Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-3787-X
Historical Romance, 2003
Liz Carlyle is a good if sometimes too verbose author. But The Devil You Know – what happened to Better? – just doesn’t work with me, because the over-romaticization of the cad Bentley Rutledge causes the man to have no accountability of his sins and actions. By “accountability” I’m not talking about a gathering of romance readers stoning to death participants of harlotry (I understand by the virtue of his gender, Bentley is exempted from that fate) but a moment of epiphany or even repentance will be nice. In fact, I won’t even care about accountability if the heroine isn’t such an exasperatingly “virtuous” (read: idiot) dingbat. Why should it always be the onus of the woman to reform the man?
If you’re unfamiliar with any of this author’s previous books, tread with caution where The Devil You Know is concerned. Almost every character from these previous books makes an appearance here and the author doesn’t exactly detail out the roles of these people in the scheme of things. She can’t, of course, or she will be bogging down the story with details that will bore readers familiar with her books. Which begs the question: why not just write a standalone book in the first place? Gimmicks, I tell you, they’ll be the death of the genre one day.
All you need to know – for this review, that is – is that Bento and Frederica d’Avillez are childhood acquaintances. When Froggy’s near-engagement is canceled, she goes eek-eek-eek because she isn’t good enough for anybody in the Ton (she’s a lady of foreign descend and illegitimate birth). In a fit of weakness, she begs Bento to sleep with her. He obliges – in a stable, of all places – and there you go. Somebody from Row C shout “Baby”! Everyone in the front row say “Marriage!”
Oh, Bento. He assaulted her sister-in-law in Beauty Like the Night, but in that book, it’s the hero’s dead wife who is portrayed as the villain. This unfortunate trend of painting Bento as a misunderstood tragic figure who just happens to have a lousy daddy continues in this book. When the elder males of this story want to make Bento accountable for his actions, the women will hush them by reminding them that the men are worse off than Bento when they were younger. So? What does that have to do with anything? Is it an impossible concept for Bento to overcome his past and get over himself? I guess not. This book is all for him wallowing in his own pity party and endless abuse as long as we sweet innocent virginal damsels will always be understanding of his sins and forgive him every time he craps all over us because remember, ladies, it’s not his fault.
The author has shown in the past that she is never this understanding if Bento has estrogen humming in his privates instead. Hello, Cassandra, the promiscuous dead wife of Bentley’s brother? She dies. Bento is just misunderstood though – let’s get him married to a wife who doesn’t even give him a hard time about his actions!
Froggy makes me roll up my eyes. It takes two to tango, but she blames herself for the pregnancy. She makes it her duty to bend over backwards to accommodate her selfish, self-absorbed husband. Even at the end, when Bento throws his sins at her face, she is still giving him plenty of excuses to keep going the way he is. If Bento reforms, it’s despite the people who claim to love him, not because of. If he reforms, it’s because the author uses the hymen des machina device – innocence of a woman will change a man for good, woo-hoo!
The Devil You Know‘s two great flaws are these: one, it is more preoccupied with meta-relationships that it doesn’t really care about standing alone and two, like a codependent wife of an abusive man, it gives the rake hero way too much opportunity to get away with and to repeat his nonsense. Since the author doesn’t hesitate to villainize the female counterparts to Bento in her books as sluts miscellany who deserve to die, I just have to shake my head and close this book, disappointed at such a good author using such misguided double standards in her book. Bento could have been a rake to remember, but in the end, he’s just a spoiled kid who is allowed to get away with anything, thanks to idiot females who believe that everything is their fault. Pathetic.