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REVIEW:  Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

REVIEW: Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Dear Ms. Hoyt:

I was in happy-making-trope heaven with this story. A cold, proper hero, check. A heroine he can’t possibly marry, check. A double life, check. It could have been written for me!

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth HoytFor readers who haven’t previously tried the Maiden Lane series, this sixth book would be an excellent place to jump on in — although there are some recurring characters, it’s the first since book one that doesn’t contain major threads from previous stories. You will encounter one series spoiler, but it’s nothing you won’t learn just from reading the book blurbs. (If you have resolutely not read any of the blurbs to this point, leave this review now or forever hold your peace.)

The series revolves around a mysterious vigilante character known as “the Ghost of St. Giles” — and as has become clear, there’s more than one of them, and a ghost is often the hero of whichever book you’re reading. (St. Giles was an extremely poor, crime-ridden area of London.) I originally called the Ghost “a vengeful Georgian Batman,” and Hoyt plays with that conceit even more than usual in this book, providing the current Ghost with a vendetta, an Alfred, and even a sort of bat-cave. Despite that bit of whimsy, the overall tone of the book is pretty somber. Our heroine Artemis is facing an insecure and lonely life, as circumstances frequently conspire to remind her. Her beloved twin brother is locked up as a madman. And having witnessed his parents’ death as a boy, in true Batman fashion, Maximus feels compelled to avenge them and to live up to the dukedom he inherited. Which means not marrying a lady’s companion with a brother in Bedlam, no matter how much he cares for her. Maximus is also facing a lonely life with his appropriate chosen wife, even if he refuses to acknowledge it.

The emotion in the story at first comes from the fact that these two are falling for each other while they’re officially barely acquaintances. Maximus is courting Artemis’s cousin and employer, Penelope; Artemis is dutifully being a proper companion. Then Artemis meets “The Ghost,” changing Maximus’ view of her forever:

She’d dared to draw a knife on him in the worst part of London, had stared him in the eye without any fear at all, and it was as if she came into focus. Suddenly her edges were sharp and clear, standing out from the crowd around them. He saw her.

As their attraction grows, all unspoken, into what Artemis thinks of as “a peculiar relationship,” they become capable of causing strong emotions in each other. The quiet intensity of the desire or hurt feelings that can’t be acknowledged is really stirring.

Even after things come to a head between them, so to speak, their relationship continues to be vague:

He shifted finally, swiveling his head to look at her over his shoulder. “Don’t call me that.”
“What?”
“Your Grace.”

His reply made her want to cry, and she didn’t know why. He was… something to her now, but it was all so complicated…

Artemis thinks this after they’ve already slept together, making it all the more poignant.

Since this is a book featuring a starchy hero, of course part of it will be about his losing control over himself as he falls headlong in love. But it’s also about Artemis slowly throwing off the chains of propriety to become more and more her true self, the “goddess” Maximus thinks of her as — til by the end of the story, she does something so reckless and brave, I was swept away with admiration.

I’ve been doing so much out of the box reading lately, it felt really comfortable and homey to be back in the land of the solidly written European historical. There’s nothing especially new about this story, but it’s emotional and intriguing — I didn’t even hate the mystery element, except for one moment in which Maximus was a real doof. There are quite a few minor loose ends hanging out for future stories, so if you’ve been thinking about trying this series… come on in, the water’s fine. B+

Sincerely,

Willaful

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REVIEW:  Seduction in Silk by Jo Beverley

REVIEW: Seduction in Silk by Jo Beverley

“A curse, a bachelor, and a spinster with a gun.

Perry Perriam has no time for marriage, but when he’s named heir to Perriam Manor he must marry a stranger or his family will lose the ancient estate. There’s a strange curse in the mix as well.

Claris Mallow has survived her parents’ tormented marriage and even though she’s living in a cottage on a very small income she has no intention of marrying anyone. She’s even willing to make her point with a pistol!”

Dear Ms. Beverley,

I look forward to my annual trips to the World of Malloren “where all things are possible.” Included in this novel are: discovering all about curses, 18th century road conditions, how the village folk view any deviation from their quiet and hum-drum existence, marble statue renovation, what to put in a basket designed to lure young women into marriage, exactly why it’s so vital that romance heroines be willing to get their younger brothers into Eton, Introduction to Estate Management for Young Ladies, and how the powerful and wealthy enjoyed themselves in London – including ways to further society – which could be done with their clothes on. Some of these things I had great fun delving into and some … well … didn’t hold my attention quite as much.

seduction-in-silkI did like Claris and Perry. Well, I’ve been waiting for Perry’s story for two books now and he didn’t disappoint. Claris made me happy because when Perry arrives at her humble Lavender Cottage offering what he thinks will be a quickly snapped up marriage proposal, Claris sets him back on his heels a bit when she says the unthinkable “no.” Ah, now Perry actually has to pull out his vaunted social skills and try again. And she still says “no.” Stunned and running out of time before his bedamned distant cousin’s fiendish will conveys the Perriam family homeplace out of the family for good, Perry must throw himself upon the mercy of his friend Ashart’s wife Genova who helps him fill a basket with tempting delights to woo a young woman. And even then Claris almost turns Perry down again until her unconventional grandmother provides him the key.

I’ve read this scenario in countless books but here it works. The reason lies in the fact that you don’t just tell the reader that Perry can help smooth her younger brothers’ way in life or that he can provide a place for Claris’s grandmother and companion as well as a comfortable home for her. One thing I think you do really well in your books is explain history. You take the time to lay out WHY the twins need Eton and the connections they’ll make there, WHY they need the polish and social greasing of wheels and you don’t just have Claris clasp her hands, cast her eyes Heavenward and (almost happily) whine that she must sacrifice herself on the Altar of Family.

It’s nice to see bits and pieces of past couples – ooh, that sounded either naughty or gruesome. Since Claris is now moving in this world with Perry it makes sense. The story is truly in the World of Malloren with intrigues and behind the scenes maneuvering. The mighty and powerful are shown being just that and influencing events though it’s sad to see beginnings of the Madness of King George. I enjoyed seeing signs of why this is Age of Enlightenment and of scientific discovery. Yet also the age of childhood death, illness and bad roads to travel on.

Another thing that tickles my fancy is that not all the marriages of their family members are deliriously happy. In fact Perry’s family boasts a fair share of unhappy unions. This seems so much more realistic. Bonus hot chocolate sauce added because it’s not all happy siblings who love each other either – Perry can’t stand some of his brothers and doesn’t think much of his overbearing father – yet filial duty to him and to the Earldom is still the order of the day.

Perry and Claris initially plan to live separate lives – which would not be unusual for many couples in this day and age – though we of course know this won’t hold here. He prefers town and she the country yet soon each is starting to change the other slightly, to expand horizons and ideas. But I’m glad this switch didn’t arrive too quickly as both were set in their preferences in addition to having family obligations on Perry’s side. You set up some good reasons for this to be a source of conflict and take the appropriate amount of time to settle things.

It’s realistic that they’re not in love and that lust and pleasures of marriage bed come first only to slowly lead to a growing relationship and then move to love.

But Claris’ sudden change from wanting Perry to “get out!” the very afternoon of their marriage to “I want a baby” seemed too fast. It’s almost literally overnight. I didn’t buy that. She’s been around babies, having almost raised her two younger brothers from infancy, so a day watching other mothers with their children x a few scenes of Perry en dishabille isn’t enough to convince me of this change of heart.

And then there’s the curse. Claris has never even heard of this curse before Perry arrives and tells her of it, along with his proposal, yet suddenly it takes over her life. She thinks about it often, she obsesses about whether or not it might effect her marriage, children and family, she single mindedly follows clues like a blood hound and just will not let it go. Even after almost all of her adult family members tell her she’s taking it far too seriously, she won’t give up. I never quite bought into this either. Beyond the little details of daily life that her quest provided me, I shifted into skim mode after a while.

The other issue that yielded delightful little nuggets of 18th century life mixed into a somewhat ultimately boring plot thread was Perry’s turn at seeking a traitor in London. He works extensively with Cyn Malloren and Rothgar – yah! which lets us see a bit of how each of them is doing. This shows him doing the little influential things that caused him to be in such demand in London and showed how much Rothgar valued Perry’s help. Plus the post war London political scene is neatly laid out but the nitty gritty of tracking the two possible spies lost my attention way before the resolution.

Once Perry and Claris begin to grow closer together emotionally, I fell right in with their blossoming romance. I could see and accept how each began to change in their views on the lifestyle the other wanted to live so that by the end of the book, I could see them being happy in either town or country. Perry’s decision to defy his father and cleave to Claris seemed the perfect culmination of the book. But Claris’ change of heart about sex, coupled with the curse and the slow resolution of the spy issue caused me to lower the grade to a B-

~Jayne

 

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