After reading a write-up of the awesomeness that is Jack Langdon written by @ActuallyAisha, I bought and read The Devil's Delilah, despite having a LOT on my reading list for this month and despite not having much time to get it all done. Y'all, I am so glad I made time for this book. It's wonderful.
The Devil's Delilah is a traditional Regency – have a look at the old cover on the right to get the full gist of what I mean. Originally published in 1989, the story revolves around a very intricate plots. Darryl Desmond, better known as “Devil Desmond,” has written a memoir of his life and escapades as a somewhat infamous rakehell in London. This is something of a past life for him, because after he married an actress, they moved off to Scotland and lived happily, since they would not have been tolerated or accepted into London society. He wrote his memoir because he was very ill at one point, and thought that, if published, it would leave his family enough income to survive, given that his income stream is largely dependent upon his gambling successfully. If he's dead, he can't gamble, but his licentious life's story might titillate the ton for an extended period of time, long enough to create a steady income for his wife and daughter.
But Devil lived, and now his initial plans to publish the story are more complicated. Now that his daughter, Delilah, is of marriageable age, the publication of the memoir might cause social ruin for her and for her parents, especially if it reveals embarrassing things about Devil's former peers, who are now older and in positions of political and social authority. Devil had already contacted a publisher, and that man is depending on the memoir's success as well, as he is beholden financially to Lord Streetham, an investor in the publishing firm, and one of Devil's worst enemies.
The story opens when Jack Langdon, a distracted, socially awkward and extremely intelligent bookworm, comes upon a woman holding Lord Streetham at gunpoint in an inn. He tackles the woman – who turns out to be Delilah – because Lord Streetham is the father of one of his best friends. Jack judges the situation at face value (someone he knows and respects being threatened by a person he does not know) and tries to subdue Delilah, who turns out to be very strong, crafty, and entirely in the right to hold Streetham at gunpoint. When the reason for her having a gun pointed at Streetham are revealed, he apologizes to her, is miserable for having embarrassed himself and possibly having harmed her, and withdraws from the group.
His involvement in their lives is not so easily escaped, however. When he discovers the manuscript in the library while searching for yet another book to read, he becomes involved in keeping the manuscript safe from persons who are trying to steal it. When the manuscript goes missing, everyone – Devil, Delilah, Lord Streetham, his son Lord Berne, and an assortment of other people – are all looking for it. And Jack tries very hard to resist his attraction to Delilah, who is fascinated and confused by him. Lord Berne is also attracted to Delilah, though his reputation as a thoughtless libertine proceeds him enough that no one believes his declarations of ardor. Most of the elder women of authority find him to be a poor choice for Delilah. Poor Delilah is already half-damned by society because her mother was an actress, and people expect her to be wild, unmannered, and coarse, revealing her less-than-perfect pedigree.
The thing is, Delilah is wild and determined and brave and many, many things proper ladies are not, and so she has to conceal her true personality to win some level of social acceptance and make a successful marriage.
The plot involves the memoir, the people who want it to be published and the people who do not, attempts to subvert the intentions of both groups, along with all the issues that accompany courtship, social ostracism, and a debut in society. It's a caper and a romance, this book.
It charmed the absolute hell out of me.
Delilah is quite a heroine. She's brave and unafraid to stand up for herself, living as she does with a terrifying, intimidating Devil for a father. She knows how to use a gun, she is determined to make a good match for herself, and she is driven into a pacing temper by the effort to suppress the more forward and socially unacceptable parts of her nature. She does not like having to pretend to be someone she's not, but in order to make a good match, she feels she must. She hates the falseness even as she commits to it, and the magic of understanding her real character, and knowing that Jack knows it as well, makes for great reading.
But as Aisha said, Jack Langdon is an amazing hero, and as vivid and energetic as Delilah is, as funny and intricate as her father is, Jack is the anchor of the book.
Jack begins the story in a bit of mourning – he's recently been thrown over by a woman he wanted to marry in favor of one of his best friends, and though he's tried to remain friends with both, he's miserable, hurt, and embarrassed. He retreats to the country to go read books and mope awhile with his uncle at said uncle's estate, away from the bothersome trouble of social interaction and the double bother of the source of all the pesky emotions he's feeling.
But he can't seem to escape Delilah or the business with her father's manuscript. So he's present when Delilah makes her initial steps into society, and proves to be a very good friend to her. Even though he's bookish and often distracted with his own thoughts, he's not stupid about how society works, either. Here is Jack talking with Delilah about her goals for marriage and why she must make an advantageous match:
Miss Desmond’s smooth brow became furrowed. “Meanwhile, I must have a marriage portion. If I don’t marry reasonably well, then we’ll probably have to publish—some day. My parents are not getting any younger. It’s most vexing, yet we seem to have no choice but to put Mr. Atkins off indefinitely.” “I see,” Jack said thoughtfully. “I know it sounds horribly mercenary—” she began.
“Miss Desmond, I have three sisters,” he interrupted gently. “The youngest, Gwendolyn, has been paraded on the Marriage Mart for three Seasons now. I understand the business fully—and it is a business, a most expensive one. In the circumstances, I fully understand your father’s caution.”
Jack gets it. He understands that Delilah's season is not about romance and emotional sweeping-off-of-feet ecstatic bliss but about business and security – her own, and her parents' as well.
Jack is often shy and unsure of himself, but not when he kisses Delilah. He is overwhelmed by his feelings for her – both physical and emotional – and he does not like the tumult she inspires in him. When he realizes he's kissed her in a way that would be considered poor manners on the part of a gentleman, he doesn't blame her for being a temptation, and lay the responsibility on her. He is mortified at his lack of control, and apologizes very humbly. Jack has a tremendous moral compass.
He also knows when to yield to those who know more than he does about certain matters. Jack's valet, Mr. Fellows, is hilarious because he has a unique place in Jack's life: his job is to keep Jack, the heir to a title and an eligible bachelor – no matter how bookish, looking as presentable as possible. Mr. Fellows is aware that the way Jack looks and is perceived by society reflects on him as well as on Jack, and he takes his responsibilities very seriously. Jack, who couldn't care less what he looks like, usually listens to Mr. Fellows and tries not to make too big of a mess of himself, although as distracted as he is, many people have grown used to seeing him in what any other person would find an embarrassing amount of disarray.
Jack and Mr. Fellows' conversations are very funny:
“I’m only running next door, Fellows.”
“Indeed, sir, but you are not departing in that costume, unless you plan to muck out Lady Potterby’s stables. As it is you will astonish the horses.” Plainly, Mr. Langdon’s valet was not of the stoically all-enduring, self-effacing variety. Mr. Fellows had tried that technique early in his employment and found it unproductive. He had learned that if his master was not to disgrace him in public, the servant must speak his mind and maintain a tight rein.
But what made Jack into such a compelling character is the number of times he commits acts of cringeworthy nobility for Delilah. He redirects humiliation, scorn and embarrassment onto himself to spare her, simply because he cannot stand to see her embarrassed, and because he can spare some of his pride. His reputation as a distracted bookworm helps him, as people expect oddity, so he uses that to his advantage to repeatedly spare Delilah a dose of society's painful scorn – of which, as the daughter of an actress, there is plenty.
Delilah is far too impetuous for her own good, and Jack sees that. But rather than try to change her, even though she drives him absolutely demented, he intervenes to prevent reputation-ruining mistakes she might make, like dancing without proper permission, or being alone with someone she ought not trust. He doesn't shame her for it, but steps in to take a moment of socially awkward embarrassment for her over and over – and it's not too bad for him, he convinces himself, because he's felt that same feeling before, and much worse levels of it besides.
This guy is one hell of a beta male hero. He's delicious. Aisha was right to adore him.
He's easily one of the best heroes I've read in a awhile. And he's so well done that he stood out in what is otherwise a convoluted and potentially confusing story. All the characters are fascinating and well-developed. There is a nefarious but somewhat sympathetic set of villains, and characters who ought to do more but do as little as possible, with other characters who do the reverse.
Everyone is slowly revealed at the end, much like in a Shakespearean comedy. By the end, I understood who is truly noble and who is not. Everyone in this story is pretending to be something they are not. Delilah is pretending to be proper, and her father is pretending to be absent minded and inattentive of her. Lord Berne is pretending to be a lovesick suitor – until he discovers he might actually be one. His father is pretending to be many things. Jack is pretending to be many things more, but none of them sinister or intended to be cruel. And ultimately, some characters are revealed to be even more horrible than you suspected.
The best part – and most surprising – is that Delilah is not fixed on one hero. The reader can tell who the hero is because the reader is aware of many points of view and motivations, but Delilah is not carrying a singular focus on Jack. She has other worries than whether Jack likes her – and she has other potential suitors in the story, men who at times seem much better suited to her than Jack, who tends to annoy her into a temper. I understood easily how Delilah could be charmed by someone who really shouldn't be trusted, and why Jack's inherent goodness makes her feel even more awkward and ashamed of her wild, impetuous nature.
Delilah's father is also a stunning character. He's devious and very manipulative, but also forthright and honest about his intensions. He is devoted to his daughter but also wants her to learn from her own mistakes. He cares about his wife and family and cares that they are happy – and does as much as he can ensure that happiness. He's also terrifying to most people, and he knows it.
Unfortunately, there are scanning errors (my kingdom for a goddam backlist proofreader!) like “conelude” for “conclude” and “she impatiently thrust these back Tinder the hat.” There are lines that read, “Prom that point on,” and “did he ait down” that should have been easy to catch.
True fact: I thought “conelude” was a word I didn't know that Chase did, until I figured out the error. I kept looking it up in the dictionary before I realized it was a scanning error.
The formatting of the text within the chapters is also horrible. There is no dividing lines or space between switches in POV, so it can be a bit confusing until you recognize you've switched perspectives.
It can be very frustrating to encounter such obvious and easily-fixed errors in something you paid for, even if you paid only $3, so please be warned. These problems are not hard to fix and should be addressed immediately. It's difficult to recommend a book when you know the reading experience is going to be less than optimal, or even tolerable for some. For that reason, I thought hard about downgrading the book because of the very poor proofing and formatting but instead I'll give it a separate grade to warn you: the formatting and proofreading of this book gets a D. It's readable but only if one accepts repeated moments of confusion.
That said, all those things you like about Loretta Chase's writing? The banter, the wit, the clever people who seem vividly real? It's in there. It's just wonderful, the writing:
“A special license was all very well, but she had her pistol in her reticule, and that was better.”
You could embroider that on a pillow, couldn't you?
“People are always more enthusiastic about their own brilliant ideas.”
Seriously, a line of throw pillows. I want to make them all.
“My motives are selfish, and selfishness is always to be relied upon.”
“Reformation is a most wearisome enterprise, particularly for fickle young libertines.”
I NEED A BIGGER COUCH. TOO MANY PILLOWS.
“I love quiet and peace, everything in its proper place. When one is forever muddled, you know, one prefers that everything else not be so.”
Forget it. Loretta Chase Quote Wallpaper anyone?
“But you hate me….”
“My dear young man, you are scarcely worthy of so much energy.”
Maybe the quotes ought to go on vinyl siding for a 19,000 square foot house.
The book as a whole isn't perfect; aside from the formatting errors, the pacing suffers at times, and the characters who seem to know it all reveal very little to the reader, which meant I sometimes felt informed while reading one scene, but then confused and left out in others. Devil Desmond is a character who professes confusion while orchestrating the entire scene – unless someone else is doing it for him – and there were times when I felt I was meant to understand what was really happening beneath their coded speech, but honestly had no idea.
But despite the pacing, the confusion and the flaws, I finished this book with a big happy sigh and a huge happy grin. The romance between Delilah and Jack, and the process of watching Jack become appreciated exactly as he is created a wonderful read. Talking about this book will likely produce Good Book Noise™. I am so, so glad Aisha passed on the link to her recommendation.