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Why, hello there.
I’ve found a new author to binge! I finished Devil In Spring last week, Suddenly You yesterday, and am a little over halfway done Chasing Cassandra right now. It’s been quite the ride. Spoiler alert, by the way. I don’t know why you would click on a review and not expect that, but there you go.
I started out with Devil in Spring, which I found when I was just browsing for my next novel now that I’ve read all I can from Jasmine Guillory (gave up on Royal Holiday, eagerly waiting for While We Were Dating). And within five minutes I was thinking, “This might just be the best book ever!” And as it progressed, I was mostly right. I fell in love with the characters. I felt instant kinship with Pandora, and her ADHD ways. I may not have the H, but it was still incredible how her mind works a lot like mine. I think it was a very tasteful depiction of this neurodiversity , and I appreciated how it didn’t seem to be ridicule or invalidate. After opening with Evie and Sebastian, I was a little put off by how dull Pandora seemed at first, but very quickly changed my mind on that. I loved how Gabriel and Pandora met. In general, I couldn’t stop laughing during most of this book. Once again, walking around town looking crazy. And the romance was simply incredible! I was really rooting for these characters and their relationship. I really liked Gabriel and all the other characters and how well developed they were. I felt like I really knew them. And when Pandora got injured, I really felt Gabriel’s pain, especially when it caused him to try and go back on that crucial promise he had made.
I wanted more Evie and Sebastian together! And I love how Sebastian is with Gabriel. Their relationship probably wouldn’t work in real life, since it’s more mentor-student than father-son, but it’s great that Gabriel has two parents he feels he can come to with anything, and particularly the fact that he can discuss personal, potentially embarrassing sexual matters with his father in what I feel was a well-done way. I think in general Sebastian is an amazing character who has so much chemistry with everyone.
I also wanted to see more of Devon with Pandora. Their caring, tender manner toward each other really pulled on my heart. I really appreciate that Devon was willing to put Pandora’s dreams and wellbeing above anything else, even the honour and future of the family, but still urges her to consider her options and do some investigating before she makes a decision about whether to marry Gabriel. Devon is just a loving and amazing man. But I wanted to see him chat with Pandora at least one more time about her decision, since he made such a big deal about the investigation. It seemed like he had this big speech about it, then was pretty hands off.
I don’t know, guys, I loved all the characters in this book and I just wanted to see more of them interacting with all the others. Phoebe with her sarcastic, sisterly manner. Ivo with that preteen angst. That little four-year-old one who’s name I forget, but he reminds me of my son in how sassy he is, so I love him. But yes, the book can’t go on forever, as much as I might want it to.
One thing I didn’t understand is a similar issue I found with Jasmine Guillory’s characters, and it looks like this may be a problem here too. Namely, describing characters in one way, but then showing them to be something different! For example, Pandora being a so-called “wallflower.” She describes herself this way, and others do to, so often, but she’s really, truly not. She’s not shy. She’s not anti-social, or introverted. She loves getting involved with people; she’s just a little unsure of how, and her disability from traumatic tinnitus and vertigo makes it difficult for her to participate at times. She’s definitely not a wallflower. And Gabriel. One can only assume that he is the “Devil” in Spring, but he is honestly just a kind, compassionate, thoughtful man who’s a little self-conscious about what he feels are unconventional sexual tastes. Which, by the way, are a far cry from the depravity of Jack Delvin (just looked up the spelling of his name, and was surprised, because the voice actor pronounced it “Devlin,” and it’s now my head cannon) from Suddenly You, but we’ll get into that later. Since the author chose the title, I’d imagine she sees Gabriel as a devilish figure, but he’s really, really not. I’m starting a petition to switch the names of these books. Jack Devlin is much closer to the actual Devil, and the way Gabriel and Pandora meet is much more “Suddenly You.”
So, we writers need more self-awareness of how we see our characters, and how they see themselves.
I did have a major problem with the ending of the book. Like, what was with the sudden plot of an attempted assassination of the Prince of Wales? I think that’s what it was. But the whole thing was so over the top and out of left field, and there wasn’t any setup for it in the rest of the story as far as I could tell. It would have made much more sense, and been much more satisfying, if Pandora’s attack, and therefore the final action sequence of the story, had been based around one of two things: Someone taking beef with Pandora’s board game business, or Nola Black’s efforts to take revenge on Gabriel. Both of those things were already woven throughout the story. The Nola Black thing would have been fine, because they were already arguing at the play about her terrible behaviour. It would have made sense for Nola to organize Pandora’s assassination. Then, maybe Nola’s husband wants to finally get Nola’s mind off of Gabriel. And yes, I know, it was established that Mr. Black looks the other way because he can’t satisfy Nola, but maybe after the scene she made at the play, he’s embarrassed and enraged enough by the huge public scandal she’s now created for him. So, maybe he goes behind Nola’s back to get rid of both Gabriel and Pandora at the dance and sets those bombs. That way, Nola will forget about Gabriel and stop causing trouble for Mr. Black by trying to get back at Gabriel. And sure, maybe the Prince of Wales is there, and that’s why Secret Agent Ransom inserts himself into the narrative. Not this Irish independence plot, which I think is too nuanced and political to just throw in suddenly at the end.
Then, there’s the other option, which I think would be even better. None of this jealous lovers bullshit. Pandora is a modern woman with modern problems. She’s faced an uphill battle with trying to run her business and stay independent. Unfortunately, the Nola Black Assassination Plot would make the whole disastrous visit to the printing house irrelevant. So, maybe instead, when she goes to the printer, she sees some male chauvinist who feels unbalanced by her not only economically, but socially because this woman is threatening the very fabric of the patriarchal system that he depends on. He’s heard about her. But now, he’s meeting her, and he just can’t believe that this lovely, fairy-like woman is the one who will be his undoing. Maybe he tries to warn Pandora away, threaten her, insult her. But she is perplexingly calm and unyielding, and his tiny man feelings are butt hurt. So, he tries to have her assassinated after the play. But then that doesn’t work, and he hears that she’s also planning on attending the ball that the Prince will be at, and he plans a terrorist attack to advance his political and economic agenda. And also just his blind rage.
Anything but Irish terrorists.
And of course, there’s some very problematic scenes involving playing fast and loose with the concept of consent. Not just sexually, but in general. I want to see more of Jasmine Guillory’s style, where some of it was a little problematic, but for the most part, “no” meant “no,” and boundaries were respected. But with Kleypas, I have to wonder what’s going on. I guess it’s a classic trope to depict bossiness and paternalism as strength and initiative, but just…no. Manipulating and bullying is not sexy. And damn, Devil in Spring comes NO WHERE CLOSE to the horror of Suddenly You, but we’ll get to that later.
In general, the main premise seems to be that “no” means “convince me.” If a character believes that the other probably doesn’t really mean it, “no,” means “we’ll see about that.” Which is fine, if that’s presented as a problem. But no, this is framed as romantic, exciting. The characters are just so overcome by “love,” and more often lust, that they simply can’t control themselves, and are willing to put aside their own wishes and concerns without actual thought and consideration. And the idea that sexual passion is some out of control force that cannot be restrained is just so toxic. Especially when it’s used as an excuse to not listen to your partner when he or she expresses any concerns about what you are doing. Even if they don’t outright say “no,” you should be listening to their body language. But, if they are looking helpless, even if their body is saying “Hell, yes,” that’s a sign to back the Hamilton off. Just don’t. To my son of the future and all other men and women out there: Just. Don’t.
So, Gabriel tricking Pandora into a “midnight tryst,” even though she quite blatantly says she doesn’t want to do it, not only because of her disability but also because she feels it’s inappropriate, plus she just doesn’t like to be tricked, is not romantic at all. It’s manipulative, which is abusive. And don’t even get me started on the fact that Pandora is physically trying to stop Gabriel from putting his fingers between her legs, and he tells her MULTIPLE TIMES to “open up” for him. Good God in heaven, that scene was hard to get through. It doesn’t matter if she’s aroused. She eventually just gave in because he wouldn’t let up, and sure she enjoyed it, but that is not the point. Ugh.
Never mind that whole trope about this infatuation with “innocence” and “deflowering” a virgin and apparently being turned on by teaching them about sex. That just hits too close to the pedophilia border, even if they were both adults. It’s just a concept that once again, can become extremely problematic and lead down a tragic slippery slope if it is glorified, romanticized, and rationalized.
And of course, there’s the slipper ransom. I can’t even with that. And forcing Pandora to learn how to dance in a way that works around her tinnitus and vertigo. Which would have been very sweet. But once again her agency was completely discounted, and instead of her coming to the decision on her own, Gabriel just badgers her until she agrees to try it. And Phoebe was RIGHT THERE and didn’t tell him to stop being an asshole.
Also, I really wanted to be there for Pandora and Gabriel’s wedding! Kleypas just kind of skimmed over the whole thing, and I had to rewind the book because I thought I missed something. Very disappointing, and maybe done for the sake of moving on to the wedding night. And although Gabriel does start to bully Pandora about the fact that she doesn’t want to go on honeymoon for too long because she has a deadline to meet for her board game, he does eventually agree that if it comes to it and she wants to leave, they can be back home in three hours. So…growth?
Finally, there’s a bit of a reckoning at the end when Gabriel is being overprotective while Pandora is recovering from her nearly-fatal stab wound. This is something I can get behind just a bit, because it was set up as problematic. He’s been traumatized by the fact that his true love almost died. He’s reacting the way a lot of us would react – being overly bossy and not believing it when the patient is ready to start living more of a normal life. And Pandora sticks up for herself, and Gabriel eventually allows her to make her own decision about putting herself in danger to help capture the random terrorists. Growth. I think the board game rivalry would have made it even more poignant when Gabriel tries to go back on his promise not to try and keep Pandora from her work due to her health, when it would literally mean putting her life at risk if people keep getting jealous and threatened by the waves she’s making. Even though the tables are turned when Pandora bullies Gabriel into sleeping with her when he’s not ready. None of that is okay, my heroes. No means no, whether you think the person means it or not. Maybe ask them about it, but if they don’t want to talk about it, leave it alone, and back off, and let them make their own decisions. For a book published in 2017, it had way too much of this.
But, brace yourselves, because like I’ve been saying, that’s nothing compared to 2001’s Suddenly You. I can maybe forgive it. Kleypas came a long way since then, but it seems like this is just something that she needs to work on. I think I’m going to have to put that review into another post, because this is already way too long.
But brace yourselves for the hell-scape of Suddenly You. I say this as a writer who also probably will have some terrible books, if I ever do get any of my stories published. And I hope that others will always be real with me about my work, even if they hate it to the core of their being. Just let me know in a thought out, evidence-based manner, then we can have a conversation about it! Being a writer is hard. And being criticised is hard. But when stories and the way they are told are potentially damaging, all I can do is offer my unprofessional view. With all love and respect to the Lisa Kleypas of the turn of the millennium, this book was maybe worse than Fifty Shades of Grey. And I’m so glad that she’s done so much better since then.
One thing I almost forgot to mention the unbelievable wordsmithing that Kleypas achieves. I am in awe of the way that she literally paints with words. I don’t know how she conceives of her descriptions for things. Even from listening to Devil in Spring, I don’t think I have a prayer of coming close to that level of descriptive talent. I can’t even find an eloquent way of describing how amazing her descriptions are. The story just comes to life in every way.
On a side note, Chasing Cassandra of 2020 is pretty masterful so far, even without a single sex scene more than halfway through. I think she’s grown in leaps in bounds just from these two-and-a-half books. I should probably save this in case I decide to fully review it later, but I highly recommend this book so far. Tom is such a compelling and interesting character, and once again I cannot stop laughing, as well as just feeling all the other feels. This book is heartbreaking, and poignant, and just gripping, in my opinion, as well as surprising. So far I see only one problematic consent scene, coming from Cassandra trying to force Tom to “dance with her forever.” The pacing and character development in this book are awe-inspiring. The setup and arc for Tom is just incredible so far, and I’m excited to see where it goes next. I’d be happy if he and Cassandra never got together and it wasn’t even a romance at all, just a story about a man with what I think is supposed to be Asperger’s going through his life and figuring out whether to expand on his “five feelings.” I’m learning a lot, and I can’t wait to go on and on about it later. But if you finish it before me, DO NOT SPOIL IT!
In conclusion, Devil in Spring had a lot of problematic violations of the principles of consent and agency, but it was still an enjoyable read for the reasons described above. I think this book is vibrant and dynamic. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so hard during a story, or been gripped to find out what’s going to happen next. I love the worldbuilding, and the chemistry of the characters. Read at your own risk, because it could be triggering for you if you’ve experienced sexual trauma. But as long as you know that enthusiastic, unambiguous, uncoerced consent is sexy, you can hopefully take stories like this with a grain of salt, and help spread the word that those other types of “romance” are not to be glorified.
So, those are my random, casual thoughts on Devil in Spring. Let me know if you’ve read anything by Lisa Kleypas, and if you agree with my notes. See you in the next one…
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