There are days when the only thing that will really do is to curl up with something light to read. For me, that usually takes the form of a romance novel, preferably a historical one. One of the newer authors out there that have engaged me has been Elizabeth Hoyt and her series titled The Legend of the Four Soldiers.
And while I don't tend to seek out historical romances very much any more, this series did catch me what with the unusual time setting -- England after the French and Indian wars in the mid-1700's. Not too many authors go there any more, preferring to stay in the Regency period instead, a time about fifty years later.
In To Desire a Devil, the fourth book of the series, Miss Beatrice Corning, the niece of the Earl of Blanchard, finds her world turned upside down. For years she has been acting as the social hostess for her widowed uncle, enjoying a life filled with luxury and the juiciest of London's scandals. But when a savage, filthy man with scars on his body and tattoos on his face stumbles into her soiree, and declares that he's the true Earl of Blanchard, Beatrice finds that life isn't always smooth.
For one, it turns out that Reynauld St. Aubyn does clean up rather nicely, revealing a darkly handsome exterior under the grime. And while his manners and nasty attitude towards others -- especially herself and her uncle -- need a severe adjustment, he's not really a bad sort. And to get the return of his rightful title and wealth, he's going to need Beatrice's help.
The sexual tension between the pair here does work, all smouldering looks and stolen embraces, with finding herself rather confused at her own responses. After all, if she believes him, and she starts to do so very quickly, she'll find herself poor and dispossessed once he takes the title. And while he seems to be interested in her romantically, is he just using her to get what he wants?
It's an interesting novel, full of the sort of is he? is she? sort of twists that are the stock in trade of a romance novelist. But here, there really is some depth to the characters -- if Reynauld's tribulations sound a bit over the top for the seven years that he vanished, some accounts of Indian treatment of their white captives make this read rather tame. His having to learn how to trust people all over again, and deal with the psychological damage that he has suffered gives him real depth, and character, and goes a bit beyond the usual male aristocrats found in these novels. And I liked how the author let Beatrice show a bit of impatience and temper during various scenes, instead of having her be the usual sweet innocent that appears all too often.
The biggest flaw in here, besides Reynauld's rampaging behaviour at times, was a subplot involving Lottie, a friend of Beatrice's and the disintegration of her marriage when her husband starts to choose politics over her. It was a nice twist, but it also felt tacked on and rather unnecessary overall, there were already enough fireworks between the two main characters to keep the story moving along.
I really did enjoy this one, despite the flaws, and especially found the author's use of England's politics a very refreshing one. There is plenty of verbal give-and-take between the hero and heroine, and Beatrice is hardly the swooning idiot that inhabit most historical romance novels. Instead, she gets irritated, angry and puts her foot down when necessary. While the hero was too much of an Alpha Male Jerk for my tastes, Beatrice does manage to get him into a more socially acceptable state by the end of the novel.
As to the overall arc of the series, it does finally get resolved by the end of this novel, but it did feel rather rushed and a bit too pat. Still, the series was a fairly good one, the setting was unusual, and each of the couples in the quartet had real problems to overcome. To me, that makes for a good historical read, and this will be an author that I will continue to seek out in the future.
An excerpt from Elizabeth Hoyt's next novel, Wicked Intentions, is included in the book as well.
Four stars overall, recommended.
The Legend of the Four Soldiers Series:
To Taste Temptation
To Seduce a Sinner
To Beguile a Beast
To Desire a Devil -- you are here
To Desire a Devil
2009; Vision, Hachette Book Group