Unlike another romance I read previously (DUKE AND I, by Julia Quinn), I really appreciate Gaelen Foley's attention to settings and plots. The romance was heart-felt and the characterizations of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Carlisle and Devlin "Devil" Kimball, the Lord Strathmore, convincing; thankfully, Devil Strathmore isn't too pining, a characteristic we find all too often in our historical romances. Unfortunately, he's still the typical tall, dark, broad-shouldered and handsome rogue, a hackneyed package complete with trimmings of a wounded past and a tortured soul. Also, there were certain parts of both lead characterizations I found a bit dissonant, and certain plot elements too jarring to enjoy the novel completely.
I really enjoyed Gaelen Foley's look into the twisted mind of Julian, the Earl Carstairs. It isn't often authors are risque enough to delve into the minds of their evil antagonists, and certainly not romance authors. Carstairs is interesting to read about to say the least, very perverse, yet cunning in his control of the members of his club. There are also shades of gray in the "bad" characters, they aren't completely evil for the sake of evil, and Quentin, "Damage" Randall, Carstairs, and Sir Torquil "Blood" Staines all exhibit very interesting characterizations for baddies as a result.
Unlike other romance heroes' tortured souls, I really thought Devlin's tortured past resonated, and crested to a climax towards the end in Mulberry Cottage at Oakley Park, a lavish Strathmore estate. The novel actually spent time demonstrating why Devlin's soul is so tortured. I also appreciated that the lead pair confided in each other at the right time over their wounded histories well before the conclusion of the novel.
Rarely do romance novels craft engaging plots, but DEVIL TAKES A BRIDE is an exception. Gaelen Foley balances the plotting and romance effectively, and I was thoroughly captivated by both Devlin's plight for revenge, and his quest for Lizzie Carlisle's heart.
Possible SPOILERS ahead.
My biggest gripe deals with the plot element which pitted Devlin's revenge at odds with his love for Lizzie. DEVIL TAKES A BRIDE makes it seem like Devlin must forsake his revenge in order for Lizzie to accept him; that is, it's a choice between vengeance against the perpetrators which killed 47 innocent people including his parents or love with Lizzie. I understand the characterization in Devlin which makes his plight for revenge soulless, but c'mon, would he really be at peace just letting go of a revenge against the men which killed his parents? Really? Towards the end when Devlin thinks he lost Lizzie at one point, Devlin anguishes he chose revenge over Lizzie. At another point when Devlin divulges his plans for revenge to Lizzie, Lizzie leaves him even though she fully realizes that Devlin's last thread to life was her. Lizzie keenly observes the cold, icy look in his eyes when he talks about his parents' death, and even notices that only her presence is capable of bringing warmth back in his eyes. So why abandon him?
Instead of going forward with the plan for the revenge-in-blood following Lizzie's departure, Devlin instead opts for justice with the law after grieving over his family's deaths at the mausoleum for 3 days, 12 years after-the-fact. With Lizzie gone, I would move forward with the revenge-in-blood plan at once and in haste, especially since he knows Lizzie is in danger. On the third day at the mausoleum, some divine inspiration comes to Devlin, and he arranges for justice even though he knows the men he's going after are titled members of Society, easily able to bribe the constabulary and deflect the law; after all, they did suppress evidence of the fire 12 years ago, didn't they? I just don't get it. He should have exerted more control on the situation at the end having involved himself with the Horse and Chariot Club for a long time coming; he should have locked away Lizzie for her own protection, and killed the perpetrators of the crime which killed his family, in stealth. He was already planning on burning the pavilion with all of the perpetrators including possible innocents in it which isn't exactly honorable, so why not just assassinate them now in stealth, individually and discriminate? Instead of using the rage and cold fury from his wounded past to effect a favorable conclusion -- something that's more than possible -- he instead succumbs to anguish and torture at the end, grieving for days. And returns to London to find Lizzie kidnapped by his enemies. Even though he knew she was in danger!
Then again, I suppose if Devlin acted sensibly at the end (using the cold fury to effect a favorable outcome) then the women characters wouldn't have such a prevalent role at the end. As it stands, Mary Harris and Lizzie both are key.
The plotting towards the end which has Mary Harris miraculously rescue Lizzie from 4 very dangerous men intent on killing both women was very suspect. There's four men guarding a tied-up Lizzie and next thing you know, Lizzie has escaped, and both Lizzie and Mary are running for their lives, with the evil men none the wiser. Mary Harris actually surviving a fatal gunshot and then falling for Ben was also a bit on the cheesy side, not to mention contrived and incongruous.
I didn't like how we weren't treated to the actual marriage until the epilogue in a book titled DEVIL TAKES A BRIDE, I thought it should have happened much earlier. The subplot with Lizzie's Season, and her being Society's Original, Incomparable and a Toast seemed way too contrived. It came out of no where, just to satisfy a girl's dreams even though the book describes Lizzie as very average, appearance-wise. And let's be honest, appearance is important, if it wasn't, most romance novels' heroes wouldn't be tall, dark, broad-shouldered, chiseled and handsome. I thought Devlin should have forced her to marry him like he had originally planned. Ah, well.
I also thought that the ending didn't spend enough time between Devlin and his long-lost sister he hasn't seen for 12 years, Sarah. Devlin & Lizzie's love easily overshadowed the brother-sister reunion, and that seemed a bit inconsistent too.
The Story, possible SPOILERS again.
Devlin Strathmore is 17 when his family perishes from a fire at an inn which kills a total of 47 innocent people. His dowager Aunt Augusta assumes his guardianship and for twelve years, Devlin "Devil" Kimball earns a dubious reputation as a rakehell, travels the world, lives amongst Indians with barbarian instincts, kills a mountain cat, and returns to London to continue his dissolute reputation as a profligate. However, this rakehell outward appearance is a show as he endeavors to earn the trust and confidence of the Horse and Chariot Club, whose members he suspects for the responsibility of the fire which killed his parents.
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Carlisle is companion and caretaker of Devlin's aged Aunt Augusta. After Lizzie learns of the bills Devlin's Aunt Augusta pays on Devlin's dissolute behalf, Lizzie resolves to teach Devlin a lesson, someone she's never met. Fireworks ensue between our leading couple, and the dowager Aunt Augusta notices. The night before Devlin leaves to return to London, Augusta changes her will, amending a provision dealing with Devlin's inheritance.
Following Aunt Augusta's death and at the will hearing weeks later, Lizzie and Devlin learn that Aunt Augusta's will splits the bulk of her fortune between Lizzie and Devlin, on the condition that both marry. Should they not marry within 3 months, the fortune goes to a charitable organization. For some time, Devlin has been accruing many debts so he can treat the members of the Horse and Chariot Club and earn their esoteric confidence. Unfortunately for Devlin, he's been counting on that inheritance money and doesn't wish to drag Lizzie into his dangerous affairs. Now, he has no choice. The actual marriage never does happen, at least not until the epilogue. And we're left to wonder exactly how Devlin manages to stall the collectors of his debts for so long.
The bulk of the novel's content and pacing: there's a flourishing romance between Lizzie and Devlin as Devlin honorably courts Lizzie trying to convince her to marry him; all the while, Devlin tries to uncover the men responsible for his parents' deaths. In general I thought Gaelen Foley handled it well, with vivid settings and gripping plotting. However, I was too dismayed by some specific plot elements: especially the whole revenge vs. love element (why not both? Revenge stories are too fun and have far more potential), and I was put off by Devlin's succumbing, anguishing characterization at the very end after Lizzie inexplicably leaves him when it seemed like she reached an understanding of his tortured soul. Again, I thought Devlin should have exerted more control of the concluding situation which spirals out of control since he was working to maneuver the perpetrators' deaths for 2 years. He shouldn't have been grieving for his loss 12 years ago, when he knew Lizzie was in danger now.
Overall, the romance was heart-felt, the plotting not bad, the settings vivid.