The Devil's Love by Julia London
(Dell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-440-22631-7
New author Julia London has crafted a promising first novel that should please readers who don't require a great deal of historical verisimilitude in their historical romances. If you can accept a certain amount of improbability when it comes to the behavior and actions of the characters, you might well enjoy this story of two people maneuvered into marriage who ultimately discover that they are a perfect match.

The story opens in 1813 when Michael Ingram is a sailor on Captain Carrington's ship. His acclimation to life at sea is made more difficult by the behavior of the captain's daughter who is accompanying her father. Abigail is a hoyden who has made Michael the target of her attention. He is not amused and is, in fact, delighted when her father sends the little girl on her way.

The scene shifts to 1825. That same Abigail Carrington is arriving in Portsmouth to marry that same Michael Ingram, now the Marquess of Darfield. In the intervening years, her father had told her that Michael loved her and wished to marry her. She had believed his tale, despite the fact that Michael never wrote nor did they ever meet.

In fact, Michael has no desire to marry Abigail but is constrained by the terms of an agreement he signed ten years earlier. His failure to comply will cost him and others dearly. He has no idea of Captain Carrington's portrayal of him as Abbey's devoted suitor.

Abbey is surprised that Michael is not waiting for her on the dock; she is appalled by the unpleasant woman he has sent to meet her. But she gives the man she loves the benefit of the doubt. The man who meets her does not seem like the devoted lover her father had described. Indeed, he seems to go out of his way to get her to reject his suit. But Abbey gets her dander up and refuses to be intimidated. And when he rushes her into a marriage ceremony and then departs the next day, well, she begins to suspect that something is amiss.

I suppose the character of Abbey is one of the improbabilities of which I spoke. This well-traveled young lady of twenty-one (she has been to school in Rome and Switzerland, spent a year in Egypt, traveled to India, visited many of Europe's capitals and spent the past three years with an aunt in Virginia) seems surprisingly naive and immature. That she could in fact "love" a man whom she had not seen for twelve years, however glowingly he has been described by her father, seems unlikely. But I guess it was necessary for the plot.

Michael is a more believable character, but, in his own way, almost as improbable. The son of a profligate nobleman, he first enlisted in the army and then went to sea to escape the scandal. He has succeeded in restoring the family fortunes, but has been hounded by rumors about supposed misdeeds. He wants nothing to do with the hoyden he remembers until he sees the lovely woman she has become. Then the sexual tension sizzles.

The growing attachment between Abbey and Michael is threatened by the schemes of Michael's long time enemy. Michael is all too willing to believe the worst about his wife and Abbey is deeply hurt by his distrust.

London shows considerable promise, but The Devil's Love suffers from some of the weaknesses of a first novel. There is what I have come to call the "piling on" syndrome. For example, in her determination to create a "different" kind of heroine, London has devised for Abbey a history and persona that are totally unrealistic and ahistorical. A few fewer unconventionalities would have been better.

Also, I must admit that I found Abbey's continued "love" for Michael, despite his early and understandable treatment of her, not completely persuasive. On the other hand, Michael's growing affection for his unconventional wife makes much more sense.

Finally, there is that niggling problem of those small inaccuracies and anachronisms that, for this reader at least, detract from my enjoyment of a historical romance. Small things like suggesting that Brighton was a seaport or referring to a duke as Lord X and the like.

Still, The Devil's Love has an entertaining premise, an attractive hero, and an irrepressible heroine. I rate it as an acceptable romance and look for London to provide even better stories as she hones her craft.

--Jean Mason

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