At the risk of sounding smart-aleky, about a quarter of the way through Mary Spencer's last book of her "Wager" trilogy, I thought of a perfect title for this installment: "Dumb and Dumber." The hero and heroine of Devil's Wager are two of the most insufferable, unappealing, and -- yes -- uninspired characters I've ever met in a Regency historical.
Miss Diana Whitleby has lived most of her life under the care of her godfather, the Earl of Kerlain, but when he falls gravely ill, Diana and the people of Kerlain worry what will happen to their beloved estate. The earl had disowned his son Charles for running off with a heathen, an American woman. But Charles and his wife are dead, leaving only a son behind in Tennessee.
On his deathbed, the earl decides that his grandson shall become the next earl and that his beloved ward Diana shall inherit the lands and castle of Kerlain. To ensure that the title and property remain forever bound, he decrees that Diana shall marry the grandson, P. Lad Walker.
Across the sea, Lad hears of his grandfather's death and his instructions that Lad shall "return" to Kerlain to inherit the title and marry Diana, a woman whom he has never seen. Lad, however, has no desire to leave his comfortable life in the wilds of America. He loves his estate and he loves being American. He resents England because of the recent war, but also because leaving England caused his deceased parents so much heartache. However, Lad relents when his beloved uncle urges him to make the trip, just to take a "looksee" at the woman he must marry.
The English are no more happy to see the new Earl of Kerlain in their midst than Lad is, an outcast with unkempt clothing and wild American ways. Lad's determined to find someone else to care for Kerlain so he can return to Tennessee. But then he meets Diana …
He immediately falls in love with her and she falls in love with him. They marry quickly, and soon Lad spells out what he wants to do: bring Diana back to America. But Diana refuses to consider it. Meanwhile, there's dastardly Viscount Carden plotting in the background to get rid of Lad so that he can marry Diana. A crafty wager soon has Lad, Diana, and the future of Kerlain in very bad straits.
What was so distasteful to me about Devil's Wager was that I couldn't understand why Lad would fall in love with such a shrewish, nasty, snippy woman like Diana. From the moment they meet in the novel, Diana makes it clear that she doesn't like Lad's appearance, his manners, or even the way he talks. She wants an Englishman for a husband, not some American redneck. When Diana marries Lad, she becomes a countess. So what does Diana do? She spends the rest of the novel reminding everyone who helped raise her that she is now the Countess of Kerlain. That is, she's no miss … she's a Lady. Her character would have worked much better if she'd concentrated on keeping Kerlain from falling apart rather than on who or who wasn't curtseying.
Then there's her whole relationship with her "childhood friend," the Viscount Carden. Several times throughout the novel she says that the viscount is her friend, but then it's patently obvious that the viscount is cruel, insane, and vindictive. And she thinks they're friends? This is where the 'dumb' comes in. Why would Diana be friends with a creature like this? And although he acts abominably toward her and her husband, she continues to hang out with him.
But the 'dumber' applies to Lad. He obeys Diana's order to leave Kerlain to make good on the wager he has made with Viscount Carden. He ends up renouncing his American qualities, all so that he can be the proper Englishman that Diana wants. Rather than appearing strong and heroic, he comes out looking weak and spineless.
I'm just not a big fan of romance novels where the hero and heroine fall in love with each other based on what they could be rather than who they are at heart. With Devil's Wager, you have a heroine that dislikes her hero's true nature, and a hero that spends the rest of the novel trying to please a shrew. Toss in the requisite misunderstandings, over-the-top love scenes, and other scenes that are too absurd to be believed, and you get a novel that is simply not worth your time or effort in this reviewer's opinion.