Avon, $7.50, ISBN 0-06-056251-X
Historical Romance, 2006
Devil in Winter is about the reformation of a bad guy thanks to love. Unfortunately, Lisa Kleypas’s tendency to avoid difficult conflicts and issues in her stories – if her last few books are anything to go by – ends up causing this one to be a mix of very familiar stereotypes and an unconvincing redemption of a bad boy hero.
I don’t want to spoil the author’s previous book It Happened One Autumn so let me just say that our hero here, Sebastian, Lord St Vincent, did something really terrible in the previous book to our heroine Evangeline Jenner’s good friend so I find it very unlikely that Evie will feel instantaneously attracted to him. Also, the author chooses to make life easy for herself by making Sebastian “magically” reforming early on in the story and being attracted to Evie, thus robbing me of any suspense of seeing him face his demons when he tries to change as a person. How there can be any suspense when the emasculation takes place even before a “By your leave”, eh? Evie is a familiar damsel-in-distress: she must marry before her greedy and nasty relatives grab her money and figuratively sit on her face. Our stuttering and self-effacing plain Cinderella therefore approaches Sebastian with a bargain: they’ll marry in Gretna Green and there will be no sex after the wedding night. In return, he’ll get the money he wants and she’ll… er, marry the self-proclaimed amoral man who tried to do some bad things to her friends and who now controls her money. Hey, I did say that Evie is “self-effacing”, the romance genre code for “nearly braindead”.
Devil in Winter is a horribly wasted opportunity. Lisa Kleypas has Sebastian declaring himself to be an amoral oversexed villain in the previous book but in this one she pretty much mutates Sebastian into this unrecognizable politically-correct wimpy cop-out personification of Otis Redding’s anthem Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, who just wants to prove to everyone that he is worthy of true love. On one hand, I suppose I can admire Sebastian for learning to appreciate the meaning of hard work, responsibility, and love with a self-effacing twit, although I wish Ms Kleypas has capitalized on the amusing irony of Sebastian learning to be responsible and reliable while helping Evie’s father run the man’s gaming establishment. Instead, I get a very typical woe is me backstory of Sebastian and how he wants to be good in such a manner that I get this impression that Ms Kleypas is actually quite desperate to get me to start liking Sebastian. Evie shows some glimmers that she may not be completely a stereotype at times but on the whole, she is like Sebastian in the sense that she is a template heroine just like Sebastian is a template fake bad boy hero.
Devil in Winter could and should have been darker and the hero actually eliciting some sense of danger like he should have. Instead, Sebastian is a clawed and defanged tame tiger who ends up trying to be a housecat while Evie changes from a self-effacing brown cow to a married brown cow who loves the husband that will sire twenty or thirty well-behaved beautiful children on her. What could have been a stormy story of redemption ends up being a familiar story on autopilot. If there really is a devil in this story, it’d probably be me, lurking in the background armed with a stun gun to shoot the main characters for a little sport and excitement that I cannot find in this story.