What better book to kick-off #AWW2012 than one of the most well-loved titles by one of Australia’s best-selling female authors, Stephanie Laurens.
This review is part of the AWW2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that until now I’d only read one book by Stephanie Laurens. (In my defence, the book was The Promise in a Kiss. More on that later.) But now I’ve broken the drought, and I finally understand why Laurens has such a dedicated fan base and why Devil’s Bride comes up, time and time again, when romance readers list their all-time favourite novels.
Devil’s Bride is an interesting book. Lauren’s prose is reminiscent of an older, more distant style of narration that’s now become somewhat unfashionable in romance fiction. And yet the story features Honoria, a heroine whose tendency towards independence, I suspect, owes more to modern sensibilities than any attempt at historical accuracy. (I’m no historian, so I’m happy to be proven wrong on this count.) This juxtaposition of contemporary values against the narration’s more traditional cadence—including, at times, purple prose just shy of being unbearable—kept me enthralled throughout the first half of the story.
Honoria Wetherby stumbles upon a dying man and is discovered by Devil, Duke of St Ives. Together they tend to the shooting victim and keep vigil though his final hours; the next morning, having spent the night together unchaperoned, the only way to salvage the situation is for Devil to marry her. She refuses.
She, Honoria Prudence Anstruther-Wetherby, was not going to be pressured into anything. It was patently obvious both Devil and the Dowager would do everything possible to tempt her, to convince her to accept his proposal—the proposal he hadn’t made. That last was not a fact she was likely to forget—he’d simply taken it for granted that she would marry him.
She’d known from the first he was impossible, even when she’d thought him a mere country squire; as a duke, he was doubly—triply—so. Aside from anything else—his chest, for example—he was a first-class tyrant. Sane women did not marry tyrants.
He can’t understand why, of course, and is determined to make her his wife.
What follows is so wonderfully unexpected that I almost can’t believe this book was first published more than ten years ago (1998). Devil courts Honoria. He does so with style and charm and without disempowering her, despite Honoria’s almost incomprehensible disregard for her reputation. Laurens, meanwhile, keeps the reader charmed. (‘It’s ridiculous,’ says Honoria, ‘there wasn’t even a bed.’ To which Devil replies, ‘Trust me—there’s no requirement for a bed.’)
Devil is the epitome of the modern alpha hero. He’s so honourable and capable and, well, indestructible, it almost hurts your teeth. But he’s also so superbly charming that it’s impossible not to feel a tad swoony. I certainly can’t understand how Honoria manages to resist for so long.
The weakness of the story—and it’s a big one—is the mystery subplot. Because the romance is pretty much a done deal halfway into the book, Laurens relies on solving the mystery of the shooter to fill the rest of the word count. This could have worked, except that the villain is so obvious it’s almost reverse psychology: It couldn’t possibly be who I think it is. Sadly, it is, and the reader is left wondering how everyone manages to be completely oblivious. I suppose that’s one for the not-so-infallible hero.
Spoiler warning: If you want to read this series, start with this book. Under no circumstances should you start with the prequel. Trust me. It happened to me.
Devil’s Bride is the first of the Cynster books; however, the eighth book published for this series, The Promise in a Kiss, is a prequel to Devil’s Bride. The Promise in a Kiss features Devil’s parents, Sebastian and Helena, and on its own is a relatively enjoyable book. Unfortunately, one look at the family tree shows that Sebastian later fathers a child with another woman. This is the worst betrayal imaginable to me as a romance reader; it’s the reason I’ve refused to read another Laurens novel for years. I’m still offended, to be honest, but it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten Sebastian’s story and no longer have any emotional investment in Helena’s HEA. But it still makes me very sad and reluctant to keep reading the series.
Yay or nay?
Devil’s Bride is so gloriously, deliciously over-the-top yet gloriously, deliciously irresistible. Never mind the predictable plot and the fantastical notion of a compromised Regency heroine who isn’t given a single cut direct—this is a true old-fashioned romance that goes straight to the heart.
Who might enjoy it: Readers who prefer their alpha heroes not to be domineering
Who might not enjoy it: Sticklers for historically accurate character portrayals