Book Review: 'The Devil's Daughter,' By Lisa KleypasLisa Kleypas mashes up two of her romance sagas — the Regency-era Wallflowers and the Victorian Ravenels — in a delightful story about a sheltered widow and her roguish suitor.
Phoebe, Lady Clare — the Devil's Daughter herself — is a determined, uncompromising heroine who will delight almost as much as her scandalous hero tantalizes.
Author Lisa Kleypas combines two of her series here, with the Victorian-era Ravenels coming up against Phoebe, who descends from one of the Wallflowers, heroines of an earlier saga. The result is a delightfully smart and sensual historical romance that had me thinking about Moliere, Oscar Wilde and other masters of the comedy of manners.
One of my favorite comedies of manners is Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. And for me, the perfect storm is a story in that style, one that keeps all the witty dialogue, social commentary, and skilled plotting, while taking the romance to the next level. Lisa Kleypas accomplishes this with zeal.
When the story begins, our heroine isn't all that devilish. A widow with two small children, she is fragile and sheltered, seemingly satisfied to wallow in grief until hell freezes over. But then she meets West Ravenel, the bully who taunted her late husband mercilessly when they were at boarding school together. When Phoebe meets West for the first time as an adult, she can't escape her past opinions – he's an absolute piranha, as far as she's concerned. (Although his charm, his physique, his beautiful eyes, and friendly manner make him difficult to hate.)
West Ravenel can really fill a room — he's very tall, with an outdoorsman's physique and robust personality. He is the complete opposite of Phoebe's late husband Henry, a quiet, soft-spoken man who died young after a lengthy illness. And he's enthralled with Phoebe, who has the courage to match her beauty.
West is the kind of alpha male I enjoy. He's a good guy, with a captivating sense of humor and an obvious intelligence. He grabs Phoebe's attention immediately — which of course upsets her, because she's still in mourning. She and Henry grew up inseparable. She loved him dearly. She also relished her role as Henry's protector — somewhat more than perhaps she should have, because it came at the expense of her role as his wife. And so she pushes aside her attraction to West, and dismisses any possibility of a friendship.
I also enjoy well-written dialogue, especially when it's funny, and even more when it helps develop the characters. The banter in The Devil's Daughter is packed with insights into what makes Phoebe and West act the way they do – and the way that changes as their circumstances and feelings change.
West's relationship with Phoebe's children is yet another reason to fall in love with him. Scenes with her son Justin are often turning points, a mirror to the main romance; the more Justin embraces West, the more Phoebe follows suit.
The main roadblock to romance — at least for West — is his belief that he's not good enough for Phoebe, and it's an idea that's somewhat overused in romance novels — the I'm-not-good-enough-to-marry-you-trope. I missed having another, more substantive obstacle for West to overcome. A few more concrete details about whatever debauchery and womanizing West has actually done would've helped his bad-boy persona feel less clichéd.
Conversely, Phoebe's objections to marrying West felt richly layered, even if the restrictions on women in the Victorian age left me irritated. Phoebe is a creature of her era, but she also demonstrates an excessive amount of guilt under her loyal-widow umbrella. This leads her to mourn Henry longer than tradition requires, while leaving his family in charge of her finances without oversight or question. The full weight of this error in judgment explodes near the end of the book. By then, I had guessed some of the circumstances that led to this explosion, which swallowed a couple of the intended surprises. Nonetheless, many of the book's best moments focus on Phoebe's evolution from naïve widow to a self-assured woman.
In The Devil's Daughter, Phoebe and West grow from naïve widow and undeserving suitor to determined heroine and loving hero. The reader will long to see them together, but how they get there is what will make this story last.
Denny S. Bryce is an aspiring author of historical fiction and urban fantasy/paranormal romance. She writes for NPR Books and Washington Independent Review of Books. You can follow her on Twitter: @dennysbryce