I zipped my way through the Ravenels, a choice made completely dependent on the fact that Fated Mates was going to be doing a show on Marrying Winterborne, and I wanted in on the hype.
It’s such well-deserved hype though, guys. If you’re a historical romance reader, and you haven’t read a Lisa Kleypas book, I’m confused about what you ARE reading, quite honestly. Because Kleypas is a Queen Bee of the genre, and that’s not just my opinion. But it is definitely my opinion. Kleypas’s Wallflowers quartet is perhaps the historical series I’ve reread the most, and there were so many echoes of it here – including some of the characters making cameo appearances – and I know that residual good feelings came with me into this series.
The Ravenels are a 7 book series, starting with Cold-Hearted Rake & ending with Devil in Disguise. I’m going to talk a little bit about each of them here*, and I’m going to tell you now that spoilers abound, because I’m going to be naming couples, and plot points, and favorite quotes and scenes. If you want to go into it knowing nothing EXCEPT that these books are excellent; that Kleypas continues to craft some of the most complex heroes & heroines in all of Romancelandia; and that you really should start with book one and work your way through for optimal effect, Stop reading here, because you have all the information you require. If you want to hear a little bit more about how wonderful these books are, or have already read them and want to talk, let’s go.
*I’m going to split this review in two, so this first one will be books 1-3, and the next will be books 4-7, but they’ll both go up today, so you can read them all together. Just length wise, this made the most sense.
Devon Ravenel, the titular Cold-Hearted Rake of book 1 shows up at the family holding that he’s recently & unexpectedly inherited after the accidental death of his cousin, with his brother, a bad attitude, and a big mouth. Kathleen, Lady Trenear, the widow of Devon’s cousin, already resides there, with her late-husband’s three sisters, all the mourning clothing four young ladies could ever require, and a well-earned distrust of all men Ravenel. How could they be anything but destined to fall in love?
The thing is that Devon isn’t really all that cold-hearted, and eventually decides that he can’t just sell off the family estates, abandon these ladies to their poor fortunes, and disenfranchise all of the tenants of all of those holdings as well. With some unexpected help from his used-to-be-ne’er-do-well of a brother, several other friends (who become more important as the series develops), & a stroke of good luck, Devon manages to excel as Lord Trenear, no matter how much he protested the title & its responsibilities at first. He also realizes pretty quickly that he’d like Lady Trenear to STAY Lady Trenear, and most of the book is him figuring out how to make that happen. Kathleen’s reluctance to commit her life to another Ravenel is understandable, and the dance between the two of them, and what each of them needs in order to meet in the middle, is entertaining.
The book contains one of my favorite tropes: Someone is injured, and someone else realizes how deeply they care for them while waiting to see how bad it actually is. It’s got all the “oh God, have I waited too long to tell them??” angst a reader would ever need. It also includes a hero who eventually knows the heroine so well that he can figure out the one thing she needs well before she does, and let me tell you that this is why the weaponized incompetence of actual human males makes me livid, because Devon Ravenel, self-proclaimed rake and waste of space, manages to understand Kathleen’s need for reassurance and propriety on a level so deep that he invites her (basically) foster mother to visit them to give her approval of their relationship, long before Kathleen even recognizes that that is part of what is holding her back. And random internet dude #33 wants to mansplain why he doesn’t know his own children’s grade in school? No thank you.
Quote: “It’s far easier to make a heart stop beating entirely than to keep it from loving the wrong person.”
From Kathleen & Devon, we move on to the crowd/internet favorite of this series: Marrying Winterborne. This book has one of the absolute BEST ending scenes in a romance that I’ve ever read. Ever. All time. If you want to hear two masters discussing another master’s impeccable craftsmanship with that scene, I 100% recommend listening to Fated Mates Season 5 Episode 3: A Professional Driver on a Closed Course, because they break it down SO WELL, I’m not even going to attempt it here. Our couple is Helen Ravenel, who is hiding a rather big secret, and Rhys Winterborne, who is failing to hide his rather spectacular crush on Helen Ravenel. Even though they start the book apart, after a ‘failed engagement’, things progress rather quickly into a kind of romance novel catnip that hits every beat exactly right.
And I did say I wasn’t going to discuss the big climax but let me just say this: Helen is the heroine of the series that I most related to, because she wasn’t as out there as her sisters, and she was shy, and she just really wanted to do the right thing – as she saw it – for the people she cared about, at every turn. So when she feels like she’s made choices that put Winterborne’s happiness & success in danger, she makes additional choices to remove herself from the equation as his potential future bride, even though it means breaking her own heart. The fact that Rhys Winterborne is not going to let go of her in any universe is something she doesn’t really understand, but we as readers do, so knowing that he’s going to come and get her at some point – and having that point get pushed and pushed and pushed to the absolutely last possible second – just makes this an A++ read. Understand the hype; completely agree. No notes.
Quote: “Try to leave me, and see what happens. Go to France, go anywhere, and see how long it takes for me to reach you. Not five fucking minutes.” He took a few vehement breaths, his gaze locked on hers. “I love you. I don’t give a damn if your father is the devil himself. I’d let you stab a knife in my heart if it pleased you, and I’d lie there loving you until my last breath.”
In book three, Devil in Spring, we move on to Pandora Ravenel & Gabriel, St. Vincent. First, here comes one of those cameos I mentioned, which I happen to love, as Evie & Sebastian of Devil in Winter fame, are St. Vincent’s parents. And I have to call him Gabriel, because even though Sebastian has a higher title now – he is the Duke of Kingston -, he remains St. Vincent in my brain. (And Gabriel was Gabriel often enough in the text that I believe Kleypas probably realized that this would be an issue for readers, for which I am grateful). Gabriel is the heir, of course, and has a lot of Sebastian’s cockiness in him, though it’s largely tempered by Evie’s calm & patience, which is nice to see. He’s going to need it, because Pandora is… her own person.
Pandora is one of Helen’s twin sisters (her twin, Cassandra, gets her book further down). Since we’ve met her in book 1, mostly we know she is not really into the Season, doesn’t intend to marry at all, hangs out with all the wallflowers at the balls, and is serious mostly about boardgames, and making her own. She doesn’t seem to be super great at interpersonal communication all the time – brusque at best, which doesn’t exactly fly when it comes to ‘proper miss behavior’ in London, of all places.
Reading into the text w/a current eye, I would say Pandora is not neurotypical, but in exactly what way, I’m unsure. She certainly has a lot of ADHD/Autistic traits, but that’s coming from a neuroatypical reader/reviewer, so YMMV. One thing about Pandora that I loved was how anti-marriage she was from the beginning. She totally understood – and tried repeatedly to get everyone around her, but especially Gabriel- to understand that her objections to marriage were logical and reasonable. That she would lose control of her own business if she married; that she’d be subject to the whims of her husband; that she’d lose access to money and intellectual property and even her own right to say what she did or didn’t do with her body should she be married. Of course, they still wind up married. But at least Gabriel takes these concerns seriously, and they discuss them, and try to compromise around them, and run up against the limitations of those compromises & rework them again. Considering that the book starts with the ‘caught in a compromising (but not really compromising) position’ trope, it certainly made a difference that these issues were a large part of the plot.
The feminist bent of the storyline almost made up for the parts where I felt Gabriel was talking down to Pandora unnecessarily. Or assuming her naiveté about London and the Season and the like – which was real – meant she didn’t understand anything, which was annoyingly supercilious of him. Or that her anxiousness – & what I read as neuro-a-typical-ness – meant he could talk to her in a pretty patronizing way. It’s only semi-redeemed by the post-serious injury Pandora’s ability to set Gabriel back a bit in his overprotective ways. Between Pandora’s creativity, capitalism & cheer, and the glint-in-his-eye at his son’s predicaments, Sebastian, I mostly overlooked the parts that I didn’t love.
Quote: “Good God, she really did walk in circles. A pang of tenderness centered in Gabriel’s chest like an ache. He wanted all her circles to lead back to him.”
Meet me at my next post for the last four books.
I’m using this review for the Rec’d Square on cbrbingo14, as pretty much everybody on the internet who has read these books has told me to also read them. Just as I’m telling you.