Elinor Harriman faces a dilemma. Her father has died, leaving his fortune to Elinor’s cousin, and her mother Lady Caroline is a gambling-addicted, former party girl now in the late stages of syphilis. When Elinor learns her mother has entered the chateau of the infamous “King of Hell,” she follows Lady Caroline into the lion’s den to prevent her from gambling away what little money the family has left.
Francis Rohan, le Comte de Giverney, is bored, narcissistic, and incredibly handsome. Rohan is the leader of The Heavenly Host, an assemblage of hedonistic émigrés who celebrate the sins of the flesh and other indulgences. Elinor crashes a Heavenly Host revel, demanding Rohan’s aid in locating her mother among the partygoers, and the plucky, shabbily clothed young woman awakens Rohan from his ennui. The ensuing protracted game of cat and mouse between innocent and determined seducer provides an entertaining read.
Rohan’s eighteenth-century roué is reminiscent of a 1970’s disco king ala Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever. Resplendent in satin and lace and diamond-studded high heels, Rohan presides over a sex, drugs, and harpsichord bash while his modern counterpart strikes a pose in his white suit in a Studio 54-esque setting where sex, drugs, and rock and roll prevail.
Like his Disco King counterpart, the King of Hell seems a bit of a poser. Despite being a self-professed villain, the majority of Rohan’s actions are respectable. His most noticeable flaw is vanity, and his kindness toward Elinor and her sister Lydia cannot be totally put down to self-interest. Rohan finds Elinor intriguing, and his initial intent to exploit Elinor’s innocence eventually forms the path to his own salvation as the world-weary rake is transformed into a man with a heart and soul.