This is book one in the Bareknuckle Bastards series, which has a rather complicated premise that takes the reader a little too long to figure out at the start. There is a prologue regarding three boys born to three women on the same day that are illegitimate and one girl born the same day who may or may not be a duke’s daughter. From there the first chapter jumps into action with a mysterious stranger planning to sneak into a ball held in honor of the new Duke of Marwick. He gets distracted by a young woman who picks a lock to enter the room he was about to exit, and he ends up having a discussion with her in the dark. Devil, the mysterious dark figure, finds himself strangely fascinated with the young woman who talks to herself and he has to tear himself away to continue his nefarious schemes.
For her part, Felicity Faircloth was trying to escape the ballroom with its mean girls who used to be her friends, but are no longer. There was some incident that left Felicity on the outside of the society where she used to be popular and she wants back in. The dark stranger leaves her feeling unsettled, and after she runs into the mean girls again, she blurts out that she is going to marry the Duke of Marwick. This sets into a motion a plan that Devil decides to use in his favor to bring down Marwick. Again here it’s not quite clear why this is happening, and it takes awhile to get all the details.
I had steered clear of Ms MacLean’s last series after failing to finish the first book there; yet when I saw this book the premise sounded better so I picked it up. I enjoyed it more than I expected, though not as much as her older books. This one was a cross between Stephanie Lauren’s books (where everyone is named Devil or some odd nickname), Lorraine Heath’s Hellions of Havisham series and Bec McMaster’s Kiss of Steel without the paranormal aspects. Felicity is your typical wallflower – pretty (though she doesn’t think so), intelligent, outspoken and able to escape her house without chaperone on a regular basis. Devil is intriguing in that he’s not a member of the ton – he is the master of the rookeries, down and dirty, but dresses like a nobleman when he needs to. It’s soon clear to Felicity that having Devil help her get her wish of marrying the duke and gaining entrance back into society may not be what she really wants.
It was an entertaining enough read, though a bit formulaic. Devil is the crook with a heart of gold and Felicity is the woman who steals his heart while defying society. Upcoming books in the series will center on the other two siblings, Whit (aka Beast) and Grace (aka Dahlia), both of whom made small appearance here and could have played bigger parts.