Reviewed by: Amanda
Rating (out of 5): 4 stars
There’s a reason Delphine Dryden is on my auto-buy list: She consistently turns out entertaining and high-quality stories. Scarlet Devices is no exception.
Eliza Hardison has been convinced to take her cousin Dexter “The Makesmith Baron” Hardison’s wife’s place in the Sky and Steam Rally, a cross-country race ending in San Francisco. Matthew Pence, Hardison’s former protégé, has also entered the race–and at the behest of Hardison will be keeping an eye on Eliza.
Once she finds out, Eliza’s less than thrilled. She thought she was getting a chance to spread her wings, learn what sort of life she might have outside of the social circles she’s been raised in. But propriety follows her along the route, and she has to defend herself and her decision to compete at almost every check in. As sabotage and rumors knock competitors out of the race, Eliza and Matthew find themselves thrown together more than once, and the close quarters turn prior animosity into something sweeter.
First, allow me to get the squealing out of the way: SQUEE!
I loved Scarlet Devices. Eliza is the sort of heroine you have to root for. She’s smart, charming, witty, and yearns for the sort of independence she’s afraid she’ll lose if she marries. She’s aware of societal pressures on a woman of her standing and finds ways to subvert them. She doesn’t wait for someone to come along and help her if her steam car breaks down; she can fix it herself, thank you very much. It takes her a while to see Matthew as something other than an annoyance, but her gradual realization that she’s attracted to him, and how that attraction becomes love, made my heart squish. Just a little bit.
Matthew is a great counterpoint to Eliza. Unlike her, he figures out pretty early on that Eliza is no longer the woman he saw as a little sister, and he resolves to do something about it. His need to protect her is huge, but he knows Eliza, and unsolicited protection is the last thing she wants, so he gives her space. That doesn’t mean he’s not above trying to convince her what’s best for her – he just tries to respect her wishes once she’s made it clear what her decision is.
Dryden does an excellent job tying the opening scene, where Eliza is giving a lecture, into the mystery that unravels along the route. The attacks and explosions and other violent incidents, designed to scare the contestants into quitting if they’re not already forced out in some other manner, combine with Matthew and Eliza’s growing suspicions that there’s a larger scheme to uncover
I had to wonder how Dryden was going to handle the physical relationship. Eliza, being an unmarried woman of certain social standing, is still bound by the trappings of her upbringing, and Matthew even more so, because of his moral character–namely, they don’t want to risk having sex because of the consequences to them both. The result is creative, sweet, and fits with the emotional journey they make. Also: steamy.
I can’t wait for the next book. Is it July yet?
Sexual content: Graphic sex