DevilishBy Jo Beverley
Release Date: April 10, 2000
Since the romance community is focused on the RWA national conference in New York this week and awaiting the announcement of the 2011 Rita winners, I thought it was an appropriate time to review an old favorite that was a Rita winner ten years ago. Devilish won in the Long Historical Romance category in 2001.
I first encountered Beowulf Malloren, Marquess of Rothgar in the pages of My Lady Notorious, the first of Beverley’s Malloren series. I loved the story of Cyn Malloren and Lady Chastity Ware; indeed, My Lady Notorious still holds a place on my all-time top 100 list. But it was Rothgar who haunted me; his was the story for which I most longed. With the rest of Beverley’s eager fans, I waited for Rothgar for just over seven years. I read Devilish the day it was released, staying up much too late to do so—despite an 8 o’clock class to teach the next morning. It was worth the wait.
In Devilish the Mallorens en masse, have returned to Yorkshire for the nuptials of Brand Malloren and Rosa Overton (Secrets of The Night). Their hostess for the event is Rosa’s cousin, Diana Westmount, Countess of Arradale, who bested Rothgar in Secrets of the Night. The chemistry between Rothgar and Diana that was evident in the earlier book gains intensity in Devilish, but both are committed to remaining free of entanglements. Rothgar has determined to remain unmarried because he fears passing on the madness that led his mother to murder his younger sister, and Diana knows that her only hope of retaining her rare powers as a countess in her own right is to remain a “womanly, virginal earl.”
Their resoluteness is tested when King George III, offended by Diana’s unwomanly power, sends a letter commanding Rothgar to escort the countess to London where an appropriate husband must be found for her, one who will relegate her to the proper female role of obedience to husband and king. At the same time the king is determined to end Diana’s dream of filling her father’s role on the Arradale estates, Rothgar has an unknown enemy who is plotting to destroy him. But the external dangers are more easily confronted than the attraction that blazes between these two proud, intelligent, complex people.
There’s always the risk that a highly anticipated book in a series will fail to meet readers’ extraordinarily high expectations, but Devilish met every expectation. For readers who like a full cast of characters from previous books, Beverley gathers all the Mallorens for the wedding. Even the missing, early married Hilda, Lady Steen, with spouse and children, makes an appearance. Only Cyn and Chastity, prospering in Canada, are missing from the celebration, and there are references to them.
Another concern when an author creates a character as compelling as Rothgar is that his heroine won’t prove to be a fit mate. Diana lack’s Rothgar’s sophistication, but she is a worthy match for him in her courage and her sense of responsibility. Perhaps most significant is her understanding of how power isolates and her determination to break through Rothgar’s carefully constructed guards to the heart and soul of the man.
Then there is Rothgar himself. The reader is prepared for his physical and mental prowess, for his near omniscience, for his brilliance in execution of his plans, for all the qualities that have made him such a large presence in the first four books of the series. But in his own book, Beverley moves beyond the larger-than-life Eminence Noir to reveal the essential loneliness and sorrow that make up the character of this man whose life has been shadowed since early childhood by the heinous action of his mother and who, at the age of 19, inherited his title with all its responsibilities, the well-being of his younger half-siblings paramount among them. Early in Devilish, Bryght thinks of Rothgar as “fascinating and admirable, but at times . . . scarcely human.” What Beverley does in this fifth book is to render Rothgar human, to show his fears and frustrations, to reveal a man vulnerable to love. The result is an even more complex character.
All these strengths and I haven’t even touched upon Beverley usual splendid use of historical detail to enrich the dimensions of her story nor her skillful use of automatons to reveal Rothgar’s need for control and Diana’s painful relationship with her father. The heat level of the book is moderate, but the love scenes are both sensual and tender. Beverley leaves no doubt that Rothgar and Diana are a perfect match in all areas of their lives.
Since my first reading of Devilish, I have read it several times as part of the continuing series of books set in the Malloren world. I have been delighted to see further evidence of Rothgar’s humanity in subsequent books. Just the thought of Rothgar involved in a secret baby plot still makes me smile. I started reading Jo Beverley with her first book, and I have continued to read and reread her over more than two decades now. Devilish remains one of my top three favorites among her nearly forty books. I’m looking forward to visiting the Malloren world again in February 2012 when the twelfth book in the series, A Scandalous Countess, is released.
Do you have former Rita winners among your all-time favorites? Which of your favorites from ten or more years ago stand up best after a decade or more of reading?