To Save the Devil
By Kate Moore
Release Date: October 5, 2010
I started 2010 raving about To Tempt a Saint, the first book in Kate Moore’s Sons of Sin trilogy that tells the stories of the three sons of Sophie Rhys-Jones, an extraordinarily beautiful London courtesan. I was intrigued with the premise, interested in an atypical view of Regency London, and jubilant over the return of an outstanding writer to historical romance. Not only was it an A read for me, it was also a book I wanted to make sure other readers knew about. To Save the Devil, the second book in the series, may have suffered in comparison. It’s a well-written book with an interesting hero and an unusual heroine. I finished it happy to have read it but without the compulsion to shout its glories to the romance-reading world that the first book evoked.
Will Jones, former soldier and former Bow Street Runner, is driven to find his younger brother and reunite him with the family and to destroy the corrupt Archibald March, who is weakened but still free to play his nefarious games. Will, a master of disguise, becomes the Vicomte de Villard and pays a visit to a brothel owned by March. His mission to search the place is postponed when he becomes aware of the barefoot, drugged beauty about to be auctioned off to one of the lechers eager for one night with a virgin. Will makes sure he wins the bidding and then uses his escape plan to rescue the virgin. The problem is Helen of Troy, as she has been introduced, is not interested in his rescue. In fact, she is adamant that she will not leave until she has what she came for. Will ends up forcing her to escape.
The rest of the story plays out as Will and Helen of Troy, the only name she gives him, try to use one another to achieve their different but connected goals. Will’s past as a bastard son of a courtesan and as a military and civilian professional trained in covert action predisposes him to distrust everyone. Helen’s goal of recovering incriminating letters that can ruin her mother’s life is as vital to her as Will’s mission is to him, and she too is committed to the belief that she is safe only if she relies on herself. Unable to trust one another, they pursue their goals independently even after they form a partnership of sorts. At the same time, they fight a mutual attraction that is powerful enough to destroy all their plans.
The threats these characters face are not straw men bur rather truly evil characters who are willing to use any means to protect themselves and their power. Arrogant, self-serving politicians and hypocritical do-gooders who exploit the people they purport to help are villains whose credibility rings true in any age. The lost boys broke my heart, and, in a different way, so did the life of the heroine, so barren that she finds color and meaning only as she adopts the identity of the mythical Helen.
Despite the darkness of setting and plot, the book is leavened with light moments. Moore again uses the play of darkness and light literally and thematically. Xander, the eldest of the Jones brothers and hero of Book #1, is still working to bring gaslights to London streets that are darkened by an absence of hope as well as by a lack of physical light. It is not mere chance that Helen “borrows” candlesticks when she runs away from Will’s mysterious apartment, nor that the lengthiest love scene is lit by braces of candles and a “bright fire.”
The banter between Will and Helen speaking as the Great Beauty of Troy is often witty and sometimes poignant. I think Will’s “torture” of Helen when he reads aloud to her from cheap porn may be one of the most original and most amusing moments in my romance reading. And Moore is a gifted stylist; the prose itself is lucid always and lyrical often.
Will is an unconventional romance hero not only in his history and choices but also in his looks. Moore makes us see his unconventional appeal through the heroine’s eyes:
His dark brows met in a furrow above a nose that must once have been straight perfection, but that now had a slight bend midway. His upper lip, too, was marred, not quite meeting the lower on the left side. His intense gaze, his shadowed jaw, and his wild jet hair made her think of the mad things he did—breaking furniture, dropping out of windows, clinging to the roof of a careening coach, so at odds with this homely act of bandaging her wounded feet.
Moore shows us that a kiss is rarely just a kiss. I was reminded in this passage of conceits used by poets such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell:
He meant to go slowly, to teach her how mouths could cling, explore, and yield, but she tasted like Spain, like wine and spice and oranges, like a city opening its gates to the victor, and he plunged in, taking sighs like prisoners.
At this point, you may be wondering why I rated a book that I so clearly loved only four stars. One of the reasons is that things unraveled too quickly for my taste at the end. A major villain, one who has hung heavy over two books, is disposed of in three brief paragraphs. I wanted more. Then there are some unanswered questions that troubled me. Will spends money freely, and he lives well. The price of his bed alone would probably support several poor families for some time. But I never know the source of his wealth. Then, I worry about the boys freed from the school March sponsored. Kit’s flock follows him, and the wily Wilde is accounted for, but what happens to the others? Do they become children of the streets? These questions are not enough to prevent me from recommending the book, but they are sufficient for me to attach a warning to the recommendation that readers may be left with less than a fully satisfying sense of closure. Still, I know that I’ll reread both TTAS and TSTD. I adored the saint, remain intrigued by the devil, and look forward to the angel. The conclusion to the trilogy, To Seduce an Angel, will be released fall 2011.