by Julie Anne Long, historical (2014)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-211811-0
Between The Devil And Ian Eversea makes me want to cry. Okay, the author has a history of making me cry with her books, very often for all the right reasons, but this one just makes me feel pained inside. It could have been so, so good, and yet, it falls short of achieving the greatness that befits the refreshingly unusual heroine of this book. It's like seeing a wheelchair-bound kid coming this close to reaching the peak of Mt Everest, but just as I am getting ready to clap and weep in joy, a yeti shows up and, with a mighty roar, throws the kid off the slope and down to his death.
The biggest problem here is that this story is part of the blasted Pennyroyal Green series. Oh my goodness, is it ever going to end? It is starting to seem like the entire place is filled with spawns of either the Eversea or the Redmond clans, and since those two are not going to mix genetic materials until someone puts a gun to the author's head and make her write that story where that blasted MIA Redmond guy comes back to boink Olivia Eversea, it looks like everyone may have to start inbreeding with his or her siblings. Perhaps it is understandable then that the author brings in another orphan to provide the eggs ready to be fertilized by a mighty Eversea's baby ooze.
Tatiana Danforth is the latest orphan, an heiress this time, whose parents died and left her a ward of the Duke of Falconbridge. Because the Duke is married to an Eversea wench, Tatiana is thrust into the heart of the clan. Since most of them are wedded by now - oh, praise the lord, does this mean the end is nigh for this series? - I spend the first third or so of this book frowning as Colin and the various other guys from previous books all show up and wag their wedded bliss at my face.
Perhaps this is unavoidable as there are already six thousand books in this series and everyone from previous books seems determined to shove his or her presence in this story, but I feel that this book really suffers from an overload of "Hi, I'm clearly from a previous book, showing up to say hi and say things to the hero or the heroine when actually, the story would have been fine still without my presence" self-indulgent fanservice moments. Just like how there are so many Cynsters that I can't tell Devil apart from Lucifer, Satan, Belial, or Bieber anymore, I am starting to feel my eyes glaze every time Ian stop to high-five a brother or a cousin in a scene that is obviously meant for fanservice.
Oh yes, the story. Tatiana is sweet, charming, gentle, agreeable, and so, so pretty that it seems natural for every man she meets to stop, gasp silently, and compare her to an angel. She charms men and women alike, young or old, into adoring her. That is, unless you're Ian Eversea, and then you know that Tansy is so full of it. It takes one who is so full of it to recognize another, after all. He's a bad boy who has seduced twenty billion women, blah blah, wartime blues - you know, the usual, so he is not so easily charmed over. In fact, he sees Tansy in action and quickly realizes that here is another master manipulator and seducer in the making.
While Tansy may lack the sexual experience or knowledge to allow her to go full Mata Hari on everyone, she is very fast and even reckless in turning on her full charm to get people to adore her for what they believe her to be. And she's very good at being that person they want her to be. When Tansy seems to be moving in on the developing relationship between his sister Olivia and some bloke - who is not going to be the true love for Olivia, because the author has dangled the whole Olivia and her missing boyfriend thing to her fans for so long that she would be lynched if she dares to switch things up in the end, so there's no suspense in this particular subplot - Ian decides that he needs to do something. But what?
In many ways, Tansy could have been to Ms Long what Lulu Vandermeer was to Judith Ivory: that one heroine who breaks all the romance rules in such a breathtakingly amazing manner that I simply cannot help but be fascinated by her. If Tansy is male, she'd be the ultimate rogue. The way she is so aware of her beauty and charms, and the way she wields them without apologies as her tools to get people to like her and, therefore, help her forget the loneliness in her life - that is just gorgeous. She's mean, selfish, self-absorbed, and at the same time, she is sweet and kind. There is a complexity to her character that makes it impossible for her to be easily defined as likable (or not): she feels like a lost and lonely young woman whose vulnerabilities feel real and raw, and I can't help but to admire how she refuses to let her vulnerabilities define her or make her feel helpless. I really, really like her.
Ian is more of a standard oversexed dude who is supposed to be okay because, deep inside, he's just shagging so many people because he's unhappy inside. But this is not his fault as much as it's because, unlike Tansy, there are many guys like him already in the genre. This story may contain generous amount of perspective from Ian, but it's often him reacting to Tansy, so in many ways, this is a very heroine-centric story. Oh, I have no issues with this, as I adore Tansy, but it makes Ian pale as a character when compared to Tansy.
There is a very intriguing dance here, as Ian starts out having the upper hand, only to lose his head and all his senses by the late third or so of the book. Unfortunately, the momentum of this dance is frequently halted by intrusive scenes involving the large cast of secondary characters. Ian and Tansy have a beautifully erotic dynamic here, but the large secondary cast robs the story of much of the intimacy that is needed to make that dynamic work. It doesn't help that I often pause while reading the story to go, "Wait, who's Adam again?" There are many distractions in this story that ruin the mood for love.
That's why I said earlier that being part of a series killed this book. It is an intimate story, but being part of a seres also means that there is a need to highlight the blissful wedded state of previous characters and how their marvelous matrimony often get our hero to go, "Ooh, love ain't so bad after all!" in rather contrived and heavy-handed ways. Nothing can be intimate when there are many people pressed against the bedroom window, and the couple inside the bedroom often pause to wave at those people. If this is a standalone book, then I won't be drawing comparisons to previous books in this series and go, "Oh, not again!" at some of the more obviously repetitive elements - another woman all alone in this world with nowhere else to go... really? - in this story. If, if, if... so many if's.
Please, can we just send what's his name flying back through Olivia's bedroom window into her arms so that we can finally say goodbye to these people and move on to something else? I don't care if he had been abducted by aliens or was trapped in a locked chest in Downton Abbey or whatever. Just end the stringing-me-along thing, because right now potentially amazing books are starting to become collateral damage in the author's over-extended marketing gimmick.
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