characterization.


Power dynamics in these relationships

Holly: This is interesting. Because we have two domineering men. In Devil in Winter he tells her to do something she doesn’t want to do, and when she pushes back, he’s like,” I’m your husband you have to.” And then she’s like, “Oh. Okay, you’re right.” And she does.

Erin: No, she doesn’t!

Holly: Yes she does!

Erin: He’s like, “You have to go live in the townhouse,” and she’s like, “Yeah, no.”

Holly: Anyway, the point is, she acquiesces to his face, even if she doesn’t always follow his dictates. And in Devil’s Bride he’s like, “You’re going to be my wife” and she’s like, “No I’m not.” He says she’s going to marry him and she pushes back against him. He doesn’t take her seriously. He says, “Your mind’s made up, my mind’s made up. You say you’re not changing your mind, I’m not changing my mind.” This is the thing about Stephanie Laurens: it’s these super domineering men, and he thinks he’s going to tame her but actually she’s taming him. Because in the end, it’s because she pushes back at him that she’s attractive, even if she never actually gets her way. (Edited to add: Thinking about this later, I realize that Evie is much more successful at getting her own way than Honoria is.)

The other thing about Stephanie Laurens though is that there’s all this other societal stuff at play where he’s using the power of his position and of his family to coerce her into doing stuff. And there’s a bit early on where his mother manipulates Honoria into doing something that makes everyone assume that she’s Devil’s fiancée. And Honoria’s like, “Oh yes the subtle rules of society and I’ve been outmaneuvered by a master.” And I’m just like, “Lady, that was not subtle. There’s nothing subtle going on here.”

Erin: But the other thing about that particular incident is that Honoria knows what’s happening.

Ingrid: HHHHONORIA.

Erin: I’m not going to say that. 

But she can’t not do it. Because, as Devil’s foil, the Duchess (without being the Duchess), she is compelled to behave like the Duchess. This isn’t a game between them; he has seen the innate Duchess material in her, and that’s what makes her his perfect match. Which is somewhat unusual. Usually in these Duke books she’s like, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I couldn’t be a Duchess.” So anyway, she HAS to do the right thing and be the woman in charge when no other woman is available.

Ingrid: I think the power dynamic is what makes the devil books hot. The whole point is that it’s this guy who’s super large and in charge and he has absolutely no qualms about flexing that power at any given opportunity. And I think by and large because of how over-the-top powerful these devils tend to be, the love interest has to be a foil to that. It’s a question of how that plays out: Is she super weak and she comes into her powers? Does she tame him with her feminine wiles? Is she so strong that she’s a match for him? But that’s the whole point—he’s bossy.

Erin: Ingrid, do you remember Lisa Kleypas talking about Devil in Winter when we saw her speak at the library? Kleypas was talking about how she told her publisher that she wanted the hero of her next book to be Sebastian, and her publisher was like, “Uh, what???” Because Sebastian kidnapped and threatened to rape Lillian in the previous book. And Devil in Winter addresses this when Evie and Sebastian are going to Gretna. But the point is that it seems as though Evie has no power. She’s a wallflower. She’s the shyest wallflower. She’s a captive of her family. So, Kleypas’s idea was that Evie uses her position of weakness as her strength. This is where we see her not directly following instructions. Or making a sex deal with Sebastian. Her power was intentionally meant to be that of someone who is not in a position of power still taking the power of her own life. And as I was reading Devil’s Bride, it seemed like Honoria had this innate power (see above), and she kept on saying “I’m not going to marry you, I have these other plans.” And Devil kept on being like, “Nah.” And in the end, I was annoyed that she just…changed her mind. I felt like she was derailing her Duchess power.

Ingrid: I was all excited when she was going to make him sexually educate her before she runs off to Africa and then she was like, “Nah.” And then thought maybe he’d take her on their honeymoon to Africa, but that didn’t happen either. There were so many opportunities for things to happen there, and it was disappointing that they didn’t. Both her brother and Devil tell her she needs to embrace her Duchess powers, so it feels like it’s a direction that’s not coming from her. She’s set up her own governess business, and it would have been one thing if she’d really liked what she was doing, but she didn’t. If she had been really passionate about the governessing job, that would have segued really well into her embracing the duchess position in society eventually.

Holly: She really wants her own adventure, and then she realizes that she doesn’t have to leave to get it. She can have her adventure through marriage. I don’t know how I feel about that. The honeymoon thing didn’t occur to me, but that’s a good point. But Devil would never, it’s not in his character to take someone else’s desires into consideration.

Ingrid: Taking her literally anywhere would have been nice. It also would have helped at any given point if within their marriage they were on the same page about adventures. But Devil doesn’t want her to have adventures—he wants her to stay at home and be his wife and have his babies.

Erin: The main point is that there are very different power dynamics. Honoria and Devil go head to head. Evie manipulates situations with Sebastian. 


Shrinking age gaps

Erin: So I was thinking about this in the context of bodice rippers. We flagged last week that the women were no longer teenagers. And these protagonists still have age gaps but Evie’s 23 and Honoria’s 24; Sebastian is 32 and Devil is, what, like 30?

Ingrid: Do you ever see these powerful guys who are 30 and you’re like, “You’re a baby. You should be 40.”

Erin: Yes. 

Anyway, these are more recent books, and we’re seeing the age gaps continue to shrink so that we don’t have an 18 year old and a 36 year old. We’re looking at less than 10 year age differences, which is slightly more socially normal.

Holly: But, if we’re talking about bodice rippers, they have the same kind of power dynamic. The difference is that now if you have age gap books that’s part of the trope/kink. In the other bodice rippers we’ve read, the age gap was just part of it. But last week in the Lindsey, that was the first time we saw their age gap being something they played with. And with modern books, they want to play around with this daddy dynamic. 


Bloodlines and heredity 

Holly: This was very striking to me because these were the first books we’ve read for bodice ripper month that both have the idea that what your bloodline is shows in who you are. Some of that could be coincidental because of who the authors are. That our blood determines who we are is important in all the books of Laurens and Kleypas (though Kleypas’s texts sometimes repudiate this argument). In Laurens, it’s very obvious. It’s: these men are Cynsters and 800 years ago they came over with William the Conqueror and they love the land and their families. But Charles is not a real Cynster because his mother trapped his father into marriage and he wasn’t produced under the right Cynster circumstances—and you can tell just by looking at him. There’s a line very early on about men standing together and one was set apart by character. And Devil recognizes Honoria and calls her by her full family name—which she does not go by—and also recognizes her innate character traits of stubbornness, which she inherited from her paternal line along with her chin.

The bloodline stuff with Kleypas comes out more with the side character of Cam, where he’s like, “Of course I’m superstitious, I’m Roma and Irish. It’s who I am, believing in ghosts is in my blood.” And Sebastian is like, “Oh FFS.” 

Erin: But it’s not just Cam. Sebastian also reflects some arguments of inherited characteristics. He gets married in the first place because he’s broke, and Evie’s like, “Well why don’t you get a job?” And Sebastian is like, “I’m a Lord? That would get in the way of my fun times.”

Ingrid: What does that have to do with bloodlines?

Erin: He’s a lord, that’s the only reason he can’t work. 

Holly: I mean like, it’s something hereditary to his person not his social position.

Erin: His dad blew all their money. He could very well come from a long line of degenerates.

Ingrid: I’m trying to understand how this links to bloodlines and heredity. Not about lords and inheritance. Cynsters have these character traits because it’s innate in their being, but we don’t see that with Sebastian. 

Erin: Sebastian is a certain way because of his identity.

Ingrid: Social standing.

What I saw is that he deviates from his bloodline if anything. In the Laurens, there was this constant validation of the choices you make and the things that drive you is because of your bloodline. In Kleypas, Sebastian says these things about how he must act because he’s a lord, but it’s not actually true—when he goes to the gambling hell, he feels in his bones that he’s meant to run this business even though that goes against his societal position of “lord.” “I have to do these things that deviate from societal expectations because this is my destiny.” 

Holly: Yes, exactly.

Erin: We’re litigating what qualifies as bloodlines and heredity. I’m not trying to say Sebastian and Devil are the same, simply that Sebastian is not without some notion that he is who he is because of his family. 

But you’ve come back to an interesting point—the Cynsters are a family, a clan, a group of people who identify together. Sebastian is an only child who only has his father, with whom he is not close, and he doesn’t have deep friendships, as he learns when he alienates Wescliffe. So he is very isolated. Is it a completely different question between these two heroes because their social identities are so completely different. 

The second thing is that I didn’t read Sebastian as thinking, “This club is my destiny,” I thought he was simply leaning (heavily) into what he had identified as his social role as the insouciant, devil-may-care heir, and when he goes into the club he finds that he has something to care about and do with his life. It’s not that it’s his destiny, it’s that he has something to do. Which is not divergent from what Ingrid said, just…turning it a little.

It’s easier for the Cynsters to have a hereditary identity because there’s clearly a group of people who identify together. 

Holly: I think what I was thinking when I wrote this question was “good blood v bad blood”—why I brought it up was that these questions about bloodlines and who your family is doesn’t really come into play in some of the earlier books we read in this bodice ripper series. 

Take the Mallorys, who featured in the Johanna Lindsey book we read last week. The Mallorys, like the Cynsters, are a big clannish family with a ton of virile men and a series with a million books. However, the similarities between the members of the family are caused by proximity and interacting with each other—not because of some innate Mallory trait. Furthermore, there is more discord among the Mallory men; they aren’t all the same because of some innate thing, but rather they do have divergent goals and personality types and the more staid ones clash with the more rakish ones. But in the end, they will always band together to protect the family from outside threats.

Erin: Okay, so how about Evie’s brother and the question of bloodlines?

Holly: Okay, so it’s the same as with the Cynsters—Charles was the same blood but it was a bad marriage, so it turned him. And Evie’s parents were married, presumably a love match because of the huge class difference, so Evie has the right kind of bloodline, even if her father was a boxer. But Evie’s half brother’s mother was a prostitute, and Evie’s father didn’t particulalry care about this woman. He liked her well enough, but he didn’t marry her or acknowledge her son as his own child. So Joss has bad blood because he has the wrong kind of mother and because his parents had the wrong kind of relationship. So the bad blood can also be metaphorical. Charles and Joss have metaphorical bad blood because they were conceived in the wrong kind of way. 


Would you recommend Devil’s Bride to a modern audience?

Ingrid: If you can hang with the book and don’t get hung up on slow periods, then totally. Nothing in it was egregiously out of step with modern times.

Holly: Are you preparing for the SAT? Nothing will prepare you better for the SAT than Devil’s Bride.

Erin: Yeah. Laurens has a bizarre affinity for the word “impinge”. I LOLed when I read the “cataclysmic starburst” bit. So I wouldn’t recommend her to people who really like straightforward prose. And also as I said before, she writes one type of hero. If you’re not into domineering and paternalistic heroes / competence porn, this is not the book for you.


Would you recommend Devil in Winter to a modern audience?

Ingrid: Yeah. It was good. I didn’t have to tell the books apart to answer these questions. They’re basically the same.

Holly: Sure. It was enjoyable. I will say, Lisa Kleypas writes prose like popcorn. And sometimes in a romance novel you just don’t want to think about what the author is doing when she’s writing. And Lisa Kleypas just nails that. Am I like *breathy girly voice*, “OMG Lord Sebastiannnnn…”? No. But it’s enjoyable.

Erin: Absolutely. I freaking love this book. And Holly’s right, the book goes down real easy, but since I’ve read it so many times now I’ve had the opportunity to process the text in a lot of different ways and Kleypas does put some interesting ideas in play, which is probably what makes this such a popular and enduring romance that people are still excited about.


Buy Devil’s Bride: Amazon | Bookshop

Buy Devil in Winter: Amazon | Bookshop

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