Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, has the devastating good looks of a fallen angel and has earned a notorious reputation as an unrepentant rake and unscrupulous blackmailer. Raised by an abusive father and a mother who hated him for his resemblance to her loathsome husband, he learned early that love was an emotion that made a person weak, for that which he loved he would eventually have to kill or have it cruelly taken away from him. To keep others from gaining power over him, Val became the best purveyor of information in England, and he's not above using it to get whatever he wants. The only person he has ever cared for is his sister, and he's gone to great lengths to keep her safe. But that all changes the day he returns from "exile" and starts getting to know the unusual young woman who's become his latest housekeeper. She intrigues Val in ways he never thought possible with her ideas of morality and most of all with her seeming belief that there's still something good inside of him that's worth saving.
Bridget Crumb is the illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic woman who is being blackmailed by Val. Even though she grew up with a foster family, far from the glitz and glitter of society and the influence of her birth mother, Bridget wants to help the lady. She's worked hard all her life to get to where she is now and takes a position as housekeeper to the Duke of Montgomery in order to find the blackmail material he has on her mother, as well as another lady. At first, she thinks Val is nothing but a no-good schemer, but soon she starts seeing glimmers of a better man underneath the flamboyant veneer. He entices her with his boyish charm, making her want to save him from his worst enemy - himself. In order to accomplish that, she may have to take drastic measure to help him see the difference between right and wrong, which could ruin their growing love for one another. But it's the men who are even more unscrupulous than Val who may take away the woman Val has come to love more than anything, leaving him to make the right decision without Bridget to guide him.
Elizabeth Hoyt is such a masterful author, she never fails to amaze me with her stories. I absolutely love them and can't get enough of them. Duke of Sin ended up being yet another perfect read for me from this very talented writer, and that's not something I was completely convinced would happen when I picked up this latest book in her Maiden Lane series. That's because of the hero, Val. I was thoroughly intrigued by him from the moment he stepped onto the canvas several books ago, and I felt like he definitely had hero potential. But in the intervening books, he's been a very, very bad boy who's stirred up quite a bit of trouble for other characters I loved, not the least of which was kidnapping Phoebe, one of my favorite heroines of the series. That gave me some pause as to whether he could be convincingly redeemed. I think my skepticism stemmed from a bad reading experience with another of my favorite authors in which one of her heroes was very similar to Val, but that hero ended up pushing a lot of unpleasant buttons for me so that I never believed in his supposed redemption. So while I was eager for Val's story, especially after we discovered in the last book what he did for his half-sister, Eve, I was also just a little trepidatious of possibly having another disappointing read. I'm happy to report that I shouldn't have worried. As I said, Elizabeth Hoyt is a master, who totally made me fall for Val despite his villainous actions, making this book a real pleasure to read.
Valentine is a character who's done a lot of terrible things in his life. Blackmailer, murderer, kidnapper, seducer... you name it, he's probably done it, and he's proud of it. Then he meets Bridget, and she begins to peel back his layers like an onion, revealing a sympathetic man underneath. Val believes himself to be a heartless cur who is incapable of love, but I knew based on his actions toward Eve that he did have a heart and could love. However, until Bridget, Eve is the only person upon whom he has bestowed that love. Otherwise, he's a masterful purveyor of information who enjoys making other people squirm and who doesn't seem to have much concept of right and wrong. He takes what he wants when he wants and pretty much does as he pleases with little thought of the consequences. When we learn how hellish his life was growing up, it all makes sense, though. He felt so powerless for a large part of his life, that I think he needed to possess power over others in order to keep them from possibly hurting him. Also his villainous father treated him abominably as a child so that Val never grew up knowing a genuine sense of right and wrong. Yet despite that, I liked that Val did have his limits. He drew the line at raping women or molesting little boys and girls like his father and the Lords of Chaos did. He also did what was necessary to protect his sister at great personal risk. Then we see this whole other side of Val, the boyish charmer who tinkers with clockwork "toys," who loves books and has a gigantic library, and who seems completely entranced and intrigued by his Seraphine (as he calls Bridget) and wants to understand her morality. Val knows he's handsome and has a great body, and he isn't afraid to flaunt it, which gives a freedom to his character I found refreshing rather than merely conceited. And then there's his flamboyant style. His dress, his surroundings, even his speech on occasion can be overindulgent and poetic and by turns could both amuse and touch me. Everything about him is big and elaborate and fanciful, and yes, a bit self-centered, but that only added to his freeness. He honestly doesn't care at all what other people think of him. In many ways, Val reminds me of Deadpool, because he's a little mad yet still oddly lovable, or Loki (Elizabeth Hoyt herself has cast Tom Hiddleston as Val and I think he's a perfect choice), because he's a mischievous troublemaker yet still embodies a boyish charm that I couldn't help but love in spite of him doing bad things.
Bridget is the perfect foil for Val, grounding him and giving his life purpose. The secret illegitimate daughter of a certain aristocratic lady who has been a part of the series from the beginning, Bridget was raised by a working-class foster family due to the circumstances of her birth. She knows the value of hard work and has done just that to earn the position of head housekeeper at such a young age. She genuinely enjoys her work, but she came into Val's employ originally to use her position to seek out blackmail material he had on her biological mother and another aristocratic lady. Before meeting him in the flesh, Bridget thinks he's a no-good low-life who only thinks of himself, but after he comes out of hiding, she begins to get to know the real man. She sees glimmers of goodness in him and wants to bring that out of him and show him there's a different path he can take that doesn't involve hurting people. There are times when Bridget bests Val at his own game, foiling his plots by taking away his "playthings." At those times, I found it intriguing that Val is never truly mad at her when he catches her, because he views it as all part of the game, and if anything, he almost seems to respect her all the more for temporarily getting the upper hand. Despite Val's protestations that he doesn't have a heart, I adored Bridget for being perceptive enough to see that he does, as well as kind and loving enough to nurture the goodness she sees. Through her patient tutelage she genuinely makes him into a better man.
There are several supporting characters in Duke of Sin who will be getting their own stories in the series or who already have. Bridget's biological family play roles, as does Hippolyta Royle, all of whom we've seen in several previous books. Hippolyta is one of the most sought-after heiresses in England and her story continues from where it leaves off in this book, when she becomes the heroine of the next novella, Once Upon a Moonlit Night, which will be released this month (July 2016). We're also introduced to Hugh Fitzroy, the king's illegitimate son and the one the crown sends to clean up problems that arise. He gets an inauspicious introduction to the street urchin, Alf, in this book. This pair will go on to become the hero and heroine of the next full-length novel of the series, Duke of Pleasure, which is due for release in November (2016). Then there are the Lords of Chaos, whom I strongly suspect Ms. Hoyt patterned after the Hellfire clubs that were popular in the Georgian era. These dissolute aristocrats engage in all manner of heinous and debauched acts, and although they suffer a setback in this book, we haven't heard the last of them, as they become the villains of Duke of Pleasure. Ms. Hoyt is equally as masterful at creating memorable animal characters as she is with her human ones, so I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Bridget's little dog, Pip, who's absolutely adorable.
I feel like I've been saying this a lot lately, but I can't help it when it's true. All of Elizabeth Hoyt's books in her Maiden Lane series have been perfect or near-perfect reads for me, and Duke of Sin was no exception. I loved the story and the characters and think they were both expertly rendered. As usual the love scenes are sensual, steamy and creative. The romance is heartfelt and emotional. The mini fairy tale that accompanies it perfectly mirrors the main story. Everything about this book was spot-on. I couldn't have asked for a better read and can't wait for the next stories in the Maiden Lane series. I'm so excited to get two more yet this year. Yay!
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