Not the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt series #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe – the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family – appears at the country house party she’s attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognises Freya, masquerading amongst the party revellers, and realises his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins. Sins he’d much rather forget. But she’s also fiery, bold, and sensuous – a temptation he can’t resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he’ll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya’s trust – by whatever means necessary.

Rating: C

Hard as it is for readers when a favourite, long-running series ends, it must be equally so for the author who has lived with those characters and scenarios for years – and who then has to follow up that success with something new that will continue to please fans of the previous books as well as, hopefully, gain them new ones. Having closed the book on the hugely popular Maiden Lane series last year, much-loved author Elizabeth Hoyt now faces that particular challenge, and presents the first book in a new Georgian era series about the Greycourt family and their immediate circle – Not the Duke’s Darling.

If you’ve looked at the advance reviews on Goodreads, you’ll have seen a plethora of four and five star reviews for the book, so I’m afraid I’m going to be a dissenting voice. Not the Duke’s Darling was Difficult to Get Through. It took me twice as long as it would normally have taken me to read a book of this length, mostly because I was able to put it down easily and wasn’t engaged enough to want to pick it up again. There were a variety of reasons for this, not least of which are that the book is disjointed, episodic and overstuffed with plot, the heroine is hard to like, and the romance is woefully underdeveloped.

The Greycourt series is predicated on a tragedy that occurred some fifteen years earlier which tore apart three families who had previously been very close. The death of sixteen-year-old Aurelia Greycourt, who had been set to elope with eighteen-year-old Ranulf de Moray, eldest son of the Duke of Ayr, had far ranging repercussions which left Ran crippled and near death, and his friend, Christopher Renshaw, hustled away to India and an arranged marriage with a young woman he’d met exactly twice before.

Ran, who inherited the title Duke of Ayr almost immediately after these events, lives as a recluse and his brother Lachlan administers the dukedom. Ran’s sisters – Caitriona, Elspeth and twelve-year-old Freya – were sent to live with their Aunt Hilda in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where they learned the ways of the ancient secret society of Wise Women, a group dedicated to helping women throughout Britain utilising their centuries-old knowledge of herbs and healing. Once a thriving group of thousands, the witch hunts of the previous centuries have decimated their number and even though these were made illegal by Witchcraft Act of 1735, old beliefs and superstitions continue to run rife, and Wise Women still run the risk of accusations of witchery being levelled against them.

Fifteen years after the death of Aurelia, Freya de Moray has risen through the ranks of the Wise Women to become their Macha – she calls herself their ‘spy’, as it’s her job to keep her ear to the ground to find out what is being said about them and also to find causes for them to interest themselves in.  At the beginning of the book, Freya is racing through the streets of East London on her latest mission when she ends up jumping into the carriage of Christopher Renshaw, the man she blames for what happened to Ran and the destruction of her family.

Freya may be the sister of a duke, but she no longer lives as one, having taken a position as companion to Lady Holland and her two daughters while she fulfils her duties as Macha.  Freya has learned that support is gaining ground in Parliament for a new Witch Act which would make witch-hunting legal again, and that its main proponent, Lord Randolph, is going to be present at an upcoming house party to which Lady Holland has been invited.  Freya has heard that there is some suspicion concerning the recent death of Randolph’s wife and reckons that if she can dig up enough dirt on him, she’ll be able to blackmail him into withdrawing the bill.

Up to this point in the story, we’ve had two points of view; as is common in most romances, we hear from the hero and the heroine.  But after we arrive at the house party, a third voice is introduced, that of Messalina Greycourt, Freya’s former best friend.  It turns out Messalina is well aware that Freya is now working as a companion, although she has no idea why, and she has decided, so far, not to expose her as the sister of the Duke of Ayr.  Messalina and her sister, Lucretia (references to other siblings indicate they’re all named after Roman emperors and empresses) are also attending the house party, and are also intent on finding out exactly what happened to Lady Randolph, who was a dear friend of Messalina’s

In the meantime, Christopher Renshaw, who has returned from India a widower and has become Duke of Harlowe, is intrigued by the drab but surprisingly feisty companion who seems set on crossing swords (both literally and metaphorically) with him at every turn.  He has come to the house party in order to confront a blackmailer who is extorting an outrageous sum of money in return for the letters written to him by Christopher’s wife while they lived in India.

So… we’re not even half way into the book and we’ve got Wise Women (and I’m sorry, but whenever I read those words, all I could think of was the “she is the Wise Woman” scene in Blackadder), two lots of blackmail, a mysterious death and a parliamentary plot; the story is being told in three different PoVs… dare I say it’s no wonder the romance is squeezed out to the extent it’s practically non-existent?

Christopher has the makings of a decent hero.  Pushed into an arranged marriage when he was just eighteen, he tried to be a good husband and to take care of his young wife, and he blames himself for the circumstances of her death.  Given he last saw Freya when she was twelve, it’s not hard to accept that it takes him a while to recognise her, and I appreciated that once he does realise who she is, he doesn’t waste time in telling her the truth – as far as he knows it – of what happened on the night Aurelia died.  There’s still a mystery surrounding her death, which I presume will be solved in a future book, but Freya realises that she’s misjudged Christopher all these years and begins to unbend towards him, which allows them to acknowledge and explore the attraction between them.  But their relationship is dreadfully underdeveloped, the chemistry between them is notable only by its absence, and the sex scenes, which Ms. Hoyt normally excels at writing, feel forced and hurried.

I had a hard time getting a handle on Freya and began to actively dislike her towards the end of the book, mostly because of the way she treats Christopher.  I understand that it can be very difficult to create strong, independent heroines in the context of historical romance because women had so few options and so little agency at the time many of them are set.  Unfortunately, however, many authors fall into the trap of trying to show their heroine’s strength and independence by having her running roughshod over the hero and treating him like his feelings don’t matter – and that sort of inequality does not a good romantic relationship make.   (For the record – I don’t like it when the situation is reversed, either.  A good romance should be about an equality of minds and outlook, not one character getting one over on the other).  Freya crossed the line between strong and independent, and insensitive and stupidly pig-headed once too often.

I feel like I haven’t really scratched the surface of Not the Duke’s Darling (another completely nonsensical title that has nothing to do with the story) in this review, but there is so much going on I just can’t fit it all in.  I haven’t even mentioned the Dunkelders, for example, men out to capture and wipe out the Wise Women; and the plotline concerning Lady Randolph’s death is resolved in a manner I can only describe as ridiculously melodramatic.  Characterisation and relationship building are the major casualties of this train-wreck of a novel, and much as it pains me – as a fan of Ms. Hoyt’s – to say it, I really can’t recommend it.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve (Maiden Lane #12.6) by Elizabeth Hoyt

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Adam Rutledge, Viscount d’Arque, really rather loathes Christmas. The banal cheerfulness. The asinine party games. And, worst of all, the obligatory trip to the countryside. His grandmother, however, loves the holiday—and Adam loves his grandmother, so he’ll brave the fiercest snowstorm to please her. But when their carriage wheel snaps, they’re forced to seek shelter at the home of the most maddening, infuriating, and utterly beguiling woman he’s ever met.

Sarah St. John really rather loathes rakes. The self-satisfied smirks. The sly predatory gazes. Oh, and the constant witty banter rife with double meaning. But in the spirit of the season, she’ll welcome this admittedly handsome viscount into her home. But as the snowstorm rages, the Yule log crackles, and the tension rises, Sarah and Adam find themselves locked in a fiery, passionate kiss. If love is the true meaning of Christmas, it’s the one gift this mismatched pair can’t wait to unwrap.

Rating: C

Much as I’m a fan of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, I’m not a great fan of novellas and after having read and been somewhat ‘meh’ about Once Upon a Maiden Lane, I was going to give this a miss. But the fan in me said “you might as well – you’ve read all the others” (books in the series, that is), so I did read it… and I should have stuck to my guns, because Once Upon a Christmas Eve is rather a disappointment.

Very few authors, IMO, really know how to get it right when it comes to novellas (Courtney Milan is always the one that comes to mind who DOES get it right) and most of those I read tend to be rushed and lacking in depth; plus the current vogue for getting in at least one sex scene regardless of page count means there is even less time spent developing a relationship. And that’s the case here.

What makes it worse, however, is that the hero, Adam Rutledge, Viscount d’Arque, popped up as one of those secondary characters who took on a life of his own in an earlier book in the series, and many fans (including me) had hoped Ms. Hoyt was planning to make him a hero in one of the later books in the series. Sadly, that didn’t pan out – and instead we’ve got this woefully underdeveloped tale of a hardened rake who falls in love in the blink of an eye with a young woman who intrigues him because she hates rakes and doesn’t want anything to do with him.

Sarah St. John had a bad experience some years earlier when she was almost ravished by a handsome charmer who, when they were caught in a compromising position, blamed her and said she led him on. Mortified, Sarah has shunned society ever since, and absolutely detests rakes. When Viscount d’Arque shows up on the doorstep of the St. John’s country home asking for help because his carriage has been damaged, the family extends their hospitality to both d’Arque and his grandmother, with whom he had been travelling. Sarah is not at all pleased at the prospect of having a handsome, charming, flirtatious rake in the house, and determines to keep her distance. D’Arque is – of course – intrigued by pretty much the only woman he’s ever met who has resisted him and decides he might as well spend the next few days trading barbs with Sarah … except it’s he who ends up feeling discombobulated as he realises that the lovely spitfire has somehow got under his skin.

There’s no question that Ms. Hoyt knows how to write a sexy hero, and d’Arque certainly delivers on the sexy; he’s suave and smooth and completely contained – until he’s around Sarah and the cracks in his façade begin to show. He obviously cares for his grandmother a great deal, and his relationship with her is very well written and gives added depth and insight to his character. But Sarah’s ‘disgrace’ is too obviously just a convenient plot device and a reason for her to dislike d’Arque on sight. A well-bred young woman’s reputation was incredibly important, it’s true, but there’s not enough here about what Sarah went through to make her attitude believable.

I suppose my biggest beef is to do with wasted potential. Ms. Hoyt is, of course, entitled to write her books the way she wants to, and obviously, the Maiden Lane series took a direction which ended up precluding her from writing d’Arque a full-length novel. But my first thought after I finished reading was “what a waste of a great character”.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed the snippets from The Frog Prince that prefaced each chapter; those were a nice little tongue-in-cheek nod to the more complex ‘legends’ that feature in the earlier books.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve can be read as a standalone as it doesn’t require any knowledge of what has gone before. Prepare to enjoy the banter as d’Arque and Sarah cross swords and the sparks fly but overall this story suffers badly from what I call “novella-itis” (it’s rushed and underdeveloped) – and if you’re a fan of the series and have been waiting for a story about d’Arque, you might be just a tad disappointed.

(Note: The Kindle edition ends at around the 75% mark; the remaining space is taken up by previews of other Maiden Lane titles.)

Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Miss Mary Whitsun is far too intelligent to fall for the rakish charms of a handsome aristocrat. But when the gentleman in question approaches her in a bookshop, mistaking her for his fiancée, Lady Johanna Albright, the flirtatious encounter only raises more questions. Could Mary, a servant raised in a St Giles orphanage, actually be Lady Joanna’s long-lost twin sister? If so, Mary has been betrothed since birth—to the rakishly handsome artistocrat himself.

Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, is far too intrigued by Mary to let her go so easily. He’s drawn to her sharp mind, indomitable spirit, and the fiery way in which she dismisses him—ladies simply don’t dismiss Lord Blackwell. But as Mary makes her first hesitant steps into society, she can’t help but wonder if she truly has a place in Henry’s world—or in his heart.

Rating: C+

While Duke of Desire is the final full-length book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s long-running and incredibly popular Maiden Lane series, that wasn’t quite The End, as the author is treating us to a novella or two to round the series off and, in Once Upon a Maiden Lane, brings us back to where it all began – the streets and slums of the St. Giles area of London.

Some of the reviews I’ve read of Duke of Desire made mention of the fact that the book didn’t really feel like the end of a series; most of the time, such books feature cameos from characters from the previous books, filling pages with happy families as everyone catches up with each other. That doesn’t happen in Duke of Desire, and I, for one, was glad of it, because it would have been much too implausible and would have detracted from the main story. Instead, Ms. Hoyt kept her powder dry and has presented us with Once Upon a Maiden Lane – a novella featuring Mary Whitsun, who appeared regularly in the earlier books as one of the older orphan girls raised at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children run by the Makepeace family. (This will be followed in December by Once Upon a Christmas Eve, which will feature a very long-awaited story for Viscount D’Arque).

As is implied by the title, this story has a bit of the fairy-tale about it. Mary is a young woman now, and resides in the household of Lord and Lady Caire (Wicked Intentions) where she is employed as a nursemaid to the Caires’ two young children.  On her afternoon off, she is browsing in a bookshop when she is approached by an extremely handsome young man – clearly an aristocrat – and addressed as Lady Joanna.  Mary, who is distrustful of handsomeness and even more distrustful of it when it comes in an aristocratic package, makes clear to the gentleman, who introduces himself as Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, that she does not find his joke at all funny; but when his friend, John Seymour, also points out Mary’s strong resemblance to Lady Joanna Albright, she becomes very suspicious.  It seems that the very same year she was left at the orphanage, the twin daughters of the Earl of Angrove were abducted, and while one of them, Lady Joanna, was subsequently returned to her family, the elder twin, Lady Cecilia, was not.  Blackwell, who was betrothed to Cecilia as a boy, is expected to marry Joanna instead but isn’t keen.  She’s like a sister to him, and besides, she’s in love with someone else.  Enchanted by Mary’s loveliness and her spirited response to him, Blackwell is determined to prove that she is Lady Cecilia – and then to make her his wife as originally intended.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is more or less your basic Cinderella story, although this being Elizabeth Hoyt, it’s not quite that simple.  It seems that someone isn’t wild about Lady Cecilia’s return and doesn’t waste any time in trying to harm Mary; and while the ladies of the Albright family – her mother, sister and grandmother – welcome Mary with open arms, the Earl is less than friendly towards his long-lost daughter…

The romance between Mary and Blackwell is nicely done, if a little rushed, and, as one would expect of such an accomplished storyteller, the writing is deft, humorous, poignant and laced with the sort of earthy sensuality that is Ms. Hoyt’s trademark.  I did, however scratch my head at the inclusion of the excerpts from The Curious Mermaid, the ‘legend’ which graces the opening of each chapter, which is basically The Little Mermaid subverted; and honestly, I didn’t quite see why it was there other than to preserve continuity with the rest of the books in the series.

Those hoping for the big Maiden Lane reunion that didn’t happen in Duke of Desire will find it here, although Ms. Hoyt very wisely doesn’t include speaking parts for everyone!  I had to smile at the name bestowed upon Val’s (the Duke of Montgomery) three-year-old daughter, which is every bit as flamboyant as one would expect given who her father is; and it was nice to check in with some of the characters we haven’t seen or heard of for a while.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is a charming little story that makes a nice coda to the series, but ultimately, it suffers from novella-itis – an underdeveloped story and characters.  I was grateful for the chance to go back to where it all began, but ultimately, this is one for the fans.

Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt (audiobook) – Narrated by Ashford McNab

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A lady of light

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked – and nude! – lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A duke in deepest darkness

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

Caught in a web of danger…and desire

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life – and bed. Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

Rating: Narration – B Content – B+

All good things must come to an end, and here we are, at the end (almost – I think there are a couple of novellas to follow) of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series with the twelfth and final full-length novel, Duke of Desire. I’ve read some of the novels and listened to others (and in many cases, done both) and there’s no doubt that Ms. Hoyt has maintained an incredibly high standard of storytelling throughout the series, gifting us with some wonderful stories, plenty of action and adventure, a group of memorable characters – gorgeous, sexy heroes to sigh over and their equally gorgeous and sexy ladies to envy – and her own brand of steamy, earthy and heartfelt romance.

Duke of Desire brings us all of those things, although I’ll say now that anyone expecting a big reunion between all the protagonists from the other eleven books is going to be disappointed, because this isn’t that sort of story, and in fact, I’m glad of it. To have brought back all the earlier heroes and heroines would have been too much and actually, rather implausible, and I’m glad that this book concentrates on a new hero and heroine and gives them their chance to shine.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

best-of-2016-covers

Over the past week or so All About Romance has been publishing the team’s lists of their Top Ten books read in 2016. The vast majority of these are books published in 2016, although a few are books published previously that have been read this year.

All my choices are 2016 titles, and as usual, it was a tough list to compile. I’ve had a good reading year (I’ll be taking a look at my stats at some point and posting about those) and at AAR, have awarded a good number of B Grades and up, indicating that I read many more books I enjoyed than books I didn’t, which I count a definite plus.

Pinning it down to ten books was TOUGH, as was picking an outright “book of the year”, because this year (unlike last), that moniker could have been applied to practically every book on my list. But being I’m a bit of an angst-bunny, I went for the book that ripped out my heart and stomped on it a few times, AND which I’d been most eagerly anticipating.  Click on the link and all will be revealed!

My Best of 2016

Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt

duke-of-pleasure

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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?

Rating: A-

Amazingly, we’ve reached the eleventh of Elizabeth Hoyt’s <i books, and the author shows no sign of running out of steam! Duke of Pleasure is another strong addition to the series, a beautifully-written, well-paced story that achieves just the right balance between romance and action; and which is, in part, a charming Cinderella-type story that sees everyone’s favourite street-urchin – Alf – get her man in the shape of the formidable Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle.

Alf has made brief appearances in a number of books in the series, most prominently in the previous one (Duke of Sin) in which she was employed by the Duke of Montgomery as a spy/informant. She lives in the stews of St. Giles and is ideally placed to ferret out information about the many nefarious deeds that are cooked up in its numerous rookeries and gin palaces and has been instrumental in helping our heroes to uncover and foil a number of evil schemes. Not many of those heroes, however, know that Alf is anything other than the boy on the edge of manhood she pretends to be. Left on the streets of St. Giles when she was just five years old, Alf was fortunate to be taken under the wing of a lad called Ned, who looked after her and told her that it would be safest for her to live as a boy; as a girl she would be almost certain to end up working on her back, and sooner rather than later given the proclivities of some of the visitors to the district’s brothels. Now aged twenty-one, Alf continues to pass as a boy and has spent so many years living as one that it’s practically impossible for her to imagine doing otherwise – or even wanting to.

Recently, however, in addition to her daytime disguise, Alf has taken on another identity – that of the Ghost of St. Giles, the masked crusader who leaps from rooftop to rooftop, dropping to the streets to lend assistance – usually armed assistance – to those in danger. Quick-witted, agile and skilled with her blades, one night she leaps into the fray to aid a single man being attacked by a large group, a man she has met once before when she was Montgomery’s employ and who, at that time, wanted her to work against him. That doesn’t stop Alf though, and she helps the man to fend off his attackers, pausing only to pull him to her for a kiss before running off into the night.

Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle (a bastard son of the King, George II) is pretty sure who is out for his blood – a dangerous group of men who term themselves the Lords of Chaos, a select club that indulges its members’ unnatural tastes for satanic rites, blood sacrifice and many other degenerate practices.  In the previous book, Kyle was tasked with discovering the identities of the Lords and bringing them down – but even though the man believed to be its leader – the Duke of Dymore – is now dead, it seems the Lords are thriving and are as determined to stop Kyle as he is to hunt them down.   Fighting for his life, he is amazed at the sight of the slight figure coming to his aid – and even more surprised to discover that the Ghost of St. Giles is a woman.

The story of the duke and the street-urchin may be highly implausible, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.  Kyle is an upstanding, honourable man who has cultivated the art of self-control to a high degree.  His marriage to a society beauty with whom he was head-over-heels in love was a tempestuous one, founded on an explosive passion which ultimately led to disappointment and disaster.  He adores his two young sons and deeply regrets that he missed so much of their early childhoods because he couldn’t face living with his difficult (now deceased) wife.  As a result, he is mistrustful of strong feelings and convinced that giving into them again will only lead to pain and sorrow.  Yet there’s something about Alf – her resilience, her courage and her free-spirited nature – that calls to him and begins to turn attraction into something more.

Alf has become so used to her life as a boy that the idea of living as a woman is thoroughly alien to her.  She can’t imagine feeling comfortable or safe as anything else, so when Hugh asks her to accompany him to a society event – as a woman –  in order to help him to look for evidence against the Lords, her initial reaction is to refuse.  But when she realises that there really is no-one else able to do what she can, she musters her courage and agrees, willing to set aside her own fears to help the man she has come to love.

It’s the working relationship between the couple that does much to bridge the immense social gap between them.  Hugh may be a duke, but he respects people for who they are and what they can do; and nowhere in the book is this more apparent than the couple of times where he gives Alf (knowing her to be a woman) a dangerous task perform, fully confident that she is up to it.  Of course, he struggles against his instinct to protect her, but he also knows she’s capable and trusts her to get the job done – and I loved that about him.

Ms. Hoyt does a wonderful job in showing the depth of Hugh’s love for his two sons, who are both written in such a way as to come across as actual children and not just cutesy moppet plot devices.  Hugh’s confusion at the way that his elder boy – Kit – seems so angry at him all the time is palpable, and to see this big, powerful, confident man at a loss as to how to build a relationship with these little boys makes for some moments of true poignancy in the story.

The author also delivers a perfectly lovely romance full of passion, tenderness, and understanding, all ingredients that bring readers flocking to her books time after time.  The chemistry between Alf and Kyle leaps off the page, the love scenes are a delicious mix of sweet, sexy and earthy and there’s a real sense of equality to their relationship that allows it to work, in spite of their difference in station. We all love a good rags-to-riches story once in a while, don’t we?

Ms. Hoyt’s writing is lush and wonderfully intelligent, her characterisation is extremely strong throughout, and as ever, the descriptions of the less salubrious areas of London are so evocative as to put the reader in the middle of those dank, smelly and dangerous streets! A passionate romance  wrapped around a thrilling suspense story, Duke of Pleasure really is a pleasure and I devoured it in a couple of sittings.  Fans of historical romance shouldn’t miss it.

Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane #10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

once upon a moonlit night
This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Hippolyta Royle is running for her life. Pursued by hounds on a cold rainy night, the heiress flags down a passing carriage and throws herself at the mercy of the coach’s occupant. Whoever this handsome traveler may be, he is her only hope to escape a terrible fate. But should he agree to escort her to safety, he’s in for much more than he bargained for . . .

At first Matthew Mortimer doesn’t believe Hippolyta’s story, that she’s a fabulously wealthy heiress who’s been kidnapped. He assumes she’s a beggar, an actress, or worse. But once his new travel companion washes the mud from her surprisingly lovely face, and they share a breathtaking kiss, there is no turning back . . .

Rating:B-

Readers of Duke of Sin, the recently released tenth book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s hugely popular Maiden Lane series will recall that one of the many nefarious plots engineered by the Machiavellian Duke of Montgomery was the kidnapping of Miss Hippolyta Royle, the wealthiest heiress in England. In that book, she was freed by the Duke’s housekeeper, the enterprising Bridget Crumb, who helped her to escape onto the moors – and then we heard nothing more of her. I admit, that loose plot-thread did seem rather strange, but fortunately, anyone wondering what happened to Miss Royle after she fled Ainsdale Castle can put their minds at rest, as her fate is revealed in the novella, Once Upon a Moonlit Night.

She stumbles into the path of an oncoming carriage, which – fortunately – stops so that its angry occupant can ask her what the hell she’s playing at. Dirty, bedraggled and smelling of sheep rather than roses, Hippolyta’s assertion that she is a wealthy heiress is promptly dismissed by Matthew Mortimer, explorer, cartographer and newly minted but improverished Earl of Paxton. He’s tired from his journey home from the Indian Ocean, disgruntled because he had to make it at all and in no mood to humour a down-on-her-luck actress/thief/tart.

The first part of the novella is a road-trip romance in which the two protagonists get off on completely the wrong foot but, during the course of a few days, come to realise that perhaps there is more to the other than meets the eye. The sparks fly from the get-go and the air between them crackles with sexual tension, even though Matthew is pretty abrasive for the first part of the journey and makes no bones about the fact that he believes Hippolyta to be a whore. By the second day, however, they really start talking to each other and he starts to wonder if perhaps he’s misjudged her. But before he can really make his mind up, the two of them are discovered in the yard of a coaching inn by her father who is outraged at the idea that his daughter has spent several days unchaperoned with a man, leaving Matthew with little option but to ask for her hand.

The story then fast-forwards a couple of weeks to the hasty wedding – and the wedding night – and the reappearance of a figure from Hippolyta’s past who threatens to expose a buried family secret (that isn’t much of a secret to anyone who has read Duke of Sin) which could ruin her in society.

Once Upon a Moonlit Night is an entertaining, quick read that is as well-written as one would expect from this author, but it does suffer from “novella-itis” in that it feels rather rushed, especially in the second half. The central characters are reasonably well drawn, and while Matthew is a bit of a grouch to start with, in his favour, he’s the type of hero who, once he realises what he wants, doesn’t dither or deny, he goes for it. But I couldn’t quite work out what happened to Hippolyta, who has been an intriguing, exotic figure in the earlier books in which she has appeared. She begins this tale as spirited and able to give as good as she gets, but then turns into a wimpy damsel in distress immediately after her wedding night. She receives a blackmail note and just runs off instead of having a simple conversation with Matthew, and I thoroughly disliked the use of such an obvious contrivance to create dramatic tension.

Ultimately, this is a story of two … not quite halves. The first, in which the author develops the relationship between Hipployta and Matthew and skilfully brings the sexual attraction between them to the boil gets a B, but the second, which is a bit of a let-down, gets a C, hence my overall grade. I enjoyed the novella and I’m glad Ms. Hoyt took the opportunity to tie up the loose ends of Hippolyta’s story, but I think it needed a bit more time and space in which to play out.

add-to-goodreads-button