HarperTorch, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81864-7
Historical Romance, 2002
Edith Layton’s The Devil’s Bargain is filled with the usual BS – men who act like jerks are prime catches, but the women who act the same, only ten degrees milder than their male counterparts, are vilified. Every woman in this story is a bitch or a jealous backstabber, and the male villain turns out to be a helpless Adam ruled by his Eve, if you get what I’m saying.
The sole pure light in this story, the heroine Katherine Corbet, doesn’t know for ages that her husband is just using her. She first meets the infamous, notorious, unoriginal Alasdair St Erth when she accidentally prevents a scheming hussy from trapping him into marriage. Kate is a poor relation in a household filled with envious, rabid empty-headed debutantes who are jealous of Kate’s getting Alasdair’s attention. Ms Layton will tell you, a man using a woman for his own nefarious means is A-OK – Hero Quality #1 – while a jealous woman who wants to have sex with our hero must just DIE.
So understanding of Kate that all women are hos and bitches, she willingly agrees to pose as Alasdair’s new girlie to keep him safe from those skanks. See, Kate doesn’t wants sex, oh no. She wants to save the world, starting with Alasdair. If she gets an orgasm, it’s an oops thing because she just has no clue.
But Alasdair is using her in some convoluted, elaborate scheme of revenge. Will she find out? (Hint: don’t hold your breath.) Will she raise a tantrum? (Again, don’t hold your breath. Kate is amazingly understanding. All women are hos, don’t forget that.)
So what happens is Alasdair given amazingly wide open space to commit his brand of treason. In fact, so understanding – or oblivious – that is loving, sweet, obligatory wise-quipping but ultimately clueless Kate that he never learns to put his wife above his revenge. He gets the cake, eats it, and gets to open a bakery the next day.
Still, this is a well-written paean to cluelessness. Kate, dumb and trusting like Gretel being led into the witch’s oven, is nonetheless a nice lady, stronger and intelligent (not counting her blind spot where Alasdair is concerned) than most of the Regency mumu heroines out there. Alasdair is a man with baggages that could have been likable, but since he is allowed to do pretty much what he wants as he pleases, he lacks those certain sympathetic qualities that I can use to start empathizing with him. He isn’t tormented, he’s just Machiavelli surrounded by idiots and hence having the time of his life.
While this book is readable, I do end up feeling that Kate deserves a sweet, gentle, and equally simple young man, not that Machiavellian fox that is Alasdair. They are so obviously uneven in terms of footing and mental intellect, it’s like watching a wolf marrying a lamb. One of these days he’s going to get bored with her and eat her up, I know it.