To Save the Devil
Sometimes you read a book which you quite like, possibly even in one sitting, so you don’t think too much about it while perusing it. But afterwards you lean back and begin to consider some details, and suddenly they just don’t fit, thus marring your enjoyment in retrospect. This is what happenend to me when reading Kate Moore’s To Save the Devil, the second installment in her Sons of Sin series about the offspring of a famous courtesan.
Former soldier and former Bow Street Runner Will Jones has two goals: He wants to take down Archibald March, a well-respected philantrophist to the public eye, but deeply involved with the London underworld in secret and an enemy to the Jones family, and he wants to find his sixteen-year-old brother Kit, who vanished three years ago. Trying to locate some of March’s papers, which may be hidden in a brothel he owns, Will enters the brothel only to be distracted by a virgin being auctioned off. He wins the bidding, smuggles the drugged girl out of a window, and ends taking her – bound, because she refuses to leave the brothel – to his apartment.
The girl, who calls herself Helen of Troy and is obviously from a good family, is on a quest to retrieve some indiscreet letters her mother wrote to a former lover, and which are now used to blackmail her. Although her first attempt at searching the brothel in the guise of a housemaid has failed (see above), she is determined to return there as soon as possible, this time dressed as a boy. Will saves her from a new scrape and reluctantly agrees to join forces with her when she can provide him with an important piece of information.
The actual story is fun to breeze through. I enjoyed Will’s unconventional family, and there were some inspired moments like when Will tries to get information from Helen by embarrassing her with reading aloud to her from bad porn. There are a lot of nightly escapades and interesting insights into the lives of London’s poor.
On the other hand, although they were likeable most of the time, there were several odd elements to Will and Helen. For example, it appears he enters the brothel already with the intention of saving the virgin, although this means he will waste his disguise and a great deal of money, yet achieve nothing for his other goals, which are so supremely important to his at all other times. And where does his money come from? Why does Helen never trust Will completely with helping her to retrieve the letters – especially as this makes it almost impossible for her to get them, and necessitates a laughable use of coincidence? I also really disliked her reasons for having sex with him: Out of the blue, she determines he needs to have sex with her to find his trust in goodness again – huh?
What probably annoyed me most were the constant references to Will as a “devil”. As far as cynicism, a rakish lifestyle or PTSD are concerned, he can’t hold a candle to about half the heroes in historical romance. It appeared these references were included only to justify the title, and man, that didn’t work.
About the heat between the protagonists: There is quite a bit of it up until the moment they end the foreplay, and then there are seven lines of them doing the deed. I counted. Normally I don’t mind short sex scenes, but after all that build-up this was a bit of a letdown.
So while I enjoyed the unconventional setting of To Save the Devil, I was vexed by the uneven elements I have listed above. If you like a Dickensian mood to your historicals, I can recommend this novel up to a point, but if you give it a pass, you won’t be missing much.