Devil Takes A Bride
In the prologue to Gaelen Foley’s latest novel, Devil Takes A Bride, we see a woman flying for her life. Her pursuers are members of a debauched aristocratic organization called the Horse and Chariot Club. When they catch up to her at an inn, they commit a horrific crime and then set fire to the building – killing almost everyone in it – to cover up their evil deed. Our mystery woman is one of the few who escapes.
She is not the heroine of this novel. This is the story of Devlin “Devil” Kimball, Viscount Strathmore, whose beloved parents were killed in the inn. Orphaned by this event as a teenager, Dev is now a powerful and ruthless adult, bent upon avenging his family. In his attempt to discover what happened to his parents, he is posing as a jaded rake and trying to join the Horse and Chariot Club. His masquerade is funded by his beloved (and wealthy) Aunt Augusta, the Dowager Viscountess.
Lizzie Carlisle is the paid companion of Aunt Augusta, and she is disgusted by what she knows of Dev. He never comes to visit his elderly aunt, but the bills for his dissolute lifestyle are obscene. Lizzie sends Dev a letter that implies that his aunt is dying – not realizing that, by doing this, she’s opening the wounds caused by his parents’ death. Dev rushes home, where he clashes with Lizzie immediately. Then something lovely happens: they grow to respect each other and fall a little bit in love. But there’s no question of marriage. Lizzie thinks that this is because she is not Devlin’s social equal, but the truth is that Dev is far too wrapped up in his plans for vengeance to consider taking a wife. They go their separate ways.
Fate soon brings them back together, and on totally different terms. Aunt Augusta dies, and it seems that before she passed away she observed the chemistry between Lizzie and Devlin. Her will contains some very extraordinary clauses. I’m not crazy about will stipulations in novels, but I liked this one; the way it shifted the ground under our protagonists’ feet was very effective. Aunt Augusta’s meddling leads to a series of confrontations between Devlin and Lizzie that had me grinning with delight.
Lizzie is one of the best heroines I’ve read about all year. She is that rarest of creatures, a romance novel heroine who really is just as intelligent as the author tells us she is. She is also brave and strong, and in spite of her inferior social rank, at no point in the book does she allow Dev to railroad her. I especially enjoyed the early stages of her relationship with Dev, and how she reacts to her sexual attraction to him. She doesn’t pretend not to be fascinated by Dev, not even to herself. She seems like a woman who, while she hasn’t experienced sex, does seem to have at least heard of it, and her matter-of-fact response to her desire for Dev is refreshing in a genre filled with jittery virgins.
I also liked Dev, especially in the first half of the book. The author is very effective at drawing his conflicted approach towards relationships, and the way he longs for love but fears it will be snatched away. The thing I enjoyed most about Dev is that his feelings for Lizzie, while robustly erotic, are always tinged with respect. There’s a sequence in which he attempts to force her to his will; when she cleverly defeats him, he lets her go, acknowledging her rightful victory. It’s a nice touch from an alpha hero.
In the latter half of the book, when the revenge plot really takes off, Dev demonstrates a regrettable tendency to cross the line between “tormented” and “drama queen.” Yes, his family was murdered, and yes, he’s bound to bear psychological scars from that tragedy. But the melodrama with which his agony is described is just a bit much for me.
Indeed, things get very melodramatic towards the end, and we start getting descriptions like this:
The moon went dark, swallowed by a sinuous cloud-dragon, but he did not slow his pace, thundering down the road, gathering power and rage every second, rising to hit like the hammer of a hurricane. With burning eyes, he stared down the road like a rider of the Apocolypse or some worse fiend loosed from the deepest circle of hell…And so on. The revenge plot, and the way it plays out, is by far the book’s greatest weakness. The climax is action-packed, confusing, described in rich purple prose, and just plain too long. And Foley’s creation of an evil homosexual who just so happens to also be a pedophile rankled; please, authors, these two things are not the same thing, and using them to indicate evil incarnate is just getting trite. Bottom line: Foley does romance well, but she’s not so good at action and intrigue, and this book is best when she’s sticking to the relationship.
Gaelen Foley is always an interesting and readable author, and this book is no exception. I loved the pairing of its no-nonsense heroine with its wounded hero, and I was delighted to follow the many twists and turns in the path that led to Lizzie and Dev’s happy ending. Devil Takes A Bride is well worth reading – check it out.