My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Elizabeth Hoyt’s Darling Beast is book #7 of her epic Maiden Lane series. This series, though much different now than the original storyline, still manages to keep me hooked. It never ceases to amaze me just how invested I am in the lives of these characters that Ms. Hoyt created!
Darling Beast was one of my 2014’s anticipated releases (not surprising really). Even though it’s a great standalone on its own, I’d always recommend that you start from book 1 for full enjoyment of the series. They are interconnected one way or the other, either with ongoing incidents or secondary characters or both. The first 6 books (in correct order), Wicked Intentions, Notorious Pleasures, Scandalous Desires, Thief of Shadows, Lord of Darkness and Duke of Midnight were centered around the phenomena of The Ghost of St. Giles, a mysterious masked figure that played robin hood (sort of) in the dirty alleyways of St. Giles at the dead of the night. People had all sorts of emotions running regard this masked man; fear, awe, skepticism. Also, the series originally started with the Makepeace Siblings who ran (still do) an orphanage on the St. Giles. Temperance, Silence and Winter have since found love in Lazurus, Lord Caire, Charming Mickey or Michael and Lady Isabel. Now we’re onto the lives of some of the interesting secondary characters that were introduced throughout. The 2 eldest Makepeace siblings were never really a part of this series but the middle brother, Asa was. He has been in and out of the series, granting us very small appearances.
Since book 6, after the mystery of the Ghost was finally put to rest, the series is going in a new direction. At the course of the story, we met characters such as James Trevillion, a Dragoon captain, now former, who used to chase the Ghost before he was seriously injured in book 6. It effectively ended his career. There was Maximus, the Duke of Wakefield, the rich and beautiful but vapid brained Lady Penelope (a benefactress of the orphanage) and her lady’s companion, Artemis Greaves. Maximus and Artemis found each-other in book 6. We also met Artemis’ brother Apollo in it. Asa makes a short appearance at the end of book 6 with some new characters such as the Duke of Montgomery.
Apollo and Artemis, twins, had been raised basically in poverty since childhood. Their father, though titled, was an eccentric and callous man, who was never really caring of his family. When their parents perished, Artemis and Apollo had not much on the financial side. Then, as fate would have it, Apollo was caught at the location of 3 gruesome murders. This saw him to Newgate while Artemis was forced to be a companion to their wealthy cousin, Penelope. It goes without saying that she was not welcomed in a warm, open familial environment. Artemis was the proverbial ‘poor relation’ and was treated as such, without any prospect of a future beyond catering to Penelope’s whims, until she met Maximus.
Penelope’s father, an Earl, for the sake of the family name, didn’t want Apollo to hang. Instead, he made sure that Apollo gets the ‘next best thing’; the Bedlam. Yah, it’s not a pretty place to live in but at least, his neck would be safe! Apollo is Viscount Kilbourne, though sh!t load of good it did him. When we met him in book 6, he was already in bedlam for 4 or so years, ill from the repulsive environment and already losing his mind. Artemis was super worried as he’s what she got as a family. She, with precious little she had, did her best to supply him with food and stuff, spare money for Apollo’s gaolers so that they treat him better than the rest. But that wasn’t enough and they both knew it. Apollo is big man, with tall muscular physique, and maybe that, in the end, saved him from a certain death; if not by illness but by the abuse of the perverted gaolers in charge. A rebellion and will to save another innocent female victim saw him beaten and bruised, half dead and without a voice when one of the men stepped on his throat to kill him. In the end, Maximus finds a way to secretly getting him out of that hellish place and Apollo was finally freed from his nightmarish existence. But his muteness reminds him every day of the past trauma, the guilt for his dead friends even though he was innocent, yet had no way of proving it.
Apollo was living the life of a dilettante peer when it happened. He was taking care of Artemis as best as he could while finishing up his own studies. He was always interested in architecture, especially in the architectural garden designing. He even worked at a few places to earn some extra money, though he was admonished for working as a ‘common man’. He didn’t know what happened when he went to that seedy inn to drink and gamble a night away with 3 of his acquaintances. When he woke up in the morning with a splitting headache, Apollo found himself in a pool of blood, all three of the other men grotesquely murdered, him with the knife in hand. To say he was ‘caught red handed’ would be an understatement. Truth was, Apollo wasn’t even given a chance to defend himself as he was in as deep a sh!t a man can get into. Captain Trevillion was the one who tied him up and thrown him in jail. Apollo knew no amount of prayer could’ve saved him. Fortunately, or unfortunately one can debate, he had a chance of saving his neck, as narrated earlier.
Ever since he got out of bedlam, Apollo has been in hiding. In book 6, we found his very surprising friendship with Asa Makepeace. Then again, so little has been known about Asa throughout the series that I shouldn’t have been surprised that he was friends with Apollo. What surprised me more was the fact that Asa was also the owner of the popular Harte’s Folly, a pleasure garden come theater. Sadly, it burned down to ashes at the end of book 6. Apollo met up with Asa for help as he needed to stay down until he could clear his name from the murder charges, whenever that was possible. At that point, Asa was rather desperate to revive Harte’s Folly in any way possible and Apollo made the perfect partner. Since then, he’s been living there in disguise of the head gardener. Not that Apollo has been living idly. He’s also been working his butt off since now Harte’s Folly partly belongs to him. Apollo has grand plans for the vast ruined gardens, visions to make it more beautiful than ever before. And though this work keeps him occupied, Apollo knows he’s never safe. The moment the law enforcement learns of his whereabouts, he’d be trussed up and thrown back in the place where he never wants to return ever again. So he knows he must clear his name no matter what.
Lily, the h of our story, was not really mentioned in any other installments unless by her stage name, Robin Goodfellow. She is, or was before the fire, a very popular comic actress. Because of that, I didn’t recognize her at first. IMO she’s a new character to the storyline. Since the fire at Harte’s Folly, Lily has lost her job, struggling hard to get by. She lives with her 7yrs. old son, Indio and her elderly nursemaid, who in turn became Indio’s when he arrived. What no one knows is the long buried secret of Indio’s birth and how Lily is connected to it. He’s a lovely, energetic and ever curious boy like any of his age and Lily loves him to bits. She’s currently living in what used to be a part of a dressing room of Harte’s Folly that somehow survived the fire. Mr. Harte, as Asa goes by to the people who doesn’t know him beyond his pleasure garden, has given Lily the permission to live here. Due to rivalry and Harte’s Folly’s absolute popularity, the rivals wouldn’t give her any acting job as she has been an exclusive to this place. Yet, used to living a good life beforehand, Lily is desperate to get back on track, for which she’s been writing small plays here and there that her half-brother Edward would sell under his name. So far, she’s been able to get by somewhat but that can’t be all. Lily is worried about her future; more so because she has Indio to think of.
One day, Indio comes running at their shabby rooms talking about ‘monsters’ in the garden. Lily promptly laughed it off as a kid’s wild imagination. The garden, as it is now, is a charred mess and no one but a few garden crews that Mr. Harte appointed are working to restore it. Where would the monster be in it? Then one day while looking for Indio, she has the pleasure to meet the ‘monster’ herself. Turns out it’s a huge man with shaggy clothing, hair and beard, whom a child just might imagine a monster. And he doesn’t talk when Lily tries to communicate. She decides the guy is dumb and mute, so she lets go. Unfortunately, said monster has completely absorbed Indio’s attention and the curious boy would go after him, spying while the man worked. At least he tries his best, until his silly dog would give them away.
Apollo had a very good idea about the boy. Then, a pretty woman loitering about his garden had stunned him at first. It’s because Asa has neglected to mention him the fact that ‘Robin Goodfellow’ is living there. Even though Apollo is annoyed that this might hamper his restoration work, he’s nonetheless completely taken with Lily and her red haired beauty. Especially her assumption that not only he’s mute but dumb as a rock which made him smile in many years, albeit inwardly, since nothing is far from the truth. It’s been a long time since he’d had the opportunity to even view a decent looking woman, let alone someone of her looks. Try as he might, Apollo can’t deny her or the little boy who has named him ‘Caliban’ after a short trip to the nearby creek. Had it not for Apollo’s help, his silly dog would drown. It also gained him apparent access to their home accompanying dinner invitations. Living alone for so long Apollo can’t deny that he craves the human connection just for the sake of it. Artemis visits his rundown shack somewhere in the garden from time to time, but that’s not enough for a man who once lived his life to the fullest.
Apollo takes his case to Asa but he can’t just kick his famous actress out. After knowing Lily’s plight, even Apollo couldn’t want that. Besides, he already liked having them around. At that time, the Duke of Montgomery stops by with a proposition. Now this guy, he’s... weird but I don’t mean in a creepy way. He’s extremely good-looking with an angelic face and blonde locks. A veritable fop if I may say so. But the proverb ‘looks can be deceiving’ was probably invented by him. There’s not an angelic bone in his body. Not only he’s a clever one as he twists his partnership with Asa (yep, another partner to Harte’s Folly) in a way that both Apollo and Asa are knotted in it. Montgomery has a way about him that no one can deny. He gets what he wants, likes having people under his thumb so that he can manipulate them later for his own gain. Right now, he wants Apollo’s name cleared so that they can get on with the business of getting Harte’s Folly up and running within a year. He’d help them by gaining access to Apollo’s uncle’s house since he’s the prime suspect according to Apollo. He would’ve gained more if Apollo was out of the way. But how the Duke came by Apollo’s identity, when they’ve worked so hard to keep it a secret, is a matter that astound both Asa and Apollo. But then, knowing the guy, anything is possible. He probably has ears at every corner of England, probably in foreign countries as well since it’s rumored that he has a ‘past’. He used to live out of the country and no one really knows what said past consists of. Now, it does make Montgomery sound like a selfish a$$hole but trust me, that’s not the case. He likes keeping a façade no doubt but he’s not <i>that</i> bad. And there’s something dark about him that he definitely likes to hide. I can’t wait to know more about him (EH hinted that he’s also going to get his book. :D)
With Indio’s insistence and approval, Apollo becomes a ‘family friend’ of Lily’s little gang. And with that, their attraction grew; though for obvious reasons, Apollo kept his identity a secret, making himself a humble garden designing crew. At one point, Lily understood her faux pas about Apollo’s intelligence. They start communicating with Apollo writing down his thoughts to make it easier for her. And the more she learned, the more she found that Apollo is someone she likes to be with, maybe for the rest of her life. TBH, Apollo is far from what the origin of his name would lead one to believe. He’s a veritable behemoth (according to Lily) but he doesn’t have a handsome face. Even he knows that he’s not good-looking, and so, he didn’t think someone like Lily would care for him. Lily, on the other hand, would beg to differ. He’s such a gentle giant, something that came to me regarding Apollo, that Lily can’t help fall for him a bit each day. I’d say, they both did, only Apollo knew that when she learns of his very recent past, Lily would probably run the other way, leaving him dejected.
In the meantime, we get to see some of the old characters such as Hero, Maximus’ sister, also Artemis, his Duchess and Phoebe, his younger sister. Now, I never thought Phoebe would be the heroine material, though I fervently wished she’d have her HEA. We knew Phoebe was gradually going blind from a disease from the moment we met her in book 2. She was one of the characters I love because she’s so lovely, lively and doesn’t let her physical shortcomings hamper her good spirit. No one would dare pity her, and it’s not because she has a Duke for a brother. But right now, she’s pissed that her annoying brother has provided her with a very unwanted escort; Trevillion, another character I didn’t think was hero material but I wanted him to be. Trevillion was injured in the previous book as I mentioned before. He also saved Maximus’ life, which is why today he’s still employment, even if he knows his ‘charge’ doesn’t care for him hanging over her shoulder all that much. But that’s the order of his boss, and Tevillion knows how to carry on one more than anyone else. So no matter what Phoebe feels, and no matter that he now has a very bad leg, thanks to said injury, he’s always there whenever she goes out. Maximus now can rest easy that his sister is in good hands. Phoebe is such a witty girl, her comments about Tervillion conveying exasperation were a hoot! All I can say that I am psyched about their book which will be out next.
Trevillion was aware that the Duchess (Artemis) would go out, alone, in the middle of the day, something that worried him. He had no idea if he should provide her with some protection, secretly of course. He did that nonetheless and one day, stumbles across her ‘secret’. Trevillion was also aware of Apollo’s so-called escape, so he follows him and tries to take him in because he, like everyone else, still believed him to be the murderer. But incidents following proved – and Trevillion is a smart man who can rely on his instincts – that Apollo is truly innocent. From then on Apollo gained an ally in Trevillion who agrees to investigate on his account because he felt guilty of having a hand in Apollo’s plight.
At that point, thanks to Montgomery, Apollo gets an invitation to his uncle’s house. He’d accompany Asa and the Duke under a disguise. He’s pretty sure his uncle wouldn’t recognize him instantly as he had not seen the man since childhood. Lily, also, gets the commission of a play that, conveniently, would be a part of that private party. She’s requested by the Duke to act on it, only later to find that her destination is as the same as Apollo’s. And in this party, things turn for both Lily and Apollo, surfacing truths that just might ruin or help them rebuilt, their lives. Secrets and pasts are unraveled, with Apollo trying his best to clear his name once and for all. He has fallen in love with Lily, nothing else mattered. He and Indio adore each-other, while his silly dog is completely enthralled by him. Apollo must find a way so that he can finally have some peace, and regain his life wholly with Lily by his side.
I must say, the whole story went so smoothly, for me, it seemed way too little (if that even makes any sense). I loved every moment and didn’t want it to end. Unfortunately, all the good things must come to an end eventually. For me, Darling Beast was more of a comfort read, not having the kind of darker aspects that this series began with. Not that I’m complaining! I love a comfort read as much as a dark story by an excellent author, which Ms. Hoyt certainly is. 4 stars, eagerly anticipating Dearest Rogue.