I’m always looking for fresh voices in historical romance, so was thrilled to discover the work of author Kelly Bowen in early 2016. Her heroines aren’t your typical society misses, and her heroes are dark, brooding, and sinfully handsome, just the way I like them. I sped through Duke of My Heart and A Duke to Remember, but had to wait several months for Between the Devil and the Duke to become available. I was literally counting down the days. Then, I got my hands on a review copy, and, while I enjoyed the story immensely, I am sorry to say that, in this listener’s opinion, this is the weakest story in the series.
First off, the title baffles me. No one is a duke. No one is even in line to become a duke, so why call it Between the Devil and the Duke? Granted, this is probably a relatively small quibble in the grand scheme of things, but I did find myself devoting quite a bit of thought to it.
Alexander Lavoie is the owner of one of London’s most notorious gaming hells, plus being a partner in the mysterious but hugely profitable Chegarre and Associates. He’s skilled at making the scandals of London’s richest citizens disappear. He has more money than he knows what to do with, but, as everyone knows, money can’t buy true happiness. Haunted by past guilt, Alex isn’t looking for love. At least, he isn’t until he catches a beautifully alluring woman counting cards at one of his gaming tables.
Angelique Archer is gorgeous and wickedly intelligent. Luckily for her and her rather lazy and dim-witted elder brother, she’s also very resourceful. Her family has fallen on hard times due to some shady dealings of her late father’s that her brother has only complicated. Faced with starvation and homelessness, Angelique puts her skill with numbers to work for her. She’s determined to provide for herself and her brother, and winning huge sums of money at the tables is the only way she can think of to do so.
When Angelique’s winning causes an unpleasant stir, Alex steps in. She’s sure she’s about to be thrown out on her ear, but Alex has other plans. He wants to know more about her, and devises a way to do so. He offers Angelique a job as a dealer. She’ll make him a huge sum of money, since she’s incredibly skilled with cards and numbers, and she’ll be forced into close proximity with him on a nightly basis. Alex can’t think of anything better.
For her part, Angelique doesn’t know what to do. If she accepts Alex’s proposal, he might learn things about herself and her family she’d rather keep hidden, but, if she turns him down, she’ll have no way to keep her failing household afloat. So, she somewhat reluctantly agrees, and the two of them begin a subtle game of cat and mouse as their attraction to one another blossoms.
While I found the relationship between Alex and Angelique quite believable and compelling, I struggled to fully buy into Angelique’s reasons for working so hard to bail her wastrel of a brother out again and again. He had pretty much no redeeming qualities, and I wanted her to kick him to the curb. Of course, she never did, and that aspect of the story frustrated me to no end.
I can’t say much about Alex’s past for fear of spoilers, but I did find some things about it a little over the top. Ms. Bowen was trying to create a tortured hero, and, while she was partly successful, I do feel she went a little bit too far with some aspects of his personality. Some things just felt manufactured for the express purpose of creating conflict between him and Angelique.
Ashford McNab is a skilled narrator, and I almost always enjoy her performances. Some listeners find her hero voices to be too similar, and, I agree with this assessment in part. Her heroes do bear a striking resemblance to one another, and this can sometimes be distracting. However, I really love the way she brings the setting and the characters to life, so I’m willing to forgive this flaw.
Her pacing is almost perfect. She doesn’t breathe too audibly or fall prey to notable mispronunciations. Her characters are well-differentiated, although character voices are not always consistent across books in a series. I’m particularly fond of her depiction of the steamy scenes. I can practically hear the tension sizzling between the leads.
So, while there were some problems with the story, I am glad I read Between the Devil and the Duke. Ms. Bowen’s storytelling is engaging and fun. I hope she’ll continue writing books in this series, especially if King gets a book of his own.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Fighting
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Between the Devil and the Duke was provided to AudioGals by Hachette Audio for a review.