Devil in Winter, by Lisa Kleypas

Title: The Devil in Winter (Wallflowers #3)
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Year of Publication: 2006
Length: 374 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler Warning: For the events at the end of It Happened One Autumn

This book surprised me when I first read it, I recall. I had been tremendously intrigued by St. Vincent in the earlier books, but after his abduction of Lillian at the end of It Happened One Autumn, I really wasn’t sure how I felt about a kidnapper and potential rapist serving as the hero of the novel. As for Evie, well, I had nothing against her, but she faded into the background of the first two Wallflowers novels — the most wallflowery of the wallflowers, as it were. I felt less personal resonance with her, though she did remind me of people I’ve known.

But really, that Kleypas crafted her in that way was masterful. Through the first two books, Evie is the shyest of the Wallflowers, victim of a pronounced stutter which makes conversation painful — all the moreso when she’s nervous, which, of course, she is around precisely the men she’s meant to be attracting. She’s also, as we had hints of earlier but have confirmed in Devil in Winter, the victim of substantial abuse from her family. She’s the daughter of a well-born lady who ran off with Ivo Jenner, owner of a gaming club (who readers may remember as a secondary character in one of Kleypas’s Regency novels, Dreaming of You). Her mother died, and a gaming club being no place to raise a young girl, her father allowed her mother’s family to reclaim her. As Jenner’s done quite well for himself, Evie stands to inherit an enormous fortune on his death — which looks to be soon, as he’s quite ill. Her mother’s family, after years of punishing her for her mother’s behaviour, now seek to force her to marry a cousin so that her money will stay in the family.

Thus is the setup at the beginning of Devil in Winter, when Evie takes desperate action no one could have predicted: she runs to visit Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, and asks him to marry her. No one is more surprised than St. Vincent, but he takes the bait, since his family’s financial ruin has driven him to desperate measures already (see: his attempted kidnapping of Lillian). So away they hie them to Gretna Green for a quick wedding. In this section, I  appreciated Kleypas’s vivid descriptions of the cold and 19th-century methods of combating it on their way up to Scotland. Weather is a frequently ignored component of storytelling, unless there’s the need for a suitably dramatic storm. It was nice to get such detailed description to evoke the journey. They get their marriage of convenience, Evie insists they’ll only have enough sexual congress to consummate and then no more, except she ends up rather liking it, St. Vincent finds himself more attracted to her than to any woman before her — and so forth.

In many ways, the plot of Devil in Winter would be quite conventional — the rake reformed by the blushing virgin — if not for the unusual setting. Here as elsewhere, I appreciate Kleypas’s willingness to delve into non-standard elements of British society in the 19th century. For when Jenner dies, St. Vincent finds himself unexpected drawn to the business, furious to realize that Jenner was being cheated in his infirmity, and astonishingly capable of setting matters to rights. Not that his transition from utter reprobate into manager of a gaming den is smooth. He has to prove himself in a few fights, untangle a financial mess, raise the club’s standards to attract a better clientele, and, oh yeah, also save his new wife’s life from a jealous man believing himself to be Jenner’s son and rightful heir. The story turns when St. Vincent literally takes a bullet meant for Evie; what follows is a somewhat typical sickbed plotline, where St. Vincent’s life being in danger makes Evie realise just how much he means to her.

Again, the plot itself is somewhat formulaic, but Kleypas’s characters are what make it special. St. Vincent’s character comes across particularly well, with a great, unique voice, and watching Evie’s transformation from helplessness to self-assertion is a nice journey to follow. Kleypas actually deals with the aftermath of abuse and the tremendous strength it takes to come out of that, giving Evie a degree of psychological realism that I always appreciate, even in a fluff book. As ever, Kleypas fills out her world remarkably well — particularly in the person of dashing Romani croupier Cam Rohan (of whom more in a later book). We also see the further progression of the friendship that holds this series together. That friendship gets tested here — which is a nice touch, that it isn’t just assumed and easy — because, after all, Evie does marry a man who kidnapped and at least threatened to rape one of her best friends. But Annabelle and Daisy help to mend fences, and Lillian and Sebastian manage to come to terms (it helps when he nearly gets himself killed for Evie’s sake). Overall, a solid and enjoyable installment in the Wallflowers series.

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