Desert Isle Keeper
The Devil's Bargain
The Devil’s Bargain was a wonderful surprise. The cover blurb worried me: the alpha-hero-seeking-revenge plot has been done to death. But Edith Layton has taken this clichéd plot element and made it work in a fresh, touching and often funny love story.
Sir Alasdair St. Erth has returned to England after several years abroad. He has been involved with the war effort and in rebuilding a fortune that had been lost by his father. St. Erth’s reputation is very dark, which makes him socially unacceptable in some circles. But in classic Regency style, since he is possessed of a large fortune and an old title, he is still accepted in many drawing and ballrooms.
Katherine Corbet is visiting her cousins, the Swansons. Lord and Lady Swanson are over-burdened with daughters. They had seven girls, four of whom are still unmarried. Except for Sybil, the youngest, the Swanson girls are not attractive. Therefore, to give her sisters a chance at matrimony, Sybil is not out in society although she is nineteen. Katherine is also not out, although she is twenty-three years old. Her family, although related to half the Ton, is well off but not extremely wealthy, and she has come to town to keep Sybil company and to see London. Katherine is the youngest child of a loving family and is not being pressured to find a husband, so she views her trip to London as an adventure as opposed to a mission.
St. Erth meets Katherine when she rescues him from an attempt to force him into marriage. Katherine is a very practical, down to earth person who surprises both St. Erth and herself by her timely intervention.
St. Erth is out for revenge and, in making inquiries about Katherine so that he can thank her for saving him, discovers that two of her relatives are those he seeks. He approaches the Swansons and offers to take Katherine, Sybil, and a chaperone out to a play. He then convinces Katherine to allow him to squire her and her cousin about town to various functions. She thinks that this is to help him reestablish his respectability and allow her to see more of London. At the end of the Season, Katherine expects to go home with good memories and some interesting anecdotes. In reality, St. Erth is using Katherine to draw out her relatives and make them worry about what he is planning.
At no time does St. Erth harbor any ill will toward Katherine. Although she is related to his enemies he never mistakes her for being one of them. This is where the book really shines. Both St. Erth and Katherine are very real, very likable characters. More importantly, they like each other. The friendship that develops between them as they see each other on a regular basis is believable and sincere. St. Erth may be obsessed with vengeance, but as the reader discovers what happened to him it makes sense. His growing conflict between his goal and his attraction to Katherine is very well done.
Katherine is a very sympathetic character. She has been raised in the country and is very much her own person. Although she occasionally feels both fascinated and overwhelmed by society and by St. Erth, she has a sense of self that makes her a strong character. In spite of her occasional concerns over being sophisticated enough for St. Erth, with her wit and humor it is easy to see why he would be attracted to a person . Katherine also has a cool head under fire. At various times in the story she may be the damsel in distress, but this is a damsel who is arranging her own rescue.
The secondary characters in The Devil’s Bargain are also very well done. There are no cardboard cut-outs in this novel. Even the villains are well done. They are truly bad people as opposed to omniscient dark forces that are able to follow the hero’s every move. In fact, my only quibble with this book is the secondary romance that is hinted at but never quite appears. It might show up as another book, but in a storyline where the other details were so well developed it was annoying to have a development that remained so nebulous.
The Devil’s Bargain was the first book by Edith Layton that I have read since her Signet Regency days, but I am going to track down the rest of her backlist. I am definitely looking forward to reading them and future romances as well. If you are looking for a Regency-set historical with brilliant characterizations, look no further.