The Brides of Christmas

The Christmas Cat

Forbidden Magic

Lord of Midnight

Secrets of the Night

The Shattered Rose

Something Wicked

Star of Wonder

 
Devilish by Jo Beverley
(Signet, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-451-19997-9
*****
“Waiting for Rothgar.” It seems that for eight years, ever since Beowulf Malloren, Marquess of Rothgar, stepped onto the pages of My Lady Notorious a large segment of the romance reading public has been waiting for his story. And, as he appeared in book after book of the Malloren family saga, the anticipation grew. Jo Beverley had, perhaps unwittingly, created one of the most fascinating characters in all of the genre’s history.

I can only imagine the trepidation the author must have felt as Rothgar loomed ever larger in the readers’ imaginations. Everyone is waiting for the marquess to get his own romance, his own happily ever after. But how to create a heroine worthy of this larger than life character? How to give him a story worthy of his presence? What if it didn’t work?

I am happy to report that it works and works wonderfully. Devilish is well worth the wait.

We met Rothgar’s fate in the last book in the Malloren series, Secrets of the Night Diana Westmount is no ordinary heroine. Rather, she is a most unusual woman, Countess of Arradale in her own right. Raised to rule her estates and people, responsible for their well-being, Lady Arradale is as proud and as determined as Rothgar. Indeed, she actually bested him in the events surrounding the unlikely love story of his brother Brand and her cousin Rosa. Needless to say, sparks flew between these two strong aristocrats.

Now a year has passed and Rosa and Brand are returning to Yorkshire for their wedding. Accompanying the bride and groom are all the Mallorens, including the Marquess. Both Rothgar and Diana approach the coming meeting with trepidation. Each knows, perhaps intuitively, that the other is his perfect match. But each has strong reasons for avoiding marriage. Diana knows that if she marries, given the conventions of 18th century England, she will lose her autonomy. Rothgar, having witnessed his mother’s insanity in the most horrible fashion, is determined that her tainted blood will die with him.

Then, fate takes a hand. Diana has foolishly petitioned the king to be allowed to take the Arradale seat in the House of Lords. George III is appalled by this unwomanly behavior and orders Rothgar to bring the countess to London where she can be schooled in proper feminine behavior and found a proper husband. Kings still have power to impose their will in 1763 and Diana must obey. She must pretend to be a properly submissive woman or face a potentially dire fate. And Rothgar is her bulwark against this danger.

The journey to London proves perilous, both because Rothgar has an enemy who seeks to destroy him and because, thrown together, the two find it harder to deny their attraction. London itself offers even greater dangers as the machinations of Rothgar’s enemies continue to threaten both the marquess and the woman he has come unwillingly to love.

What do I like about this book? Everything. I like the way Beverley weaves the history of the time into her story so effectively. I like revisiting all the Mallorens and their mates. I like the descriptions of the fashions and mores of the day. But mostly, I like the hero and heroine.

I really don’t need to say anything about Rothgar, do I? The Rothgar of B>Devilish is the Rothgar that has fascinated us for years. Brilliant, cunning, clever, astute, devious, yet always honorable. But Beverley’s great achievement is to humanize Rothgar in this his own story. Oh, she’s been moving in that direction, but here we feel the pain, the loneliness, and yes, the despair that he has always covered up so carefully. Because until he comes to terms with his own humanity, Rothgar cannot move beyond his tragic past.

In Diana, Rothgar has found a worthy mate. Perhaps she lacks his wisdom in all things; after all, she does not have his experience of the world. But she is brave and determined and when she falls in love, she is the one to break down the barriers that Rothgar has built against the world. She is his salvation, just as he is hers. There can be no question that this is a marriage of equals.

So, all you who have been “waiting for Rothgar,” get you to the bookstore as soon as the book hits the stands. The wait is over.

--Jean Mason


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