This Regency romance set in Wales and London opens with the Demon Earl, Nicolas the Gypsy Earl of Aberdare, being confronted by the prim Methodist schoolmistress, Clare Morgan. The inhabitants of Penreith are suffering, and Clare is determined to do something to ensure the safety of the local mine, even at the cost of her unblemished reputation. She is 26 years old, and convinced that the handsome rakish Nicolas’ charm will have no impact on her moral code. Clare agrees to a bet, which shocks some of the local community, but which takes her into the glittering, debauched Regency world, and which also introduces her to Nicolas’ friends. However, one of them bears a deep grudge against Nicolas, and is determined to seek revenge. His hatred, combined with the determination of Madoc, the unscrupulous local mine manager, to ensure that his illegal activities remain undiscovered, both contribute to a dramatic confrontation at the end of the novel.
All the main characters are engaging, and the story is entertaining. The author has managed to incorporate historical facts about the development of the slate mining industry alongside the development of billiard tables in a very creative way. One of my favourite characters in this novel is Lucien. He is a spymaster and is distant, dispassionate and intriguing, and could easily merit his own novel. This is definitely a “comfort” novel to curl up and read on a dark, rainswept night.