|Reformed rakes are among the most overdone types peopling romance
land. They are also among the hardest characters to draw
convincingly. Readers aren't as gullible as heroines (or at least we
think we aren't). We aren't likely to accept the hero's word that he
has changed; we need to see it, too. Though we get occasional
glimpses of this development in Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, the hero
of the latest installment in Lisa Kleypas's Wallflower series, too
much remains implicit to win over this reader entirely.
Evangeline Jenner is the shy, stuttering and self-effacing member of a quartet of Victorian husband-hunters. She needs to get married to escape from her cruel relatives, who are plotting to seize control of her fortune. Knowing that Sebastian wants to marry an heiress to restore his family fortunes, she offers him a bargain. After a quick trip to Gretna Green, they set themselves up in Evie's father's gambling establishment. Here, they must contend with different threats to their ownership and authority as well as decide whether they want to turn their marriage of convenience into one of true love.
The main problem is that Sebastian's conversion takes place too early
in the novel for it to be plausible. He is immediately attracted to
Evie. Despite his reputation as a hard-hearted, insincere and self-
centered aristocrat and in flagrant contrast with his actions in the
other novels in the series, he is incredibly nice to her during their
trip to Gretna Green. Not only does he ensure her feet remain warm
throughout the long and tiring coach trip, he also encourages her to
take pit stops (or the Victorian equivalent) at frequent intervals.
Maybe Sebastian's actions would be more credible if I didn't remember
that he is the same person who abducted and nearly raped Lillian in
It Happened One Autumn. I also find it hard to accept that Evie would be so quick to brush this lapse under the carpet — especially since her close friend is directly concerned. No, Sebastian didn't go all the way, but neither did he have too many scruples about going as far as he did. Given that, it's hard to believe he agrees to complete
abstinence in exchange for Evie's eventual favors.
To Kleypas's credit, Sebastian's reformation doesn't depend entirely
on the love of a good woman but also on his preoccupation with
something other than himself, namely Jenner's gambling establishment.
His new job showcases his latent strengths and allows him to develop
into a responsible authority figure. And the gradual revelation of
his backstory (clichéd thought it may be) makes his behavior slightly
Evie is not as outspoken, outlandish or independent as the average
Kleypas heroine, but she has her hidden depths. These emerge in one
or two particularly well-written scenes. And so, while I remain
skeptical of Sebastian's reformation, I can see why Evie might
One of my favorite things about Kleypas is the way she depends on
minor details to add historical authenticity. In previous novels, she
dwelt on showers and toothpaste, soaps and cosmetics, country fairs
and backstage life. Here, we have descriptions of coach trips, dinner
menus and tuberculosis treatments. I was nevertheless slightly
disappointed to hear the hero tout a version of germ theory (hardly
an accepted part of mid-nineteenth-century medical practice) and to
see other characters have medical foresight more typical of the
Despite these shortcomings, Kleypas is experienced and talented
enough not to disappoint readers too much. And for all my misgivings,
I confess that I am waiting impatiently for the next and final story
in the Wallflower series, which, judging by the few available
extracts, promises to be delicious.