by Liz Carlyle, historical (2005)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7004-4
Liz Carlyle's The Devil To Pay is pure fun when it comes to heroines who can hold their own, rakes with baggages and mischief to spare, and plenty of sexual tension. Do be warned though that the scene where the hero and the heroine first consummate their affair will most likely reignite that long debate about "forced seduction" that has never really gone away. I have no problems with that one - I love it, in fact - but other people may want to proceed with caution.
Our hero Aleric, the Marquess of Devellyn, also goes by the moniker of "The Devil of Duke Street" because you are not a full-fledged member of the Regency Historical Hero Club until you have a derivative nickname. He is estranged from his family because he accidentally caused a fatal accident to befall his brother during one of his drunken nonsense when he was younger. He is still drunk today, still a whoremonger, all the way saying that he has no good reason to be a good guy so he'd rather drink, slut around, and be merry. May we all have no good reason to live then, if that is case. One day, he is seduced and then tied up by this woman that he assumes to be some doxy. She is the Black Angel, some vigilante lady who robs from morally corrupt noblemen and channels the proceeds to these men's victims and to some welfare group dedicated to helping streetwalkers. Aleric is also attracted to the neighbor, Sidonie Saint-Goddard, not knowing that she is also the Black Angel.
Readers who have read Connie Brockway's All Through The Night will be familiar with Devellyn's dual attraction to both Sidonie and the Black Angel as his path keeps crossing with Sidonie in both her guises. But the similarities are mostly superficial, with Devellyn and Sidonie being so well written that they come off as really full-fleshed characters. Ms Carlyle effortlessly peels away Devellyn's bad boy exterior to reveal the man who could be loved without compromising Devellyn's character or making huge apologies for him being what he is. Sidonie is an intelligent woman who doesn't have all the typical trappings that make an average romance heroine a grotesque creature to be feared of. She's genuinely a widow and she lusts, flirts, teases, and takes care of herself like a realistic character with a functional brain would. Sidonie is reckless though, but Ms Carlyle is well aware of this aspect of her heroine and Sidonie is as well-developed a character as Devellyn. Like Devellyn, she is a complex character with depths.
Their repartees are humorous while the sexual tension is red hot. (Alas, the actual love scenes aren't as sizzling as the foreplay or coitus interruptus scenes, for some reason.) The plot can boggled down by some detours into subplot alley but Ms Carlyle never loses focus on the unconventional courtship between her characters.
The reason I do not give this book a higher grade is because by the late quarter of the story, the author starts piling the contrivances until I feel my eyeballs in my socket threaten to explode on me. From Devellyn's overreaction when he discovers Sidonie's secret life as the Black Angel to all the "surprise" family tie revelations to Sidonie suddenly needing Devellyn to tell her how to fix her life (so that the hero emerges as more masculine, I suppose), The Devil To Pay becomes a very conventional and familiar tale with way too many contrivances one after the other being thrown my way. This late quarter of the book is very, very weak and seems to drag interminably because the characters seem to change into very different people and the story, once fun and entertaining, becomes a paint-by-numbers kind of familiar.
Still, Devellyn is a very seductive bad boy hero with so many wounded torments. Unlike the author's previous books where she tends to beat my head with heavy-handed reasons why her bad boy heroes should be forgiven without any effort on these bad boys' parts, here Devellyn isn't asking for pity. This makes his falling in love all the more sweeter. Sidonie, apart from being a refreshingly sane woman free from typical fake-widow or fake-bad-girl contrivances, is also a fun character because the author doesn't work overtime to make Sidonie a Most Selfless Martyr In The World So You MUST Love Her kind of heroine.
Anyone who wants to read a story about wounded people who don't always behave nicely may do well to pick The Devil To Pay. Very well-drawn characters, humor, sexual tension, and a bad boy hero who threatens to make my toes curl - what's not to like, really?
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