A Devilish Husband
A good Regency Romance reminds me of a wonderful miniature painting – I marvel not only at the evident talent and amount of telling detail, but that all of it is in such a small, perfect package. Regencies that deviate too far from the detailed slice of life, where small dramas are writ large, undermine the very thing that makes Regencies so much fun to read.
A Devilish Husband illustrates this problem perfectly. It contains two kinds of situations that are perfect for a Regency setting: a hero who has made a lot of missteps and must redeem himself in both the heroine’s and his own eyes, and a country mouse heroine coming into her own as she adapts to city life. But instead of dwelling on and developing these situations, the author squanders far too much of the story’s short length on a tedious and predictable “suspense” plot.
When Jared Moreland is ordered by his despised father to marry and beget an heir, he sees the opportunity for revenge: he’ll marry someone his father won’t approve of, and then stay out of her bed and not produce any heirs. Take that! So he marries Cassandra Crawford, a social nobody whose debt-ridden stepfather can’t wait to unload her. Cassy agrees to the match because it can’t be worse than the life she currently leads, and would at least get her away from her stepfather and stepsister, who alternately ignore and bully her. She finds out about Jared’s plans for revenge and the marriage-in-name-only angle after the vows are said.
Jared starts out acting like a complete jerk and goes downhill from there. He callously uses a total innocent in his schemes, and when his father and stepmother instead take a liking to Cassy, he begins to carry on with Cassy’s recently widowed stepsister Beatrice. He doesn’t want to actually have an affair with Beatrice, mind you, he just wants it to look that way so as to embarrass his father. The motives behind all his plotting are thin and reflect far worse on Jared than on his father. To add to the mix, Jared is also a dedicated drinker and repeatedly finds himself needing a drink to deal with this or that stress in his life. It could take all 250 pages of the book for Jared to redeem himself sufficiently for any romance to be possible.
Jared leaves Cassy to fend for herself in society, she surprises him and herself by doing so quite well. As enjoyable as the scenes featuring Cassy’s transformation are, they are a missed opportunity to develop both Cassy and Jared and the relationship between them. Jared notices and admires her growth but that never goes anywhere with the thought; Cassy becomes more confident in herself and has some good scenes which confront Jared’s behavior, but again, nothing seems to come of it.
Unfortunately, most of the plot of this short book is taken up with the ludicrous villains, Beatrice and her father, Robert. They go from buffoonish to murderous with illogical speed, particularly since offing Cassy does not guarantee that Jared will then marry Beatrice, and even if he does, he’s already declared more than once that Robert has received all the money he ever will from Jared. That doesn’t stop the two from discussing (and discussing, and discussing) murdering Cassy. They talk about it so much to each other, to themselves, and in Beatrice’s case even to Cassy, that I was surprised they didn’t just go ahead and advertise in the newspaper.
Then things get dumber. When mysterious near-accidents begin to befall Cassy, she is fearful and worried. And for a change Jared seems actually worried about her. But this too goes nowhere fast as trust issues and a supreme lack of communication take precedence. Then the suspense sub-plot degenerates and all hope for the small and perfect Regency package I referred to earlier is left behind.
It wasn’t just that all of this was boring and hackneyed; what really made it frustrating was that all the time gnashing teeth over cut saddle girths and near drownings could have been spent making Jared and Cassy into a truly memorable couple. Jared’s abrupt coming to his senses, begging for forgiveness, and instantaneously recovering from alcoholism in the last ten pages makes an anticlimax of what should have been the emotional turning point of the story, and ultimately renders the HEA ending unbelievable.
Readers don’t turn to Regency romances for heart-pounding action and suspense scenes; they want believable drawing room drama. In the case of A Devilish Husband, too much time spent trying to develop the former undermines the latter, to a frustrating degree.