4.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
As usual, Kleypas is great at giving us multi-layered characters with an entertaining supporting cast. Unlike the previous books in this series, the side characters here feel more secondary, meaning the weight of the story really falls on the two protagonists. St. Vincent, the nearly irredeemable rake who needs to marry an heiress, is believably complex and interesting, while his muse Evie feels a little too blank-slate, and we’re never quite certain what it is about her that St. Vincent eventually becomes obsessed with. Still, this is a great example of the genre, Evie has lots of plucky moments (like the opening sequence where she proposes to St. Vincent), and it’s well worth the read, though it’s neither the strongest example of Kleypas or the Wallflower series.
Evangeline Jenner (Evie) is a shy, diminutive woman who stands to inherit a fortune – the problem is that she stutters, has been more or less trapped by greedy relatives who serve as her legal guardians, and is the daughter of a notorious gamester who runs a well-known gaming club. In contrast, Lord St. Vincent is a hardened womanizer who, though he’ll one day inherit a dukedom, is flat broke and desperate to marry into money.
Unlike other novels that might begin with an amusing prologue or backstory, this one starts at the heart of the action – Evie’s father is about to die, and she has escaped from her relatives to offer St. Vincent an enticing proposition. If he elopes with her, right away, he’ll control her considerable fortune, and in exchange, she’ll get to nurse her ailing father through his final days. He accepts, and we get to know the characters as they are getting accustomed to one another, married and in completely foreign surroundings – instead of the ballrooms and soirees that so many historical romances take place in, Evie and St. Vincent spend the bulk of their time in carriages and in her father’s gaming establishment. This forces more of the action to be focused on our two primary protagonists.
For the most part, this book offers a refreshing change from the London ballroom and tonnish gossip that so often dominates the genre – further, St. Vincent is just a little more rakish and irredeemable than usual. Though many romance authors write about hardened libertines with womanizing tendencies, you actually get to glimpse the colder side of St. Vincent, so that his eventual reformation feels not just multi-layered, but believable and deeply satisfying. Still, Evie, other than her initially gutsy move proposing to the viscount, feels a little underdeveloped and more stereotypical relative to other Kleypas heroines. That’s not to say she’s completely bland: she’s supposed to be a curious mixture of hard and soft, and for the most part, she is. Dtill, there is a small leap of faith required to believe that Evie Jenner is the woman who, for St. Vincent at least, is so very different than all the rest who came before.
Ultimately, Kleypas is a master of her craft, and while there are a few weaker moments to nitpick, this is another strong example of Kleypas at her near-best. Within the series, I would say it’s probably the second best, after It Happened One Autumn.
Other Things to Know:
This is chronologically the third book of four in Kleypas’s Wallflowers series. The four Wallflowers, Annabelle Peyton (poor but lovely, the main character of Wallflower #1: Secrets of a Summer Night), Lillian Bowman (rich, but American and high-strung, in It Happened One Autumn), Evie Jenner, and Daisy Bowman (rich, but overly romantic heiress in Wallflower #4: Scandal in Spring), are friends who initially bond together to try to assist one another in finding husbands. You only really get to see Lillian in action in this novel, though the other wallflowers make what amount to cameos. There’s a fifth book that is slightly longer than a novella but shorter than the main books, following the Bowman sisters’ older brother Rafe Bowman (A Wallflower Christmas), and also later, a prequel-like novel following Westcliff’s two sisters: Aline and, to a lesser degree, Livia (Again the Magic).
Also, a young gypsy named Cam is introduced in this novel – despite hints in an entirely different direction, he is later the male protagonist in Mine Till Midnight, Kleypas’s five-book series following the quirky Hathaways family. And… to further deepen the connections, if you care, Evie Jenner’s father makes a small (but important) appearance in Dreaming of You (Gamblers #2).
You don’t need to read them in order to enjoy them, and if you were to only read one, it should be It Happened One Autumn, which felt like just the right mix of character development and sexual tension. If you were to continue, my next pick would be Devil in Winter – the supporting cast isn’t there to divert you quite as much, and the female protagonist feels a little weaker, but the sensuality (since St. Vincent is supposed to be so vastly experienced) is definitely a tick higher.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
Lisa Kleypas is a best-selling author ,and though she has focused more recently on modern romance, she is one of the queens of the historical romance genre. Compared to Stephanie Laurens, Kleypas tends to have more individualized characters and a better supporting cast, but less sensual/erotic love scenes. Also, whereas Stephanie Laurens almost always has a murder/mystery element, Kleypas’s villains are generally bad, but not quite criminal. She’s less funny and her characters and scenarios are less light-hearted than Julia Quinn, but she her characters tend to have a greater degree of physical attraction/sensuality compared to Quinn’s.