The Devil's Waltz
A Retro Review
originally published on February 5, 2006
Tired of fake rakes and Sex and the City-ish young women in Regency garb? As someone who once had some degree of tolerance for wallpaper romances but who’s now had it up to here with the endless supply of “historicals” (air quotes intended) littering the ground these days, this sexy, smart, and somehow appealingly vintage novel was a real winner for me. Marred ever so slightly by some over the top melodrama and an oh-so-sweet epilogue, The Devil’s Waltz is, nevertheless, a terrific historical romance and anything but today’s usual fare.
I have to confess that I’ve had a girlish affection (and, yes, I really was a girl) for Anne Stuart’s Traditional Regencies for many years. My favorite of those incredible books is Lord Satan’s Bride, a tale an innocent young woman and a truly dissolute rake that’s held a place on my keeper shelf since it was first published. Frankly, when I reread that novel, it’s for Nicholas, the book’s deliciously seductive hero who cemented – right along with Vidal of Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub – my affection for bad boy heroes.
I couldn’t help but think of my beloved Nicholas as I read this wonderful novel, because just like that Stuart hero of so long ago, Christian Montclam is a selfish and morally lax man who doesn’t come even close to reforming when he meets the heroine. The author provides a sympathetic explanation as to how he got that way, but the reader is never allowed to sugarcoat his intentions or plans. But – and I think this is the key as to why Stuart’s bad boys can be so unforgettable – when a hero this bad falls in love, they fall hard, and Anne Stuart makes you feel every bit of it.
Annelise Kempton is a 29-year old woman in a truly untenable position. Penniless, but of too high a birth to stoop to actual employment, she manages some small degree of independence by “visiting” families in need of her services. Her current “position” is not without its challenges: shepherding a young miss through her first ton season with the ultimate goal of securing for her the aristocratic husband her wealthy tradesman father desires. To make matters even more difficult, Hetty, Annelise’s reluctant protégé, has absolutely no interest in benefiting from the older woman’s wisdom and experience and, even worse, has already set her sights on a most unsuitable man.
That man is, of course, Christian. All too aware of his dissolute reputation, Annelise is convinced that the impoverished and impossibly beautiful future Viscount has only one purpose in turning his sights so determinedly on the wealthy Hetty. And, of course, Annelise is right. As for the man himself, Christian finds courting the vacuous Hetty tedious (and tediously easy), especially when Annelise – a woman he quickly terms the “dragon” – is infinitely more intriguing. Though Christian never falters in his determination to wed Hetty’s fortune, he finds planning just how and when he’ll seduce the dragon to be a far more interesting proposition than anything to do with his future bride.
But there are more obstacles in Christian’s path than simply Annelise’s resolve to stop the marriage. Others appear even more determined to keep the two apart – determined enough to stoop to murder.
Unlike a lot of those wallpaper heroines we’ve all gotten to know, Annelise always feels like a woman of her time. Understandably resentful of her lot in life and helpless to do anything about it, she’s also a bit of a snob and truly disdainful of Christian, even as she can’t help but succumb to his overtures. But, again, all of this felt real to me and not as if Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha was suddenly transported into the Regency.
As for Christian, whoa, baby! To put it simply, he’s the perfect personification of a multi-layered bad boy whose reformation is both believable and unbelievably romantic. In case you can’t tell, I adored him.
I did have a few teeny issues that kept this from being a DIK for me. Without going into details, there are a few e-e-e-v-i-l characters who struck me as a bit cartoon-y. And, as someone who often prefers to leave the epilogue to my imagination, this one seems both a bit trite and overly sweet. Still, those are small details when there is so much here to enjoy.
Quite honestly, not every Anne Stuart book or character works for me, but The Devil’s Waltz certainly did, so much so, in fact, that if you’ve ever had an affection for bad boy heroes, this book is one I highly recommend. As for me and all those wallpaper romances and modern day “historical” heroines that come up for review, I’ll just grit my teeth and try to bear it because, sad to say, books like this one are all too rare.