Thursday, 26 June 2014

Anna Reviews: Dancing with a Devil by Julie Johnstone

See the instructions below for giveaway details

To write credible, heart-warming romance is an art. It requires the author to breathe life into the protagonists, lifting them above the cardboard cut-outs that so often litter this genre. I therefore approach this genre with certain caution, hoping always for the best, but finding myself quite often disappointed. Dancing with A Devil is as far from a disappointment as it is possible to be. Ms Johnstone brings to life two wonderful characters that I, as a reader, very quickly invest in. From that first sensual scene in which young Audrey decides to gamble it all by openly showing her affection for handsome Lord Davenport, to the last page, I am utterly hooked – so hooked that I decided to skip my planned hot tub soak as I wasn’t sure if my Kindle (or I) would survive an unexpected submersion in water.

For characters to grip you, they need a backstory – not from babyhood on, but sufficient detail must be given for us to understand why they act as they do. Lady Audrey Cringlewood is twenty-two, as yet unmarried, and has an anything-but-loving relationship with her father who just wants her off his hands. He doesn’t particularly care who she marries as long as she does so quickly. Audrey, having witnessed her parents’ loveless marriage, has promised herself she will marry for love – or not at all. Her father is having none of that, but so far Audrey has succeeded in evading his marriage plans. Time, however, is running out.

Audrey’s dead mother – and her sad life – casts a long shadow over pretty, vivacious Audrey, in many ways a girl who scoffs at the more ridiculous rules of the ton, no matter that she is as conscientious as any other young woman when it comes to preserving her reputation. And then one day Audrey meets Lord Davenport, and what begins as a flirtation very quickly develops into something else – at least for Audrey.

Trent Rutherford, the Marquess of Davenport, is a man who has promised himself never to love again. A disastrous previous relationship left him with a broken heart and a deep mistrust of women. Most understandably, but to say more would be to reveal too much of the plot. But Lord Davenport – Trent to his friends, among whom I now include myself – is helplessly attracted to Audrey, entranced by her honesty and forthrightness, by her beauty and her generous, warm personality. Unfortunately, he cannot commit. He is willing to act her protector, but shies away from admitting he loves her, thereby causing Audrey quite some heartbreak.

There is very little not to like about either Audrey or Trent, but Ms Johnstone never falls into the trap of making them one-dimensional. Audrey and Trent struggle with their feelings, with the constraints of the vigilant society that surrounds them, with the expectations of their family and friends. Dancing with a Devil is a novel where the strength of a third person narrative is very obvious: both Trent and Audrey have distinctive and persuasive voices, and the novel gains depth by allowing us insight into both their heads, to their desires and fears.

Any good romance requires obstacles. Ms Johnstone has provided Trent and Audrey with more than their fair share, and the plot twists and turns like an aggravated viper – which is why, of course, I decided to do without my bath. Demons of the past have to be confronted, nasty characters in the here and now must be avoided, and fortunately for Audrey and Trent, they have a supporting cast consisting of cousins and aunts, of former spymasters and loyal friends.

Dancing with a Devil is set in Regency London. The author has chosen to build her story round her characters rather than the historical setting, and as the central plotline is both universal and timeless, this works quite well. Sufficient detail is provided for me to know what period I am in, and while there are some minor faux-pas (such as referring to a brunch) on the whole I perceive the historical context to be correct – in particular as to the somewhat suffocating (and hypocritical) conventions of the time. There is a rather amusing scene with a half-deaf chaperone and her rather listless attempt to ensure Audrey is never out of her sight or hearing. Doesn’t work too well – to this reader’s delight! Ms Johnstone has a driven prose and excellent dialogue. Descriptions are precise and convey a sense of time and place, from the starched cravats that adorn the gentlemen to the grimy underbelly of post-Napoleonic Paris. But mostly, it is Audrey and Trent, two people who have grown into almost tangible beings.

Ultimately, this is a novel about a young girl who listens to her heart and is brave enough to show the recipient of her affections what she feels – despite risking rejection. It is about a man who doesn’t dare to believe in love and so refuses to accept what his own heart is telling him – until it is almost too late.
As I said initially, to write good, credible romance is an art. Clearly, Ms Johnstone knows just how to do that, combining great characters with a plausible plot. Brava, Ms Johnstone!

The author has also so graciously gifted a free copy of Dancing with a Devil to one lucky winner! To enter the draw, simply comment below or at this review's associated Facebook thread.

About the author: Julie Johnstone is a successful writer of Regency romance, a genre she came across more than a decade ago in an airport gift shop. When she isn’t writing Regency, Julie will try her hand at paranormal, and in between all that writing and the needs of her family, Julie attempts to find enough time to keep in touch with friends and stay fit. Read more about Julie on her websiteYou can purchase her book at Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Anna Belfrage is the author of five published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on Amazon,Twitter, Facebook and on her website. If you would like Anna to review your book, please see our submissions tab at the top of the page.


  1. Most informative review that made me want to read the book. I love hist-rom but surprisingly have not read this author's books before, Hope you got to enjoy a hot tub soak after finishing the book!

  2. You know, I don't think I ever got to the tub. But tea and chocolate cookies sort of made up for that. I hope you like the book!

  3. Anna,
    Thank you for your lovely review! I hope you get your soak tonight, though chocolate cookies does make up for everything!

  4. I enjoy reading Julie's stories, and enjoyed Anna's review!

  5. There is nothing better than a great romance to accompany your champagne and bubble bath. I would love a copy.

  6. What a wonderful review. It certainly whet my appetite enough to put this book at the top of my TBR list!

  7. I use two ziplock bags to read in the tub with my Kindle. It works great at the beach, too!

  8. I've never managed to read a book in the bath, but I think I would love to read this book! It sounds a fabulous read!

  9. Sounds like a fun read! Should have to try it with some not-chocolate and a cuppa :P