Opposites attract. Appearances can deceive. A dashing and rugged façade hides the vulnerable man within. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart. Always the observer, never the observed, her fragility hides conviction. She will risk everything for love. One fateful night they collide. The attraction is immediate, the consequences profound….
London and Hampshire, 1777: The story of Alisdair “Dair” Fitzstuart, nobleman, ex-soldier, and rogue, and Aurora “Rory” Talbot, spinster, pineapple fancier, and granddaughter of England’s Spymaster General, and how they fall in love.
Rating: A+ for narration; A- for content
This fourth book in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family Saga, is a lovely, beautifully romantic story about a man who hides his true self behind a wild, brash exterior, whose life is transformed by a young woman who had thought only to observe life from the sidelines.
Big, strong and handsome, Major Lord Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart more than lives up to his nickname. He is a military hero, having displayed enormous courage in battle and emerged unscathed; but has the reputation of being a complete rapscallion, renowned for his wild, often outrageous behaviour, and for the fact he never turns down a bet, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous the challenge. His antics keep society well entertained, but what most people fail to realise is that he’s bored. Returned six months previously from the war in the Colonies, where, unbeknownst to many, he worked as a spy as well as an army officer, he is at a loose end. Heir to the Earl of Strathsay, he has been left in limbo by his father, who left England twenty years ago without leaving his son any authority over his English estates. Until he marries, Dair has no independent means and can have no hand in the management of the estates that will one day be his.
The book opens with Dair and two of his best friends about to invade the studio of artist, George Romney in order to play an audacious prank. With Dair and Lord Grasby stripped down to loincloths and daubed with ashes and paint in order to look like American Indians, the plan is to cause mayhem by frightening the bevy of lovely opera dancers currently serving as models for Romney’s next painting. Cedric Pleasant is infatuated with the beautiful Consulata Baccelli, so Dair’s plan is that his friend will intervene at an opportune moment, scare off the two savages, save the day and thus win the lady’s admiration and, hopefully, gratitude (*wink*). Unfortunately, however, their “invasion” coincides with the unplanned visit to the studio of Lady Grasby and her party, which also includes Grasby’s sister, Lady Aurora (Rory) Talbot. In the ensuing fracas, Dair and Rory end up – literally – tangled together; and even though they have met before at social events (he is cousin to Antonia, dowager Duchess of Roxton who is Rory’s godmother) he hasn’t really taken much notice of her and doesn’t realise who she is to start with. All he knows is that he is in possession of a very pretty, funny, quick witted, perceptive and warm armful of woman and he wants her.
It’s not until the next day that Dair discovers the identity of that warm armful, but before he can speak to Rory about the events of the previous evening, her grandfather, the Earl of Shrewsbury, has made him swear to act as though he remembers nothing about it so as to spare Rory’s delicate sensibilities.
Shrewsbury is England’s spymaster and a very powerful man, but he dotes on Rory, who because of a birth defect (a club foot), walks with a cane. At twenty-two, she doesn’t expect ever to marry, much as she would like to, because of her disability and also because her grandfather is so over-protective that he doesn’t afford her many chances to meet eligible gentlemen.
The bulk of the story deals with the progression of Dair and Rory’s relationship, which is deliciously romantic and extremely well-developed. We are also treated to further – and unexpected – developments in the lives of Antonia and her new husband, and the continuation of the sub-plot that began in Autumn Duchess, concerning the involvement of Dair’s brother with the American revolutionaries. All these elements are woven together skilfully and seamlessly; and while at one point early on, it seemed as though there was the potential for the introduction of an angsty Big Misunderstanding, I was relieved that Ms Brant opted not to go there. Thankfully, she’s a good enough writer that she doesn’t need to employ such devices to create conflict or tension, which instead arise naturally from the characters or from the way she has designed her story.
Both principals are likeable and strongly drawn. Dair is a rogue, but he’s an honourable one, a man with a huge capacity for love and understanding, as is shown in his interactions with his ten-year-old son, the product of his first, youthful liaison with a serving maid. I know that some listeners might be put off by the fact of the hero’s having a child, but the fact that he acknowledges the boy and continues to be a part of his life says a lot about him, and I liked him all the more for it. Rory is witty and intelligent, determined to live her life to the full in spite of her disability, and it’s easy to understand why Dair is so immediately smitten with her. He doesn’t care about her club foot or that she walks with a cane – he sees a lovely, loveable young woman and is determined to make her his.
I have listened to a number of Alex Wyndham’s narrations now and he is, quite simply, one of the best narrators around. Every time I come to write a review of one of his performances, I find myself opening up the thesaurus to find more superlatives, because he is so incredibly good that I have run out of them! Every single character is clearly delineated so that there is never any question as to who is speaking in any given scene, and his female voices are the best I have ever heard from any male narrator in the genre. I continue to adore his interpretation of Antonia, (now the Duchess of Kinross), and his portrayal of Dair is utterly perfect; determined, playful, authoritative and sexy by turns, Mr Wyndham gives so much more than a mere “performance”. It probably helps that he has a gorgeous voice to lend to the delectable heroes Ms Brant has created for us, but add to that his perfect pacing, his incredible range of timbre and accent and his ability to get to the emotional heart of both story and characters and you have the perfect performance.
I can’t recommend the audiobook of Dair Devil highly enough. The love story is compelling, the historical setting is used to great effect and the narration is flawless. It really doesn’t get any better than this.