This novel has been sitting in my Kindle since it came out last year, and since the sequel came out this month, I decided it was time to finally read it. I didn’t start reading romance until the late spring/early summer of 2015 (I had tried a book or two before), and along with Tessa Dare and Lisa Kleypas, Sarah McLean was one of the authors that got me hooked – in the case of Dare and McLean, I started with the bookish heroines mixing with rogues/rakes (Miranda and Phillipa) and kept going. I loved the Rules of Scoundrels series, and two of the Love by Numbers novels, but her last novel or two before this one just wasn’t quite as much fun for me. McLean has always included a healthy dose of angst in her novels, and a lot of heroes who don’t think they are worthy of love. Unfortunately, that trope was popping up a bit too much in some other romance novels as well, so despite her being one of my “gateway drugs,” I had been hesitant to start this one, fearing disappointment.
As it turns out, that was unfounded. No, she doesn’t suddenly completely change her writing style, and the hero very much thinks he is beneath the heroine but there is so much good that is going on in the novel that that part of the conflict takes up less space in the novel. The hero and heroine are fun and charming, and there is a whole fun underground smuggling ring in Covent Garden. (Also, I was in London for a week in July and we stayed at an Airbnb in Covent Square so it is absolutely fascinating to me that the formerly seedy bad part of town is now a rather coveted, expensive and nice part of town – gentrification!) There’s also a very dark secret back story that is hinted at and then finally revealed. I think the thing that really makes this novel succeed is that McLean goes back to what worked for her so well before – the seedier side of London. Before it was a gaming hell, now it’s smuggling rings and more, and she also introduces some women as minor characters that are at home in the dark.
Felicity Faircloth has progressed from being part of the in crowd to being relegated to wallflower status. Her family is desperate to marry her off because she has reached spinster status. Of course, after she makes a huge mistake at a ball with a new duke, one that should see her banished from society, her family shares that they are also broke, and they kept pushing her into the marriage market to pay off their bills. Felicity is justly irritated that they didn’t share their plan with her since she might have acted differently, but oddly enough her faux pas doesn’t lead to ruin, and instead the Duke of Marwick has actually confirmed their engagement.
Felicity believes this is due to the deal she struck with Devil, one of two brothers who basically runs Covent Garden as well as a smuggling ring. Devil and his brother have some kind of mysterious past with the Duke that seems to give him a hold over him. At least, that’s the story Devil is spinning – he only promised Felicity the Duke because he already knew how the Duke would act. Felicity is set up to be a pawn in a revenge plot but Devil is drawn to her, like a moth to flame, and even as Felicity is on verge of achieving everything she ever wanted, she questions whether her goals are still the same. Having seen another side to life, she wants more, and she might want Devil. She certainly is tired of doing things for her family when they have never bothered about her.
I’m once again looking forward to reading more from Sarah McLean, and while I’m sure Brazen and the Beast about Devil’s brother Beast/Whit will be good, it’s some of the other characters I’m really looking forward to interacting with more closely.