I haven’t read a Julie Anne Long histrom in a “long” time, not since I dipped my reading toes into one of the Pennyroyal series and thought “meh”: opaque style, puerile humour, characters I couldn’t bring myself to care much about. Despite the weirdly lacking-in-perspective cover (look at his arm and that bed, how short are his legs?!), I wanted to read this latest series, the Palace of Rogues, thanks to my great enjoyment of her contemporary romance, The First Time At Firelight Falls.
Since the Pennyroyal experience, Long has dropped the overwrought and wrought a wonderful romance. I was skeptical at first, sensing that opacity I didn’t find in the contemporary, evident in Angel. But after the first chapter, this was a lovely read, indeed. Read on, for my full review.
Angelique Breedlove, heroine, fallen ex-governess, former jaded mistress, co-owner of a comfortable, welcoming roominghouse-inn, The Grand Palace on the Thames, has finally achieved the life she’s yearned for: financial independence, close, loyal friendship (with business partner and BFF, Delilah Hardy), and something ineffably special in the Grand Palace itself, community. The Grand Palace is peopled with beloved servants (the maid Dot is a hoot!) and the formidable cook Helga, proprietesses who make their guests feel at home, in the dining and drawing rooms, with conversation, games, read-alouds, and laughter. Into this light and warmth walks their latest guest, tall, dark, handsome, brooding Viscount Bolt, Lucien Durand, ship-owner, illegitimate son, potential business neighbour, and avenging angel to his father, the Duke of Brexford.
What strikes the reader first is how damaged and emotionally, if not stunted, then surely stalled Angelique and Lucien are. The former with a diffident coolness toward any romantic life and the latter, with anger against all who hurt him in the past. And hurt he was, our hero Lucien: he and his mother abandoned by his aristocratic father when the Duke married, an evil figure in the Duke’s wife who had Lucien thrown into the Thames (where he near-drowned, was captured, and fought off pirates, but also matured and made his fortune). His mother dead of a broken heart and now, he’s back and ready to exact revenge on all who hurt him and his beloved mother. Angelique and Lucien are beautiful people and their physical attraction is evident from the start. But Long manages not to convey insta-lust: she cleverly and tenderly lays out their attraction in languid eyes, sunbeams on hair, and the lightest of touches, a hand here, an arm there. I loved this about Long’s account and I loved Angelique and Lucien for it: their first kiss is hot, but also tender. What Long has done best is written a romance where camaraderie and conversation, mutual respect and sheer liking, where friendship heals two strong, but hurt people.
Long’s achievement in making us love Lucien and Angelique is in how she describes their interactions and in the community everyone shares at the Grand Palace. Add a droll, touching banter to this and you have a perfect romance. Evidence early in Angelique and Lucien’s acquaintance, when Angelique’s reticence is expressed and Lucien retorts:
“I shall proceed to get drunk and brood.” “A time honored way to ease shattering disappointment, I’m given to understand.” That she should go on being beautiful, and go on saying things like that, things that delighted him even as she thoroughly rejected him, seemed too cruel. But then it got worse. “I should like it if we could be friends, Lord Bolt.” She sounded appallingly sincere. “Friends?” he managed finally, on something like a croak, as though she’d extended a silver platter upon which rested his own testicles. “Oh, come now,” she said mildly. “No need to be dramatic. It seems to me that you could use a friend or two. Even if it’s a woman.” This last word was rich with irony.
How wonderful is the above passage? Droll, “delightful,” shockingly funny and original in imagery (that silver platter!), feminist, and how perfect in “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.
Long builds Angelique and Lucien’s love with a growing desire, yes physical, but mainly a yearning for the other’s company. Witness Lucien: “Being in a room that contained her was better than being in a room that did not contain her.” And witness Angelique: “But she hadn’t anticipated that their exchanges of confidences would act as a sort of loom. [punctuated by wonderful domestic scenes where Lucien untangles Angelique’s knitting yarn] He threw a thread, she threw a thread. But that’s what friendship was, wasn’t it? Until the first thing she did when she walked into a room was look about for him, as if he were the warmest seat by the fire to discover that his eyes were already on her, like the beacon she ought to follow.” Does sex complicate things? Yes. Do Lucien and Angelique have to contend with their pasts? Yes. Do they discover, along the way, that love and compatibility, friendship and community can heal, even if it can’t exact justice? Yes. And that, my reading friends, is why you too should read Angel In A Devil’s Arms. With Miss Austen, we may have found one of our favourite romances of the year, one deserving of “no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Julie Anne Long’s Angel In A Devil’s Arms is published by Avon Books. It was released in October 2019 and may, and should be, found at your preferred vendor. I am grateful to Avon Books for an e-galley, via Edelweiss+.