Surrender to the Devil
When I want virtuosity, I’ll go to authors who take risks but don’t always succeed. When I want consistency, I’ll go to authors like Lorraine Heath.
Frannie Darling was raised on the streets of London along with quartet of boys. As members of Feagan’s pickpocketing street gang, they knew deprivation and hunger, but Feagan was a relatively kind kidsman. When Frannie was twelve, she and the others were taken in by the Earl of Claybourne, grandfather to one of the the boys. Growing up wary of the aristocracy and uncomfortable in its milieu, Frannie later became a bookkeeper in a friend’s gaming house. Though she is comfortable with men and aware of the value of sex, Frannie has never desired physical intimacy. Then one day at a wedding reception, she spies a man who looks at her with hunger in his eyes.
Sterling Mabry, Duke of Greystone, recently returned to London after years of traveling and avoiding his responsibilities. Now having matured considerably, he is ready to marry and look after his estates, but when he sees Frannie he is consumed with the need to have one night with her before he goes on his way. And so he embarks on a campaign of seduction.
The watchword for this book is proficiency. Of the plot, characters, setting, and writing, none of it is original, and the first 100 pages progress too predictably for admiration. Nevertheless, matters take a turn for the better and what is left is a solid book from a reliable author. Frannie is too perfect for wholehearted sympathy, but she is interesting and layered enough for most of my sympathy. She’s a woman of quiet strength who doesn’t allow men to bulldoze her, a much-needed quality considering the five protective men in her life. Sterling is more predictable and his reasons for running away are a little eye-rolling (get over it, bud), but, nonetheless, I found myself warming to him. Neither he nor Frannie is drawn with profound depth, but there is certainly something to be said for smart, likable characters whose love progresses reasonably and gradually.
However, the setting could have used more detail. Three things told me I was in Victorian London: A field trip to the Crystal Palace, a cameo by Charles Dickens, and the date 1851 stamped on page one. There were plenty of opportunities to immerse the reader in the era – clothing, the justice system, transportation, Sterling’s adventures abroad – but Ms. Heath largely left them untouched. Also, the prose has an archaic, Dickensian quality that is pleasing but jarring considering the occasional lapse into modernisms. I think the author is trying to do something a little different that doesn’t quite succeed, possibly because the book shies away from any overt risks.
Nevertheless, Surrender to the Devil is a book written by a professional with years of experience under her belt and, thus, even the most familiar of stories is pleasant to read. I wish, though, that the author would risk consistency and attempt virtuosity.