REVIEW: Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt
Dear Ms. Hoyt:
You are a superior writer and because you are a superior writer, you can get away with things that lesser writers cannot. First, let me commend you for writing about non titled characters. This is such a rarity in historical romance that the success of your series is a testament to your storytelling skills. Second, every book I’ve read of yours has a fairytale woven throughout, usually as the epigraph. These fairy tales are always so finely crafted and in “Thief of Shadows” it is no different. The “Legend of the Harlequin Ghost of St. Giles” is pitch perfect for the story with all the elements of a classic fairytale. Finally, your love scenes are the definition of erotic, yet tasteful and emotionally fitting.
However, while “Thief of Shadows” was an enjoyable read, the mutability of the hero, Winter Makepeace, diminished the emotional power of the story.
Winter Makepeace is the schoolmaster and manager of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children. It has recently received a large influx of cash from a coterie of new patrons, particularly one Lady Penelope. She is displeased with Winter’s performance because he seems unfit to consort with society and raise additional money for the charity. Lady Isabel, Barroness Beckinhall, disagrees. While she finds Mr. Makepeace a bit stodgy and uptight, maybe even rude, she recognizes that he does a good job for the Home and she offers her services as a social tutor.
Winter reluctantly agrees to this because he believes manager of the Home is his calling. Being the manager of the Home is so important to home that he has eschewed the pleasures of the flesh. He makes an impassioned speech to Lady Beckinhall when she questions why he cares so much and why he is still a virgin.
He glanced down at her, so beautiful, so full of that life. “No, I don’t believe so. A husband and father’s first duty is to his wife and family. Everything else is secondary. How can the people of St. Giles ever come first if I am married?”
Her eyes widened in astonishment. “I don’t believe this. You’re attempting to become a saint.”
His mouth tightened. “No, I’ve merely dedicated my life to helping others.”
“I’ve told you why,” he said, trying to still his impatience. This discussion was like cutting open his chest, putting a hand in, and stirring his organs about. He did not like it at all. “The children, the poor of St. Giles, the terrible lives they lead. Did you not hear me when I spoke?”
“I heard you well enough,” she snapped. “I’m asking why you. Why must you be the one to make this sacrifice of your entire life?”
He shook his head helplessly. She was of the privileged class. She’d never known want, never counted coins to calculate whether they should go to pay for coal to warm the body or bread to feed it, for they would pay for only one, not both. She simply could not understand.
Winter dropped his hand from her arm and stepped back, putting prudent distance between them. His voice was carefully modulated when he spoke.
This was a beautifully expressed sentiment and his rigid control over his life, his abstaining from the pleasures of the flesh, his almost ascetic lifestyle made sense against this backdrop.
While there were some nods toward the pygmalion set up, the real crux of the book is about the Home, lost children of St. Giles, and Winter’s dangerous capers as the Ghost of St. Giles, a sort of avenging angel in St. Giles that is there to protect the poor and helpless and was last seen cutting down Charming Mickey O’Connor from the gallows. The pygmalion plot allows Winter and Isabel to spend quite a bit of time together but otherwise has little impact in the overall story.
Isabel is a rich woman who had enjoyed lovers in the past. She’s not opposed to letting Winter into her bed, but she doesn’t want to expose her heart to him or to anyone else. She’s lonely and closed off much like Winter is, only they show it in different ways. Isabel expresses her loneliness in indifference and casual societal gaiety; Winter by holding himself aloof.
The problem is that Winter is a malleable character in the book, so malleable that the impossible conflict becomes no more difficult to overcome than a divot in the grass. The deflowering of Winter happens so casually, with so little forethought that it diminishes his lofty principles and reduces the conflict to weightless chaff. His flirtations don’t match his professed piety.
The scenes, however, wherein Isabel “teaches” Winter how to pleasure her are as sexy as any I’ve read. Winter is a strong and powerful man and his willingness to do anything for as long as Isabel needs him is acutely erotic. I felt that there were a number of good ideas being held together by strong prose but none of them reached their full potential. C+
I thought that character was wicked stupid in book 1. Knowing he was that heroine’s brother only makes that whole gimmick even dumber in my mind.
I don’t know if Hoyt changed, or if I did, but despite really enjoying her earlier books, this series was just stupid silly.
@Ridley: Thank you Ridley!
I recently finished ToS and thought it rated perhaps a B-, so I think I’m in the same ballpark as you, Jane. Funny, I rather thought that Winter was a little too astute a pupil, whether as a dancer or a lover. A little more awkwardness or show of uncertainty on his part (at what I would assume would be his lack of finesse in those areas) would have endeared him to me a little more.
As I posted elsewhere, I also thought the novel suffered from the lack of some meaningful introspection on the part of both the hero and the heroine. We’re talking about a H/h from different classes, lifestyles, and, dare I say, philosophies of life. Regardless of how certain Winter was that they were right for each other, you know there are bound to be problems of class if nothing else. I’d have believed in their HEA a lot more if each of them had at some point contemplated what life as a couple might be like, how they might each have to compromise, whether each was really prepared to accept changes in their carefully structured lifestyles (and if so, why), and so on. As it was, I’m not sure that good intentions and great sex–without careful reflection–are enough for an HEA.
Alas, the author again chose to use the epilogue to set up the next novel in the series, when IMHO it could have been put to better use by showing us that the H/h did indeed create a happy home life for themselves.
Jane, you saw Winter as malleable. Sexually, maybe he was, I guess. But otherwise, I saw nothing about Winter that made me feel he could or would change his ascetic lifestyle and outlook enough to make Isabel happy. He mostly blew off the whole issue of their class differences. That does not bode well, IMHO. And as with Georgina and Harry Pye, I’m not sure love alone is enough to guarantee an HEA.
I can’t disagree with any of your criticisms but man did this novel work for me. It had been such a long time since I read the first two novels in the series (and skipped the third, I have no patience for a martyr as heroine) so I had really forgotten any of the previous info about Winter and the Ghost. Winter’s character being a monkish virgin should have made me question his sexual assertiveness but I really thought that Hoyt sold the hell out of it. I was also happy that Isabel figures out his secret identity fairly quickly as I generally find mistaken identity a pretty boring read. Hoyt, in my opinion, writes some of the sexiest love scenes in historical romance and this one was no different. I find myself usually skimming love scenes in historicals but I definitely didn’t skim this time! My biggest complaint was mentioned above, I thought the epilogue should have included a look at how the pair organized their life together and if Isabel was able to bond with Christopher instead of a teaser for the next book.
I have to agree with everyone’s comment. This book was a B-/C+ for me also.
I enjoyed the book and I didn’t find Winter particularly malleable. He decided he wanted Isabel and allowed her to have him. Conversely I didn’t like the fact that Isabel knew what his principles were and still went after him when she had no intention of a lasting relationship. I actually found Isabel to be quite annoying. Don’t get me wrong – I liked the character but I found myself rolling my eyes a few times at her actions.
I finished the book last night, so I’m so glad to have the chance to discuss it here. I agree that this may not be Hoyt’s best novel, but I still loved many aspects of the book. I disagree about Winter being malleable – I think that he was one of the most self-assured heroes I’ve read in a long time.
It is not hard to find titled heroes and commoner heroines. Far more rare is the high-born heroine & the common hero. This novel pulls that off in a mostly believable way. I especially love that Winter does not make apologies for his background, nor does he expend much energy worrying about how marrying him will be bad for Isabel. I like his egalitarian bent.
What I did find unrealistic was the way that he simply moved in with Isabel. That just had the feel of absurdity to it – and I say this in the context of what is essentially a super hero romance with a masked maurader as the hero.
I agree that Winter is very self assured. What I mean about his character being malleable was that he moved from principle to principle without much thought. He was a virgin and wouldn’t have sex outside of the marriage bonds and then he’s having sex without the marriage bonds. Being the manager of the Home was everything to him and he easily gave it up to go be the tutor for Isabelle’s son. He didn’t envision getting married because of his duty to the Home and then he was convinced that Isabelle would eventually marry him. The quicksilver changes in his character is what I mean by malleable.
I, too, was taken aback by Isabelle’s swift deflowering of Winter, in the dark and in a closet where he had no real opportunity to protest but the character pursuing another character without any intent of permanency is commonplace in romance. I see it frequently with the male character not wanting to settle down but pursuing a woman non stop for the purpose of sex only. I agree that it is not a very admirable trait in either character, but it is so rarely the woman who pursues that this didn’t bother me in the book.
I absolutely adored Hoyt’s princes trilogy – she was without doubt one of my top three historical authors. But the Four Soldiers really didn’t work for me. Disappointment! I tried the first in this series and just couldn’t get into it. So I’m with Ridley – something happened to bump me off the Hoyt train, and I kinda wish it hadn’t, but there’s no jumping on again, apparently.
Well it sounds like the premise is intriguing at least.
I also just finished this book last night and I loved it. I’m a big Hoyt fan though. I think her prose is spectacular and her sex scenes are the best out there. Even her not as good books are better than most. I enjoyed every single thing about the book right up until the end. I bought the whole Winter/Isabelle romance. But I have to admit a little disappointment like everyone else, at the last chapter or two. When Winter asks her to move in and she says yes and she’ll bring staff with her, like it’s all no big deal….I was let down. Come on, after all her reasons why they couldn’t be together? I needed to see this actually play out to feel the HEA was believable. One more chapter Elizabeth! That’s all I would have needed to wrap up the HEA with a bow. At least in the next book throw us a bone and give a bit of time to showing the two of them happy together. We need it!
I think this time i will disagree …. i loved the book … didn’t care much for the previous two in the series but this one i loved … A virgin, younger hero … and a crusader to boot! …. plus it was as if Zorro had decided to visit england! … I think just an extra chapter or two focusing on the class differences would have made it perfect
I didn’t mind this book, but I did find myself thinking that in the epilogue, Hoyt actually changed the rules that had been set up in relation to the ghost.
I find Hoyt the most exciting in her epilogues and previews. At the end of Wicked Intentions (it’s still my favorite), I was SO excited for Scandalous Desires (If I ever have to read “ye” one more time, I’ll puke). At the end of SD, I was so pumped for Thief of Shadows (why do we have to end romance novels with the spin around?! lift and spin and happily ever after… ugh).
She offers exciting ideas and romantic pairings. I like her, I do, but I feel like she’s got a ways to go. That being said, I’m PUMPED for Lord of Darkness.
@Ridley: You sound like a child who can’t read.
TofS was my first Hoyt book. Now that I’ve read others, this is still one of my favorites. I disagree with many of the criticims. For example, Winter did not say he would only have sex if married. He said that, when he did, she would be the woman he would marry. He was willing to have sex with Isabel in order have time to convince her to marry him. He knew he had jumped the gun when he told her that he loved her. The real reason Isabel did not want to marry Winter is that Isabel could not have children, and she did not want to saddle him with a future with no children of his own. I thought Hoyt reconciled that really well at the end when Winter realized that he had all the children in his life that he would ever want — the orphans at the home. I thought there was quite a bit of both characters realizing that they had no future together. Winter kept telling himself to stay away from Isabel, but eventually admitted that he could not do so. Isabel was intrigued with the thought of a sexual fling with Winter, but did not see any future in it. I really enjoyed Winter’s dual life as the staid schoolmaster and the flamboyant Ghost. I loved the two characters from their first interaction where Isabel attempts to pull off the second mask and Winter stops her even though he was supposed to be unconscious. Both became able to admit and share their love with others — Isabel forging a relationship with her husband’s son and Winter acting on his love for Joseph Tinbox and allowing himself to hug his sister and the children. I do object to Isabel and her household intending to move into the home at the end. I was troubled by what role the little boy would have at the home. Winter should have hired someone to live at the home and moved in with Isabel.