Although beautiful young widow Phoebe, Lady Clare, has never met West Ravenel, she knows one thing for certain: he’s a mean, rotten bully. Back in boarding school, he made her late husband’s life a misery, and she’ll never forgive him for it. But when Phoebe attends a family wedding, she encounters a dashing and impossibly charming stranger who sends a fire-and-ice jolt of attraction through her. And then he introduces himself…as none other than West Ravenel.
West is a man with a tarnished past. No apologies, no excuses. However, from the moment he meets Phoebe, West is consumed by irresistible desire…not to mention the bitter awareness that a woman like her is far out of his reach. What West doesn’t bargain on is that Phoebe is no straitlaced aristocratic lady. She’s the daughter of a strong-willed wallflower who long ago eloped with Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent—the most devilishly wicked rake in England.
Before long, Phoebe sets out to seduce the man who has awakened her fiery nature and shown her unimaginable pleasure. Will their overwhelming passion be enough to overcome the obstacles of the past?
Only the devil’s daughter knows…
Dabney: The latest book by Kleypas is populated by characters from many of her prior historical romances. The heroine, Phoebe is Sebastian’s (A Devil in Winter) daughter and the hero, Wes, is a Ravenel. So, ladies, what did you think?
Kristen: This book really worked for me. When I read that Phoebe was a widow with two small children I was concerned that the kids would be treacly plot devices, but instead I found the way Phoebe’s identity as “mother” grounded her to be really well executed. Now, I say that as not-a-mom, so maybe it’s more an outside-looking-in thing, but I could see why she was the way she was and the decisions she was making based on the legacy of her boys. But before I get into too much of that, Em! You mentioned offline that you loved West and I’d love to hear why he specifically worked for you.
Em: I also loved it. But I feel like I should confess something first. I know AAR readers love the Wallflowers series, and Devil in Winter particularly. I barely remember it! I love Kleypas so I probably liked it…but really, it doesn’t stand out in my memory (and actually, I liked It Happened One Autumn best!), and consequently, I haven’t read the newer Ravenels series with quite the same sense of nostalgia and fondness and expectations many of our readers/reviewers have. Perhaps that’s why I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them more than the last.
Although there is a villain in this story – and a saintly dead husband, there’s very little angst. And I liked that! These two meet and it’s on. Phoebe is a widow still in love with her husband, but stoic in her sadness…And she’s a wonderful mom who cares about and adores her children. She’s self aware and keeps her emotions closely in check – except when she’s with her large family. Then we get to see her fun side…and it’s lovely. West is the best kind of reformed rake – he’s knows he was an asshole but he’s finally got his shit together and he’s finally allowing that side of himself to run the show. Their chemistry together is wonderful and every time they’re on the page together I caught myself smiling and rooting for them. I loved that the obstacles to their relationship are manageable and fixable, and that the villain of the piece doesn’t overwhelm the story or their path to happily ever after. Sigh. I loved it and them.
West is my favorite kind of hero. He’s well on the path to redemption but falling in love proves to be the hardest hurdle to jump. Phoebe already has her act together – she could have anyone, but wants West. And that scares him! I love that he can’t resist her, delights in shocking her, and that his quiet goodness is clear to everyone around him. Phoebe is the peace of the puzzle he’s missing – and he knows it. I thought he was an awesome match for her and vice versa.
Dabney, did you like this story? We haven’t heard from you?!
Dabney: *winces* I did not. I didn’t hate it but it just didn’t do much for me. Perhaps my biggest complaint is that it really wasn’t clear to me why Phoebe and West fell for each other so quickly. The majority of the novel takes place over just a few days and, while I’m not averse to insta-lust stories, insta-love stories don’t work for me unless an author has clearly shown why these two people have so suddenly recharted their lives and hearts. I didn’t get that here.
Kristen: Hm, that’s fascinating, but I can completely see that. For me, the pivotal bit was that there was a three month gap between some of the action and one can do a lot of inner work in three months. If the feelings were lust before that gap, I can see how that gap solidified this recharting. However, if that’s not something you believe, that gap is gonna do nothing.
Em: I decided early on that I hated Phoebe’s dead husband – and that made me dislike her too! But she absolutely grew on me (and I made peace with her first marriage), and I loved her decision to claim West and to enjoy him while she had him. Friends: The shaving scene is particularly excellent. What did you all think of her?
Dabney: I will confess, at the beginning of the book, I couldn’t understand Phoebe at all. She’s the product of one of the greatest love stories in all of Romancelandia (The Devil in Winter) and yet she married someone who was, it seemed, her best friend. It’s as if Aretha Franklin and Al Green had a child who thought singing was OK. So, that threw me off. Once I, sorta, got over that, I thought she was OK. I liked how she thought about her kids and I liked that she worked her way to letting herself enjoy West. But she never really gelled for me. When I finished the book, I couldn’t remember much about her at all.
Kristen: So I loved her beginning to end. I have a lot of time for characters who do “the right thing” out of love, rather than engaging with love themselves and that’s what I think Phoebe did. I can see how her parents’ love story was so spectacular, so singular that her brain rejected it as a possibility for her. Why shoot for the once-in-a-generation story when she could be just fine with someone who loved her? Why take that risk?
That’s actually why I think I love her and Wes so much. He was a huge risk for her and once she took it, she unearthed a part of herself she had ignored. Perhaps I’m projecting too much on her, but that’s exactly how I read her.
Em: Re: the villain of this story. The ending felt tacked on to me and the whole situation in the club almost ruined the story (although I liked the aftermath). I had a hard time believing that Phoebe or her husband would have trusted this moron with the estate – let alone promised he would one day be master of all…That storyline felt underdeveloped and slightly ridiculous – even Phoebe knew he was trash even before all was revealed. I wish Ms. Kleypas had spent a bit more with Phoebe before she traveled to the wedding; her day to day on the estate without Henry was unclear before and after she meets West. What did you think of our villain? And Henry for that matter?
Dabney: Neither man had much to recommend himself. And that fact made Phoebe less too. In a way, this is a “magical wang/man” story–it takes West to make Phoebe realize how to live in the world as she needs to. That’s not one of my favorite things.
Em: I felt like they saved each other! She needed a man like West – he’s sorted his rakish/irresponsible/reprehensible ways and settled into the man he wants to be – and that combination (playful and naughty/responsible and kind) unlocks her adventurous/wild and slightly wicked side. But he’s also – much to my delight – attracted to her mind and intelligence and her love for her boys and Henry. West needed a woman to consolidate all the redemptive qualities he’s worked on over the past few years, and Phoebe is the perfect woman for him. I thought they were very much equal to each other and their partnership was the key to unlocking the person they’re each meant to be.
The villain, Edward, was just meh and so was the totally unnecessary mother-in-law. I didn’t care about either of these troublemakers, although I wish the penultimate scene wherein the villain, West and Sebastian face off together was more exciting and drawn out. It was seriously underwhelming.
Kristen: Em, I’m with you on the saving each other. We were supposed to think the conflict that was between them was external, but I read it as much more internal. Because, yeah, the external barrier to the HEA was weaksauce.
Dabney: Kleypas took a lot of heat–which she responded to by revising her book–over cultural appropriation in her last book, Hello, Stranger. This book hasn’t a whiff of controversy to it. But what it does have is a serious celebration of how masculine/virile/manly West is, especially in comparison to Phoebe’s dead husband and to her estate manager and suitor Edward. And I’m normally all over alpha heroes but, here, it felt almost heavy handed. I guess I wanted to have my cake and eat it too: I wanted Phoebe to save herself and have her end up with a man who could sweep her off her feet.
Kristen: Right, that makes sense. I had figured that since Phoebe’s dad was Sebastian, her suitor would have to be physically daunting to match the mental daunting that Sebastian provides to get her attention, so I was kind of prepared for that. I also didn’t think that West read as a alpha beyond his body so it worked for me.
I read this week that no two people read the same book, and that is totally the case here because I think she did save herself and get swept off her feet!
Em: Same! I also did not read West as an alpha at all. Different strokes for different folks and all that.
Dabney: You guys are right–West isn’t really an alpha in behavior (much). It’s more the way he’s repeatedly described.
My favorite person and the one who stole every scene he is in is Sebastian, Phoebe’s famed father. Did you guys feel that way too?
Em: This is where I think my ambivalence about the first series manifests itself most. I did think he stole his scenes (and I loved the bath scene with Evie). But don’t you think he’s a bit too pretty perfect? Perfect duke, dad, husband, guest, wise sage, savior, grandpa? In this case, I can swallow the insta-lust a lot easier than the perfection. He’s great – I get it. No one else gets to be a superman?
Dabney: He’s Sebastian–he’s so indelible that I can’t see him any other way. He was such a scoundrel when young. I think Kleypas wrote him to be consistent with who he’s been historically. But if your dad is hotter than your suitor, it’s a problem.
Kristen: Another case where we all get to experience art the way we want, I can’t quite understand how Sebastian didn’t imprint himself on your reading soul, Em! His assholery was all confined to previous books and I’m okay with his superman status now, tbh. I was delighted by every single appearance of the infamous St. Vincent and it made me miss Evie and the rest of the Wallflowers something fierce.
This book just flat out worked for me in some ways I can’t quite put my finger on. My mother and I are both huge fans of Ms. Kleypas and I have already giddily informed her that she’ll love this installment too.
Ladies, are we comfortable landing at a B+ for a communal grade? Any final thoughts?
Dabney: I can live with that. Maybe I was just cranky. It’s rare I see a book so differently than you two do. I’ve gotten so much joy from Kleypas’ writing over the years and if you guys think this one works, I want our readers to check it out!
Em: Yes on the B+! I think Kleypas fans will be well pleased with this duo, and eager for more!