The Devil in Winter is the book I first came across in this series, and its one of the most highly rated books in the historical romance genre, plus it focuses on Evie – the only true Wallflower in the group – so I was super excited to get stuck into this one. I had also really enjoyed St Vincent in It Happened One Autumn until he took his bewildering turn into pantomime villainy (what were you thinking Kleypas?).
I enjoy this so bloody much that I have read it twice in 3 months. Partly because crammed it into my brain within 48 hours the first time around, and then sped onto the final book, and consequently my memory was a little faded by the time I came to write the review up and really wanted to make sure I did Sebastian justice.
I am not a person that re-reads books unless it has been about a decade and I’ve entirely forgotten it. So, if I do reread something in a short time after finishing it that means I really loved it (also see Bunny!), and this I equally loved on my second read-through.
This one is a real departure from the previous two books which I have to say felt very welcome, as I was getting very fatigued by the forced kisses and ‘bullish’ men after two books. It picks up right from the final scene of the previous book, as Evie proposed to St Vincent that they get married. They are both desperate – she needs the protection marriage will offer her from her abusive family, and he needs the money she’ll inherit when her father dies. It is an insane plan – after he kidnapped and threatened to rape her friend – but she has no other options.
An unmarried woman has little recourse, socially or legally. It isn’t f-fair … but I can’t afford to go tilting at windmills. I need a h-husband. You need a rich wife. And we are both equally desperate, which leads me to believe that you will agree to my pr-proposition.
I would say that most of the plot remains comfortably predictable as a romance, but it does go little nuts towards the end. I am now recognising a familiar formula to these books where at least one of the lovers (but ideally both, at different times) will face some form of mortal peril that the other will sacrifice to rescue them from. In this one, we have a disturbed assassin.. and it is rather clumsily written! But, let’s be honest.. we are all here for Sebastian St Vincent!
Evie is the real wallflower of the group, the only genuine wallflower that will hesitate to get involved due to her own anxieties and insecurities rather than social circumstances (though she has those against her too). I would go as far as to say that she is even a wallflower within the book series, as she has up until now gotten by far the least amount of scene time in comparison to the others.
She makes a nice change of pace for me as a quieter character that takes more care and consideration before she acts. This does not mean she is a pushover, she has her own strength but it’s just not as overt (or loud about it) as Lillian or Annabelle.
Sebastian comprehended that she was not dullwitted by any means, though the stammer would cause many to assume otherwise. She was accustomed to being underestimated, ignored, overlooked … and he sensed that she would turn it to her advantage whenever possible. That interested him.
Evie grew up in a life of neglect, cruelty and outright abuse and now has a reasonable fear that if they once her family force her to marry her cousin they will murder her for the money she will inherit when her wealthy, dying father finally passes away. The desperation and lack of any other options make her bold enough to take a crazy risk, which also buys her freedom for the first time.
Surely this couldn’t be she … the wallflower Evangeline Jenner … alone in a carriage with a dangerous rake, racing madly to Gretna Green. Look what I’ve started, she thought dizzily.
I really enjoyed seeing Evie have some excitement, and ultimately find her strength. I could empathise with many of her anxieties, especially the ones that surface later in the book after things finally start to go well for them both.
I don’t think I’ll be able to st-stop myself from hiding in the corners. I’m still a wallflower, you know. I must learn how to be witty and poised and talk to people, or else you’ll be vexed with me, or even worse, ashamed […]
I can get on top of my anxieties if I am in a one-on-one situation with someone, especially somebody I felt comfortable with and supported by but as soon as you get me into any kind of group social setting it can all unravel. It is these vulnerabilities that make me love Evie so much as a character, she feels real to me – much more than Annabelle, Lillian or even Dasiy.
Sebastian St Vincent
Oh, man. Sebastian.
As much as I had enjoyed his introduction in the previous book, the way he ended things in that book does make the start of this one something of a struggle to get on board with. I will never understand why Kleypas went as far with him as she did. I also think she could have written the start of this one to more clearly communicate how wracked with guilt and shame he is over his actions. We only get a very short mention before he is thrust into the romantic lead. There is also an exchange with Evie where we are meant to believe that he wouldn’t have really raped Lillian, he was just a desperate threat… so what, are we meant to believe that if Westcliff hasn’t found her he’d have not forced her into marriage, and let her go?
‘Go on, then,’ she challenged coolly. ‘Force me.’ She saw the flicker of surprise in his eyes. His throat worked, but he remained silent. And then … she understood. ‘You can’t,’ she said in wonder. ‘You would never have raped Lillian. You were only bluffing. You could never force a woman.’ A faint smile rose to her lips. ‘She was never in a moment’s danger, was she? You’re not nearly the villain you pretend to be.’
This is all a real shame because otherwise, once you can put that mess out of your mind (which if you can, I urge you to just put it down to ill-judged writing!), Sebastian St Vincent is an absolute delight. Be still my heart!
He’s acerbic and funny, but also demonstrates a quiet depth of kindness and care that outstrips either Westcliff or Simon Hunt. These are things that he does very early on that seem to come from an innate desire to make her comfortable, as well as self-restraint, which is at odds with his outward persona of a thoughtless hedonistic rake. Over time the gap between the things that he says and his actions starts to close, as he reconciles that he might not be as bad as the reputation that he wears like a cloak.
I loved how both he and Evie come to get strength from each other, once they let down their walls and allow themselves to rely on another person’s support, for the first time in both their lives. Both characters have real, meaningful growth that is actually based on an emotional connection and that makes this easily the most romantic book of the series.
Evie knew perhaps better than anyone what it was like to live in desperate solitude … yearning for connection, for completeness. And she understood, too, the depths that his loneliness had driven him to.
For the first time, the book is not set at Stony Cross at all. There is a journey up to Gretna Green for some painful attempts at writing Scottish accents, and then most of the book takes place in the gentleman’s club where we get introduced to some fun new stereotyped lower-class characters.
This is a real feeling of danger that hangs over this book as Evie’s family are a real threat, as well as the bonkers “assassin” plot that happens later in the book. Plus it is clear that this environment is not as comfortable and cosy as the country manner we were in for the previous two books. I think Kleypas did a decent job here and I definitely did appreciate the change in the scene as well as tone.
A little bit of historical medical practices in a time of changing understanding is sprinkled in too. St Vincent tries to explain to Evie why she should be wearing a face mask when near her sick father, and he also pushes back against the doctor’s plan to let blood.
‘So that the tiny invisible creatures won’t fly into my lungs?’ she asked sarcastically. His eyes narrowed. ‘Don’t try me, Evie. I’m close to forbidding you visit him at all.’ ‘I’ll feel ridiculous, wearing a handkerchief on my face,’ she protested. ‘And it will hurt my father’s feelings.’
This did make me chuckle reading it in 2023!
I love all the little romantic subtleties in this book as affection grows between the pair, Kleypas is a master at this. I am not one to my blown over by grand romantic gestures – I don’t trust them – I need the small, everyday actions that show me you care. This book is full of those, which is what makes it such a soft and romantic read for me.
Of course, we do again have some horrendous writing of dialogue for the lower class, I guess cockney, characters by an American author but at this point, I find it part of the “charm!”
‘You’re not so tangled in the gob as you were,’
Yes, this is definitely how people spoke. Of course need a “milor”
St Vincent opened it to reveal a bedraggled chambermaid standing in the rain. ‘’Ere you are, milor’
And this …
‘’E gave it all to you, the damned bastard – ’e only wanted an ugly little tangle-tongue, when I was ’is son. ’Is son, an’ I was ’id away like a filthy chamber pot.’ His face contorted. ‘I did whotever ’e asked … I’d of killed to please ’im … but it never mattered. It was allus you ’e wanted, you bleedin’ parasite!’
And of course
Not a word. Or I’ll slit you open from neck to muff.
Again, working people are better than lazy posh people
At this point, I can safely say that this is the overarching theme of The Wallflowers series. This time rather than our Wallflower falling for a hard-working man who makes an “honest” living, we have Lord St Vincent – previously perhaps the foppiest fop of them all – finally finding a much-needed purpose to previously empty life and curing his idle nature. He is also in the desperate situation that he is because his father wasted the family fortune. In contrast to that Evie’s wealthy family are devious, outright evil characters looking to mooch off her inheritance.
My father, the duke, has failed in his one responsibility in life: to keep the family fortune intact so that he can pass it on to me. My responsibility, on the other hand, is to pass my time in profligate idleness and wait for him to die. I’ve been doing my job splendidly. The duke, however, has not.
Women have no choices
I mean, the entire plot of this book is that Evie’s choice was to marry her horrible cousin and probably be murdered by her family, or marry a complete stranger who objectively would make an awful husband (and also kidnapped and threatened to rape her friend…). Evie’s lack of choices in this book however was her freedom as she had quite literally nothing to lose.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
Everyone has dismissed Evie as a wallflower because she is quiet and has a stammer, despite the fact she is stunningly beautiful and very intelligent. Being ignored and mistreated only fostered her social anxieties further, we have seen in the previous books that when the other Wallflowers have paid her attention she lost her stammer and started to blossom and in this book she really comes into her own.
Sebastian had been the first man to reach through her prison of shyness. And from the very beginning, he had taken care of her as no one ever had.
Likewise, everyone has dismissed Sebastian as nothing but a rake and so he resigned himself to being one, despite his very sweet and gentle nature. There are many, many sweet moments where he cares for Evie and puts her needs before his own (footwarmers, blankets, baths, food) that are not connected to his desire for sex or money. When removed from the judgements and expectations of his friends and society he is able to find new confidence and self-identity.
When he does have to face Westcliff he not only has to wrestle with the guilt and shame of his kidnapping Lillian but also the self-knowledge that he has undergone a transformation and that his recent actions will appear so out of character to someone who knew him well. There is that fear that he may incur additional judgement over revealing something new and raw about himself. I really enjoyed the scene where St Vincent fails to get a grip on himself, and his feelings for Evie, under the knowing gaze of his childhood friend Westcliff.
Westcliff said. ‘Why are you so irate?’ ‘I’m not—’ Sebastian broke off as he realized that he was unraveling. He glanced at Evie and felt the startling reverse of their positions … she, the stammering wallflower, now serene and steady … and he, always so cool and self-possessed, now reduced to an impassioned idiot. And all in front of Westcliff, who observed the pair of them with keen scrutiny.
Acts of Service are HOT
Look, acts of service are my love language and this is what makes St Vincent so incredibly hot. Yes, he’s beautiful, like some kind of greek god – but I don’t care how handsome he is. I care that he – without being asked – got Evie a warmer for her cold feet. There is no sexier action than that. When she was exhausted – without being asked – he took off her shoes for her, and he washed and combed her hair when she was falling asleep in the bath. He massages her neck and her back when she is stressed and grieving. He offers gestures of comfort when he can tell she is anxious.
At the sound of her slight stammer, Sebastian lifted his hand to the nape of her neck, slid it beneath her untidy hair, and squeezed gently. Though his face was still cold, his hand was warm and soothing, and she felt herself relax involuntarily.
All of these little actions he does without expecting anything in return. This begins immediately too, before they even know each other. Yes, obviously he is horny as all hell for her, but these small little moments of sweetness never precede him making a move. And honestly, reading about a really good back massage is hotter to me than all the clitoris action (he is also, naturally, a very generous lover!).
Slowly working his way upward, Sebastian found the knotted muscles at the junctures of her shoulders and neck and concentrated on them, kneading and pressing until she felt a soft moan rise in her throat.
We hear characters talk about horribly he has treated women, but as we read him on the page I doubt he ever left a woman unsatisfied and intentionally hurt anyone (again, if we are to forget the kidnapping and threats of rape… honestly, Kleypas, why?). We also hear he has a preference for more experienced ladies over ‘innocents.’ He just sounds like a sex-positive dude to me!
Recommendation: All The Hearts 5/5!
The best one in the series, and if you can overlook the events of Book 2 there is so much to be enjoyed in both St Vincent and Evie. I mean, this is a romance book and I wrote this long review of it with way too many quotes… (I think I have 47 kindle highlights!)… It is worth reading! If you are already a romance genre fan I am sure that you have already read it – but if you’re like me, and sometimes dip in and out, give it a go. If you liked the Julia Quinn Bridgerton books (especially Romancing Mr Bridgerton, the best one – obviously) you will love this.
I have now read Book 4 too, I will get around to writing up a review of that soon!
Read all my reviews for The Wallflowers series
Have you read The Devil in Winter or the others in The Wallflowers series?
Are you a romance book fan? Please share your thoughts with a comment below! I would also love any recommendations for similar books for next time I’m in the mood for some romance!