After my post on Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming of You, I became aware of an on-going debate between historical romance readers over the following question: who is the better hero, Derek Craven or St. Vincent from Devil in Winter? I had read Devil in Winter a long time ago and I decided to reread it so that I could truly weigh in on this question—this is exactly the kind of literary debate I adore and so I was eager to form an opinion!!
And, so, I’ll just say up front that, in the end, it wasn’t even close for me. Any day of the week, for me, Derek Craven is a better hero than St. Vincent.
That said, I fully acknowledge that the reasons for this preference are almost completely personal/subjective. And I will add that, ultimately, I think that St. Vincent is probably a more influential/iconic hero in the genre—he felt more recognizable to me as a hero prototype than Derek Craven, who feels like more of an outlier or, perhaps more accurately, a hero that has sparked a more minor vein of imitation in the genre. Furthermore, I think it is worth noting that the two heroes share many core similarities (as does another favorite Kleypas hero of mine—Jack Delvin). These heroes are almost instantly besotted with their heroines and never really deviate from that devoted state throughout the novel—and Kleypas does really great work dramatizing their devotion from the jump.
So, then, why Derek Craven for me? I think, ultimately, while I very much enjoyed St. Vincent as a hero, I found Derek Craven’s rags-to-riches trajectory and genuinely traumatic backstory more compelling. St. Vincent has your typical rake backstory and, while his relationship with Evie is super sweet and hot, it is hard to beat how deeply Derek Craven needs Sara Fielding. The stakes feel so high for Derek Craven; I felt like, if he couldn’t find a way to let himself be with Sara, that he would never find peace. I also think the fact that Derek and Sara come from such different worlds makes it feel very believable that he would meet her and feel like she isn’t like anyone he has ever met before. Whereas with St. Vincent and Evie, they have met before and he overlooked her…later, of course, he decides that she is unlike anyone else, etc., but it does give their love story a bit more of a pedestrian touch in my opinion because they are already known quantities to each other, not just personally but in terms of their social types (rake/wallflower). Now, I love rake/wallflower, and you could categorize Sara and Derek along similar lines, but I felt like they really transcended that trope, whereas St. Vincent and Evie were nestled firmly within it.
Along the same lines, St. Vincent and Evie have a very compelling partnership and love story, but it felt more conventional to me, which made it a bit less thrilling. St. Vincent was the villain in the previous book of this series; coming into his own book, he desperately needs funds and a purpose in life. Evie brings him not only money, but an occupation as a gaming hell owner. Because he was so aimless previously, St. Vincent did feel a bit more blank to me as a hero, even though he is very charming and has amazing chemistry with Evie. It is very interesting to me that St. Vincent doesn’t really quite have a solid identity at the beginning of his book and then gains it through the gaming hell by the end—whereas Derek Craven has a very solid identity as a gaming hell owner at the beginning of Dreaming of You which he then loses by the end of that book. When Derek Craven loses that identity, he really seems to shed the pain and trauma of his past and he can start a new life. I don’t have a problem with St. Vincent running the gaming hell as his newfound identity, but, again, it just felt more run-of-the-mill to me.
I do think that the plotting in Devil in Winter is more controlled and shows Kleypas’s maturation as a writer—you can tell that she has been writing for ten more years in Devil in Winter. While I really liked the wild plot of Dreaming of You, it is definitely much more bonkers and half-baked than Devil in Winter. Furthermore, as someone who loves heat/steam/spice, Devil in Winter has sex between the hero and heroine much earlier than Dreaming of You, which is a serious point in favor of the former. Derek Craven and Sara take longer to get off the ground in that way and I don’t think they actually have sex until 70% of the way through—I wouldn’t classify it as a slow burn because they have at least one very steamy encounter before that, but, nevertheless, it is not as sex-forward as Devil in Winter. And that extra heat is all to the credit of Devil in Winter.
That said, I did have one major issue with Devil in Winter that does not have to do directly with St. Vincent. I was uncomfortable with Kleypas’s depiction of Cam Rohan, who is a half-Romani, half-Irish character, and who I know later gets his own book (which I haven’t read) at the beginning of the Hathaways series. I love the idea of Romani representation in a Victorian historical because of the strong Romani presence in England during this period, but at times the description of Cam felt, uh, a bit too authentically nineteenth century. In many instances, Cam seemed to be very exoticized/Orientalized in a way that felt outdated and took me out of the story (for instance, the narration repeatedly referred to him as “the Rom,” which just felt obviously otherizing and unnecessary and hence quite a strange choice). Obviously, any Romani character written by a non-Romani author runs the risk of being inauthentic/inaccurate, but there were aspects of Cam’s characterization that felt clearly insensitive and easily avoidable, so I was confused as to why they were there. In the end, this depiction of Cam ended up functioning as I thought the Joyce character in Dreaming of You would for me. I had heard that the depiction of Joyce was misogynistic, but her character didn’t really end up bothering me very much—I ended up being way more uncomfortable with this depiction of Cam. Now, of course, this depiction of Cam does not directly affect my perception of St. Vincent, but this issue obviously informed my general experience of this book, so I thought that it was worth mentioning.
Overall, both of these Kleypas heroes are amazing. I really enjoyed reading both Dreaming of You and Devil in Winter—I just love Derek Craven more! I can't help it.