Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth HoytDuke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Maiden Lane #11
Pages: 364
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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IN THE ARMS OF DANGER
Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.
IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE
Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.
ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER
When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

My Review:

The fairy tale romance of the tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon that heads each chapter of Duke of Pleasure makes for a perfect framing story – because Duke of Pleasure is also, in its own way, a fairy tale romance.

I’ve read some of the early entries in the Maiden Lane series, but somewhere along the way it fell victim to the “so many books, so little time” problem, and I stopped. But if you have never read the series, or dipped into it once or twice and lost track, don’t let Duke of Pleasure being book 11 in the series stop you from starting, or picking up, here. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of carry-over from one book to the next.

“Ghost of St. Giles” is a title, and not an individual. Think of it as the “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Alf may be the “Ghost’ at the moment, but others have held the title and worn the motley before her, and others will after she retires. It is necessary to keep the stews and rookeries of St. Giles just a bit safer for the poverty-stricken residents that there BE a Ghost, but the actual identity of the current Ghost is always closely held secret.

So when the notorious Ghost of St. Giles rescues the infamous Duke of Kyle from what seems to be the entire Scarlet Throat gang, he has no idea that the Ghost is a woman, or even that they have met before. Once upon a time, Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, tried to hire Alf, the well-known information peddler in St. Giles, to investigate one of his enemies. Alf didn’t take the job because he was currently working for said enemy. But mostly, Alf works for himself.

Actually herself. Life in St. Giles as a boy is difficult and dangerous enough. Attempting to live as a woman would just make her a target. And skirts are extremely difficult to fight in. So Alf hides herself behind her persona as a very young man. Until the Duke first discovers that the Ghost is a woman, and subsequently that Alf is the Ghost. And therefore, a woman.

And he needs Alf to be a woman, to help him infiltrate and investigate the nefarious Lords of Chaos. He has the devil’s own time admitting to himself that he just needs, and wants, Alf. Exactly as she is. Swords, knives, and all. And to hell with what society wants, or thinks, about it.

He just has to convince Alf that risking her heart with him won’t mean losing everything she is.

Escape Rating B+: I actually looked for the fairy tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon. Told in the chapter headers, it’s an absolutely lovely (if slightly trope-y) fairy tale romance. And it’s the perfect parallel to Hugh and Alf’s own story.

Not that there is any sorcerous magic in Hugh and Alf’s story, just that it feels equally unlikely. It’s still absolutely lovely, but there’s just a touch of fairy tale magic in the romance of the bastard duke and the surprisingly innocent yet still extremely cynical girl from the very mean streets.

Alf and Hugh are fascinating characters, and make an interesting, if very unconventional for their times, couple. Hugh is a secret agent for the crown, a crown that happens to be worn by his father. Hugh is an acknowledged bastard of King George II of England. But that little accident of birth isn’t half as interesting as the way that Hugh acts. Not the secret agent bit, fascinating as that is, but the way he lives. His men are all his former soldiers, and he treats them not merely well, but as close to equal as their relative positions let them manage. And Hugh is a single father to two young sons, one of whom is not his by blood. And he doesn’t care. He is desperate to re-forge a relationship with them and take care of them personally, not merely packing them off to the nursery wing.

Alf is equally surprising, and slightly more anachronistic. But her independence makes sense within the world as portrayed. Disguising herself as a boy would have been much safer under the circumstances. And while it is a disguise that she is cognizant of, and not a gender identity, it is a disguise that she has been wearing since she was 5 years old. When she has to play at being a lady, that is the act for Alf. The problem for her is that after allowing herself to be a woman, she is caught between worlds. She doesn’t want to go back to being just Alf, but she also doesn’t have the skills or even the desire to be a typical woman of that time. She wants to be “Alf who is a woman” and doesn’t know how to find a place where she fits.

One of the marvelous things about the story is that Hugh doesn’t want Alf to be anyone other than Alf. Yes, he wants her to be a female Alf, because this romance, but he doesn’t want her to pretend to be a lady, or to take on typical ladylike behaviors. A big part of what he loves about her is that she is as addicted to danger and adrenaline as he is. They are a match, once he gets his head out of his gorgeous ass to admit it.

Reviewer’s note: In the book blurb, Hugh is referred to as “brutally handsome”. If the phrase is familiar, that’s because it is a line from The Eagles’ song Life in the Fast Lane. The complete line is “He was a hard-headed man, he was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty.” which is also a surprisingly accurate portrait of Hugh’s first marriage.

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