As soon as I saw this title and plot announced, I knew the book would be fan service. Having now read it, I say, yeah, so what? Kleypas is excellent at keeping her previous characters themselves when they reappear, which makes seeing them again delightful. And though she gives Sebastian and Evangeline a whole prologue to themselves, she doesn’t overdo the nostalgia.
And this isn’t a retread of Devil in Winter, nor would it have made sense for it to be one. Gabriel, eldest son of that couple, has had the privilege of growing up in a warm, loving, and witty family. Unlike his father, he’s also grown up with a strong sense of responsibility and need to achieve. There really isn’t anything particularly devilish about him, other than that he’s having an affair with a married woman.
This misnaming contributes to a flatness at the end of the book. Gabriel thinks of himself as having a sexual “dark side,” which turns out to be absolutely nothing. The story would more aptly be called Incredibly Devoted Sex God in Spring. The ending fails in other ways too, introducing a new, over-the-top conflict instead of dealing with the genuine, realistic issue that already existed for the couple.
That said, the first three-fourths of the book are delightful. Our heroine is Pandora, the rather wild child from the previous two books in the Ravenel series. Here we learn that Pandora has a disability resulting from childhood abuse; she lost hearing in one ear and frequently has episodes of severe vertigo and tinnitis. I don’t know if it was the author’s intent, but I suspect Pandora would also be diagnosed with ADD today, and possibly with ASD. Her mind moves quickly from thought to thought, making her seem forgetful and disorganized, she has anxiety in crowds and unfamiliar places, and she’s always entirely herself, no matter how hard she tries to be like everyone else.
After Gabriel quite innocently compromises Pandora — see, not devilish at all, his father would totally have gotten some foreplay out of it — he knows he has to do the right thing, but is worried about how this scatterbrained, antisocial woman would manage as his eventual duchess. To his amazement, Pandora has no desire at all to manage: she’s on the verge of starting a boardgame design business and her plans for her life do not include giving up everything she’s worked for to a husband. (Which the law would force upon them.) As Gabriel falls more and more for her, he has to use his charms and occasionally devious intelligence to convince her he’s worth the risk.
I adored this courtship. The love scenes are achingly slow and gorgeous. But it was the conversation and witty dialogue that really won my heart. It’s such a funny book, and they have so much fun together.
But Pandora is also very clear about her feelings and needs.
“‘Damn it Pandora, I can’t promise not to protect you.’
‘Protecting can turn into controlling’
‘No one has absolute freedom. Not even me.’
‘But you have so much of it. When someone has only a little of something, they have to fight to keep from losing any of it.'”
Her insights made the ending even more disappointing to me, when a conflict arises between and then is instantly brushed off as nothing after some time in the sack.
So, not as terrific a book as it could have been. But there was much to love, and perhaps most of all, the theme of acceptance. In giving Pandora his acceptance of her, flaws and all, Gabriel also finds he can just be himself with her, flaws and all, the one thing this beloved golden child needed.