Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-237193-5
Historical Romance, 2019
Buckle up, fam, and get your squee bucket ready, because it’s that time of the year when we gather around in a circle and ooh in beatific bliss as Lisa Kleypas descends from the sky to gently rain down copies of her gift to us for 2019, Devil’s Daughter. Ahem. Did I do a good job pretending to be an NPC romance novel reviewer? Seriously, though, when this one has more hype about how the heroine is the daughter of that dude in Devil in Winter and the hero is an OMG Ravenel, it seems clear to me that the publisher and the author are hoping that her fans will rush out to buy this book because of the main characters’ family connection first and foremost.
I don’t think those fans will be disappointed, though, because this one is made from the same mold that shaped the author’s last few books: little plot, a lot of talking. A lot of talking.
Phoebe, the widow of the now dead Henry, Lord Clare, doesn’t think much of West Ravenel because she and Henry were BFFs back when they were kids, and when Henry went off to boarding school, the sickly kid wrote to her telling her how West bullied him non-stop. So, when she attends her brother’s wedding, it turns out that West is her sister-in-law’s brother so… oh my.
I hope people aren’t expecting any deep emotional dilemma here, though. The justifications come fast and loose. Gabriel, her brother, tells her that so what if Henry’s food were snatched away by West back in those days – sick Henry couldn’t eat much anyway. When Phoebe claimed that emotional forms of bullying could be just as damaging as physical forms, Gabriel just shrugs and says, hey, that’s the way things are, and it’s the fault of Henry’s parents for sending a sick and weak kid to a boarding school. I wait for the heroine to stand up for her beliefs, but that conversation dies there. Sure, maybe these people are being of their time… except, the author applies contemporary values to the rest of her story, so this particular “historical accuracy” stands out like a sore thumb. It’s like the author were cherry picking things to make her writing process simpler.
Oh, West was born poor and he never belonged anywhere. So… I guess, that’s okay then, that he was a bully back then.
It’s not like West is sympathetic enough to root for. The author claims that our hero is frustrated that his past debauchery keep dodging his efforts to stand on the straight and narrow these days, which is nice, I suppose, but what I see on the pages is far from a dude I’d want to cozy up with. When Phoebe shares how she’d had to give up yummy foods because Henry couldn’t eat them when he was alive, and now she felt that she couldn’t eat for pleasure anymore, a few moments later West is hitting her up with an eye-rolling come-on. The author could have shown me that West has something deeper in him than a chad with “I’m supposed to be hot and dangerous because I’m a Ravenel, so I can do anything I want and you must all love me anyway!” vibes, but no. That’s because she’s busy having our main characters chat up with everybody and anybody who’s ever been in a book written by her.
Thus, this supposed conflict over how West treated Henry in the past turns out to be a big trivial piffle. Once the heroine lifts up the gate of her tunnel for the hero’s choo-choo, we’re all, “Henry who?” Not to mention, the poor dead sickhead’s illnesses and weaknesses when he was alive are used here to make West’s “crisp masculine vitality” seem to be twice the inches in comparison, and Phoebe shagging up with West is portrayed as some kind of reward for Phoebe having to sacrifice so much pleasures for that worm food dude. Now she can eat all the yummy foods and writhe on West’s pogo stick all she wants, so thank the lord that Henry has shuffled off this mortal coil. Poor Henry. I think it says a lot that the most sympathetic character in this story is the dead one.
Oh, and once the Henry thing is shoved out of the way as West lustily mount his widow, there is a replacement plot about Phoebe learning to manage his lands without him. Don’t expect a feminist story of a woman discovering her inner strength or something, though, as West is more than happy to step in to ensure that Phoebe doesn’t have to strain her brain too much. So, this plot is also a non-issue in the end.
So what’s the point of reading Devil’s Daughter? Well, the talking. Characters talk about this and that, with some boring exposition on farming techniques for that extra special manure flavor to the yakety yak, and I suppose I need some kind of special gene in my body to be able to stay awake through all this chatter.
Phoebe’s kids are shockingly tolerable, though, despite the fact that they still come off as adult midgets dressed up in kiddie clothes and talking like how they think kids in a sitcom should talk. Maybe it’s because these kids do something now and then. That cat can die, though, it’s creepy and I suspect it’s possessed by evil spirits.
The sex scenes are worth a peek, if only for the vocabulary choices made by the author. My favorite is how West “eased his aching shaft out of her warm, succulent depths, his body aching in anguish”. Is our poor guy suffering from advances stages of some STD? He did screw anything that moves in the past, after all, and now he’s “aching” so much that the author made sure that the word shows up twice in the most dramatic sentence in the entire book. And then there is the climax that wrings “every inch” of Phoebe’s body with “raw force”. What is this? A lost Contracted sequel?
All in all, Devil’s Daughter is, sadly, a typical example of a book by Lisa Kleypas these days: too much talking, not enough story-ing.