In late Victorian England, a sexual assault survivor and a scarred nobleman nicknamed the Terror of Torcliff marry for practical reasons but become enamored with each other—within 10 days, as the title promises.
Dr. Alexandra Lane is a successful archaeologist, but she is haunted by her own history of having been raped by her boarding school headmaster when she was 17. Though Cecelia and Francesca, her two best friends, have been supportive, Alexandra has kept something from them since then, and now, 10 years later, her secret is at risk of exposure. When she meets Francesca’s almost-fiance, Piers, at his ancestral estate on the Devonshire moors, she proposes to him, which will help her keep her secret (and because she knows Francesca doesn’t want to marry him). Piers is an angry man, especially furious with his promiscuous mother and an unfaithful former lover. But Alexandra, with her scholarly bent, fearful demeanor, and sporadic acts of courage, catches his interest. Byrne (The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo, 2018, etc.) begins her Devil You Know series with an absorbing mix of old-school gothic romance with a woman in peril and the #MeToo era, celebrating the strength of survivors (as she writes in the book's dedication). After initially misunderstanding his wife’s past, Piers transforms from a self-centered duke with a marked sense of entitlement to a supportive spouse once he learns of her trauma. Whether a change like this is wishful thinking or a realistic depiction of the allies that some women might have had under pre-feminist patriarchy, it makes for a heartwarming romance. Even more empowering is the friendship among the three women, who model female solidarity and whose personas (and nicknames: Alexander, Cecil, and Frank) reject restrictive gender roles. The story’s overt politics sit in somewhat awkward proximity to the melodramatic end of the gothic plotline, but even that conclusion is enjoyable in its own way.
An un-put-down-able story that combines sensuality, tenderness, slightly far-fetched dramatic scenes, and memorable characters.