To Desire a Devil
Elizabeth Hoyt has earned seven DIKs at AAR. Sometimes it sucks to buck the trend, but you do what you must. And in this particular case, this book is really, really good. But it isn’t great.
After his regiment was massacred in North America and following seven years of Indian captivity, Reynaud St. Aubyn, heir to the Earl of Blanchard, has come home. He stumbles into his father’s home in the middle of a party, the very picture of a savage, demanding to see his father. Except the earl died five years earlier and the current holder of the title, one Reggie St. Aubyn, won’t relinquish it to a violent madman with a knife glued to his hand and tattoos on his face. Reynaud’s only friend in the enterprise is Reggie’s niece-by-marriage, Miss Beatrice Corning.
Bea can’t believe that the light-hearted young man in her sitting room portrait has become this bitter, grim person. But the flesh-and-blood version fascinates her and, as she gradually hears his story of captivity, they fall in love, all while he and his fellow soldiers (and previous heroes) uncover the person who betrayed them to the French at Spinner’s Fall, North America.
Ms. Hoyt’s skills are some of the of the best in the industry and it especially shows in her characterization. You cannot skim her books, because if you do you’ll miss something – the author says a lot with very little. With a few elegant strokes, Ms. Hoyt paints two sympathetic portraits: A passionate, witty, friendly heroine who longs for more than what society offers and a tortured, hardened hero who still manages to find love in his heart for the woman willing to understand him. Although I thought both Reynaud’s quest for his title and some of his psychological war wounds were resolved too quickly and easily, he’s a complex man who deserves happiness. Beatrice is woman enough to melt in his arms (hell, I sure would), but still stand up to him when needed.
The whole book would have been marvelous if Beatrice and Reynaud had been balanced by an equally superior secondary plot and character elements. In addition to tying up the Spinner’s Fall subplot, Ms. Hoyt introduces two new characters revolving around Bea who provide plot relevance as well as character contrast. One of them, her wounded childhood friend, is absolutely superb, and their scenes together broke my heart. The other character, an unhappily married young woman, is an excellent foil right up to a slapdash ending that effectively negated her entire storyline. While this doesn’t detract from Beatrice and Reynaud, it does chip away at the book as a whole. Add to that the fact that I don’t completely buy the revelation to the Spinner’s Fall traitor or his motivation (and perhaps having read previous books would have helped, but I’ve only read the second), and the secondary elements look rather undercooked compared to the flavorful, meaty, passionate relationship of Beatrice and Reynaud.
However, these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, and the novel’s (and the author’s) strengths are very much evident: Sharp dialogue, strong characterization, smart heroines with spines, and yummy tortured heroes. So I’ll go back to the first paragraph, but reverse the sentiment: It isn’t great. But it’s still really, really good.