Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dark Characters From Stuart and Carlyle

Devil’s Waltz by Anne Stuart

The Honorable Miss Annelise Kempton had no idea the kind of trouble she’d get into when she accepted an invitation for a self-made man to shepherd his daughter through her first season. Particularly when Christian Montcalm, the most notorious man in London, seems undecided whether to marry Annelise’s charge for her money or seduce the staid Annelise herself. Add to that a sinister secret, naughty statues and two addle-pated young lovers, and you have the perfect recipe for high-spirited happy ever after.

I can easily echo sentiments already expressed everywhere else online. I enjoyed Devil’s Waltz very much and, if I kept books, this one would qualify as a keeper.

It features another Stuart hero that borders on villain. Adding my opinion to the collective scale, I’d weight Christian’s “degree of bad” on the heavy side. Even near the end—a happy end, mind you—he actually seems to consider leaving his heroine as hostage to brutes, envisioning a vile fate for her as he stands there weighing his chances of survival with and without her in tow. He went so far as to let her think for a moment that he would leave her behind. That was one of many moments that undermined my belief in him or even his potential.

Nicknaming the heroine “dragon” did little to endear me to him—or her—either. Stuart’s portrayal of Annelise is almost as harsh as Christian’s treatment of her. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it and wondered how much Stuart really thought of her heroine—a woman strong on the outside and remarkably resigned on the inside. Protective at first, I finally tired of the dragon references and secretly wanted her to give in to her hope, however fleeting it felt to her.

Had it not been for the sparse moments of tenderness he showed Annelise, or her perseverance despite her self-loathing, I would have given them up to their miserable, independent fates. In the end, I simply wanted him to make her life better, save her from a misery that he was more than a little responsible for causing.

Still, it was a superb read. Primarily because Stuart writes so well, adding flesh to characters through dialogue and action in a way that few authors manage. Despite their flaws, Stuart’s characters penetrate the reader’s conscious. For me, I will always turn to a character calling me to slap him—hard—before I will turn to one that never fully materializes amidst weak dialogue and lame inner thoughts.

The Devil To Pay by Liz Carlyle

George Kemble, the man forever fixing everyone else’s problems, finds himself plagued by troubles of his own when his sister returns to London after a decade abroad. Sidonie Saint-Godard has lost her husband, but widowhood, unfortunately, bores her. When a thief called the Black Angel begins haunting the hells and alleys of London, robbing rich gentlemen of the ton, Kemble is mystified. He knows every member of London’s underworld, yet he does not know the Angel. But when a battered Sidonie collapses on his doorstep, bleeding from a nasty stab wound, Kemble begins to suspect the truth. Can he stop Sidonie’s dangerous behavior before someone else does?

Perhaps the Marquess of Devellyn can? The man unaffectionately known as the Devil of Duke Street has a watchful eye on his new neighbor, the mysterious Frenchwoman known as Madame Saint-Godard. In fact, he would like very much to seduce her, since he finds the lady lovely, intriguing, and almost disturbingly familiar . . . But when Kemble hears of his sister’s fascination with society’s most reviled nobleman, he is doubly alarmed. The Marquess of Devellyn is the absolute last person Kemble wants his sister in bed with—and for reasons which have nothing to do with Devellyn’s appalling reputation.

Also a superb read, again because Carlyle writes beautifully. Her elegant but economical descriptions pull me in and powerful characters tug me forward.

In The Devil To Pay, Carlyle’s hero and heroine are equally dark. And we see that darkness in them, through their demeanor and actions; feel it in the desperation of their private thoughts and listlessness.

For her hero, Carlyle does more than simply tell us Aleric is a rake with a dour view of his responsibilities—stereotyping readers can find in nearly every historical romance they open. Instead, Carlyle shows readers Aleric’s disdain—primarily for himself—every time he numbs himself by bottle or by lust.

In her heroine, Carlyle hides an impenetrable disappointment beneath the façade of activity, of doing something. Sidone is a woman who fills every moment with activity—some expected, some illicit and unsafe—never allowing the emotional undercurrent to the surface.

That each is inexplicably drawn to the other is understandable. Ultimately, Carlyle brings them together in an amazing sensual encounter that is powered by intense physical needs, heightened to near brutality. Then leaves them shattered by emotional longing so poignant even the reader aches.

I loved these two unconditionally; and ached for them.

Like those in Stuart’s The Devil’s Waltz, Carlyle’s characters see no way out from under the burdens that have carved their psyches. Unlike Stuart’s characters however, Carlyle’s Aleric and Sidone appear more deserving of a way out. The difference, I think, in the balance of strength and vulnerability in each.


  1. Hello! :)

    I'm in complete agreement on the Carlyle story. It was my first of hers and its drawn me in to buy more.

    Again, with Stuart, The Devil's Waltz was my first book by her and although I enjoyed the book it didn't inspire me to buy more.

  2. Ooooo Jen, you're back reading historicals again! Thought you'd given them up for a while. LOL I enjoy Liz Carlyle's books too. I'm not sure, but I think I've read a sequel to The Devil to Pay but can't remember the name.

  3. Valeen - Hi! I have to say that although I found Devil's Waltz less than overwhelming, I remain hooked by Stuart's writing. Since reading Black Ice (which more than overwhelmed me--wonderful, wonderful book), I have read Into The Fire (rivaled Black Ice), Hidden Honor and a couple more. All worthy reads.

    Linda - Looking at Carlyle's website, I'm thinking A Deal With The Devil is the sequel you refer to. The blurb includes mention of Lord Walrafen, a character we saw briefly in The Devil To Pay. I'd like to read this one.

    The Devil You Know, which I've read, does not appear to be part of this "series".

  4. OK, now I have to find where I put The Devil's Waltz for "safekeeping". I know it's around here somewhere amidst the ice packs and the crutches and all... sigh.

    I love Liz Carlyle. Can't wait to read this one. Good to have you back posting :)


Have you read it? What do you think?

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