My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Duchess Decadence brings the conclusion to Wendy LaCapra’s fabulous the Furies series. I’ve enjoyed all the previous installments and glad to report that the final book didn’t disappoint! I’ve been intrigued by Wyn, the Duke of Wynchester and Thea, his Duchess’s “past” since the beginning of this series. Now that I’ve finished it, I can see why they were chosen to grace the grand finale of this series.
In Greek and Roman mythology, the Furies were female spirits of justice and vengeance. In this series, they are a group of 3 ladies, widowed and married yet estranged from their husbands, both; who have formed an unlikely friendship and are sworn to protect each-other. So in a way, they do resemble the Furies of the myth. These ladies have fallen on hard times due to some injustice done to them, yet resolving to earn their living. And for that, they can’t afford to play by the rules. The Furies, Lavinia or Lady Vaile, Lady Sophia Beneham and the Duchess of Wynchester, Thea, have put all their resources together to earn their living by opening a gambling club, where they go by as Lady Vice, Lady Scandal and Duchess Decadence. The events are hosted at Lady Sophia’s grand estate. In time, the club gained enough popularity with the rakes and gentlemen of the Ton alike, giving the ladies a strong financial backbone, though not without a scandalous reputation.
Lavinia, Lady Vice, had been estranged from her husband, Lord Vaile, for a long time. She had a horrid marriage mired in shameful secrets, both things about her husband and the stuff she was forced to do by him. When she left Vaile finally to regain some of her sanity, Lavinia threatened him with life should he pursue her any longer. So when Vaile is murdered in his bed, had it not been for her first love, Max Harrison, she’d be the one charged for it. Harrison used to be a judge in Calcutta, working on behalf of the East India Company. He also had his shares of nightmares in India that still haunts him to this day. When he and Lavinia parted, it wasn’t on good terms but definitely not because they wanted to break up. The misunderstanding that tore them apart starts unraveling when Max steps in as soon as Lavinia is accused. Bit by bit, not only he starts working on to protect her from the upcoming scandal, but also to make her believe that he still wants her as he always had. And that he wants her back. Lavinia, burnt first by the love of her life (Max), then by her sad excuse for a marriage, wasn’t easy to convince. But when she finally gives in, it was just wonderful to read them come together for a second chance.
While Lavinia and Max were sorting out their differences, another Fury, Sophia, Lady Scandal, was getting ready to get married to a man who stirred her like no other. She’s had once been married to a rake, enjoyed the marriage (and the marriage bed) up until her silly husband died in a duel. But Hugh Randall possesses that something that her deceased husband hadn’t. Sophia has always been a woman with an equal mixture of softness and steel. Whereas Lavinia is still too sensitive and Thea too distrustful of men, Sophia acts as the balance. She’s also bolder in words and actions. Through her greater observational skill, Sophia understood that Max would be good for Lavinia and was for this match since the beginning. But when it came to her own marriage to Randal, Sophia was lost. Randall was supposed to be another rakish husband, good in bed, easy to seduce and manipulate... but that wasn’t the case as Sophia learns. Her new husband is much, much more than what meets the eyes.
In fact, the moment Sophia found out that Randall may have been a follower of her ever shrewd, scheming father, The Earl of Beneham, Sophia ran. Didn’t matter that they were married already but Sophia didn’t want another man like that in her life. In the course of the story it’s revealed that Earl Beneham had worked for the East India Company and had made many enemies. He inspired greed and hunger for power and money, the extent was so extreme that it left a bad taste in Sophia’s mouth. After her father’s murder, that life has caught up with Sophia too, which made her ever cautious about everything; especially men in general. Somehow Randall broke through that strong wall. Sophia was eager to explore that feelings until her this discovery.
Since book 1, we’ve known about this Kasai (or "Butcher"), a phantom of someone or something that has been working to manipulate the East India Company. It started in India, of which Max was a victim. Though Max survived, many others didn’t. People were murdered, Native and English alike, by this Kasai in his own hunger for power and complete control. One of the victims were Wynchester’s younger brother and heir, Lord Eustace. Sophia had discovered that her father was also a part of this scheme, which was also probably the reason behind his unnatural demise. And this Kasai, who wants absolute power over England, has already landed here. Sophia hadn’t felt safe and she didn’t know just how deep Randall was into all these. Is he a man just like his father; greedy and manipulative? Or worse, is he a part of Kasai’s team and his plan?
If you leave alone the convoluted mystery of Kasai and his dark deeds, the rest of the story was rather straight and simple. Hugh wasn’t anything like Earl Beneham but he was indeed recruited and trained by him for one purpose only. To protect Sophia at all cost. Even Sophia was taken aback when Hugh finally imparted this bit of news. Hugh started out to do his job but fell for Sophia’s voluptuous beauty on spot. He wanted her in every way possible. And if Sophia was ever in confusion about Hugh’s loyalty to her, deep inside she knew Hugh wasn’t a devious man. He wasn’t like her father, even he who in his own twisted way, actually cared for her enough to train a bodyguard for her! In fact, Hugh proves many times over just how much he loved her and Sophia had no cause to spurn his affections since that’s exactly what she secretly wished for since they started flirting in those Fury gatherings. Now she knew what had bothered her so much that made her run from him. She’d fallen in love with Hugh and it scared her sh!t out of her not knowing if she can trust him with her well-being, let alone her heart. I don’t think she could’ve handled it well if Hugh turned out to be a traitor. One thing Sophia didn’t like was made to feel vulnerable for any reason.
As Sophia and Hugh finally reconcile, much in love, accepting their marriage full of passion, our Duchess Decadence Thea finds herself in a dilemma of immense proportion. She had just heard that Eustace, the presumably dead heir, has returned. Not only has he returned to create trouble (he had always been the troublemaker in the family) but also maybe a cohort of Kasai! This only means that the Wynchester Dukedom is in a big danger… which also means, Wynchester’s life is in danger too. If Wyn isn’t the Duke anymore, Eustace can gain much when he becomes the next Duke.
I had to recap a bit because all three installments are very much interconnected. I won’t recommend that you read them out of order or as standalones. The Kasai mystery links all three books just as much as our Furies and their charming men do. ;)
Thea may have been estranged from Wyn for the past 4 yrs., he still is her husband and she won’t let anything happen to him. So she and the other Furies plan another gambling session to get her back with the Duke. But how to make present him here? Wynchester is too prudish to tarnish his good name in gambling. But Thea needs to get back with him if she’s to protect him under any ruse possible. And no matter how many times she convinces herself she’s just doing her duty, deep inside she knows it’s not only that. He, of all people, has no idea what’s going on, not even the fact that Eustace is alive. He has no notion of Eustace’s devious mind so it’d be easy for him to dupe Wyn, or even worse. That one thought simply doesn’t sit well with Thea no matter what happened between them in the past.
The whole plan was made easy with a bit of alcohol, thanks to Max too, which loosened our prudish Duke up quite a bit. Thea certainly had no idea that Wyn wanted her back, and so bad! They shared a kiss in book 1. It’s been a long time, more of a spur of the moment thing but it only went to show that they hadn’t lost that spark. Thea couldn’t let herself hope because, even though she liked to be all stern and distant herself, underneath all that that fragile young girl who married young only to have her hopes and dreams shattered, was still present. Who loved her husband but couldn’t quite make it work. Even though life has taught Thea a lot, even though she has changed, she still wanted Wyn and her marriage back. She wanted her own family with him. But she couldn’t let herself dream that any of it will ever come to pass.
Until now that is.
As the story progress, we’re given the flashback from both Wyn and Thea’s perspective, of their betrothal and subsequent marriage. Thea was just a girl and Wyn an awkward teenager. A match made by their parents. A match that stayed with both Wyn and Thea all their lives. Thea was trained to become the Duchess from that tender age, so she’d always known what her destiny was. Wyn also had known that he’s to be married. They married quite young too as duty called. I believe Thea was barely 16 and Wyn, maybe in his early 20s. He’d always been smitten with Thea, more so as she grew up to be a beauty that quite took his breath away. And even though he didn’t maintain his virginity till his wedding night, when he married, he vowed fidelity. They both did.
Wyn was a passionate man by nature, as was Thea. Theirs should’ve been a perfect match. Yet when Wyn’s father married the Madame of a brothel, his longtime mistress, right after his own mother’s death creating a big scandal. It’s then Wyn knew he can’t let himself be dictated by his passionate nature if he’s to salvage the ruined Wynchester name. He was way too strict; reining in his passionate nature and early on, made sure Thea knew that sex would only be about duty. Yes, they enjoyed it but still, Thea wasn’t satisfied. She knew Wyn could give so much more. She didn’t like that he held back a bit of himself each time. But being so young and inexperienced, she had no idea what to do about it. Then Eustace made her life hell too, always trying to create trouble and drag her down into it. The stolen Wynchester sapphire was made to look like it was her deed. Though Wyn sent Eustace away to India, the split brought on by this distrust did not mend well.
But things went horribly wrong once Thea got pregnant. There was a problem, a riot of sort. People came to their house trying to seek vengeance. Wyn wasn’t there with her when he should’ve been. It was because of the dowager, Emma’s help that Thea was rescued... Sadly, in the process, she lost the baby. This was what split them apart completely because Thea couldn’t forgive Wyn. The grief and the guilt was just way too much.
When Thea had heard of Eustace’s “death”, she knew Wyn would be devastated but couldn’t bring herself to mourn that loss. Now that he’s back from the dead and is proving to be a big danger for the Wynchesters, as well as the whole of England, Thea has to take this step to move in with Wyn. After all, the Wynchester name has always been a part of her, which I totally understood. Most importantly, Thea secretly harbored this hope that maybe, just maybe they can reconcile? But would Wyn be amenable to that?
To Thea’s surprise, Wyn was not only amenable, she discovers that he was rather excited about it. And that he’s quite the changed man now. Yes, he’s still reserved but he seems much more warm and welcoming. He seems willing to open up and not shut her out of his mind. Unsurprisingly, Eustace’s “return” brings a lot of joy for Wyn and he immediately wants to bring him home, to live with them. Thea was expecting something like that. Soon, Eustace begins making threats behind Wyn’s back as he’d always did to Thea to drive her away. Now she understood why. Eustace definitely wanted to remain the only heir to the dukedom! Thea’s return and her apparent reconciliation with the Duke means there’s still a chance for an heir. But just how far Eustace was willing to go to prevent that is revealed at the end of the story. For now, Thea only knows that while trying to protect her Duke, she’d also put herself in danger.
But not to worry cause Thea had her back protected by Max, Hugh and the Furies. Every plan to this play was being watched by Max and Hugh in collaboration. All the Furies and Emma, who has been a part of the plan, had known about Eustace’s treachery. Bit by bit, it was becoming clear that Eustace may not be a simply cohort of Kasai. He maybe Kasai himself! The truth of it wasn’t surprising because he’d always been rather cold and cruel. What it meant now was that Thea, Max or someone has to inform Wyn about it, make him believe it for his own sake and then diffuse Eustace’s treacherous plans of capturing power through Wynchester Dukedom at any cost.
In between, Thea and Wyn were making great efforts and progress to make their marriage work. Once they both understood that they aren’t bitter about the past, both wanted to put it all behind and move forward. It just wasn’t because of “duty”. They both wanted to be together, wanted to hope for a better future. Maybe even children someday. I, for one moment, didn’t think that Thea and Wyn weren’t in love. They had always been seeing their history together. Hell, they hadn’t even been with other people in the intervening years! If previously it was the love of two young people, it has now matured and grown. Gradually they come to realize that their love has only gotten stronger while they were apart. All they needed was push. They needed to talk, about themselves, their marriage... the loss of their child. The talking they didn’t do when they split.
Thea despaired of Wyn ever becoming good at communication. But with the help of the other two Furies, that was taken care of. There were some really funny moments in the story about Wyn and his clumsy efforts at communication. Poor guy just didn’t know what to say at the right moment and lord, he wanted to learn to win his Duchess back! So, when they finally start talking, things became much easier for them. Much more clearer. I also enjoyed the Furies chitchat on... er, sex and... umm, many of other things. Another entertaining conversation where Lavinia and Sophia give Thea tips on how to seduce her husband properly. So after that, sex was also no problem either. Wyn needed to embrace his passionate nature, something Thea was finally able to get through his thick head.
Of course, these developments didn’t bode well for Eustace, who was still planning away diligently to become the next Duke. When Wyn finally was informed of his dark deeds, thanks again to Max, he became apprehensive. Treason, murder and God knows what else! He knew when those information are made public, the Wynchester name will be dragged through the mud once again. Hell, they’ll never survive this particular scandal! Wyn is not only apprehensive, he’s downright scared but not for his ancestry. He’d just won his Duchess back, what would he do if she leaves him once again? Can he face it all alone?
What the idiot didn’t know that even though Thea cared about the Wynchester title, he was the one she cared for more. She had always loved her Duke and won’t let anything happen to him if she can prevent it because she knew Wyn also loved her. When they were together, he simply couldn’t hold it back. Wyn was seen fighting his emotions all through the book but in the end, he bowed down to it. And when it became clear that he must wage a war against his own brother, Wyn asks Thea of something. I won’t tell you what it is but it was such a meaningful scene and left no doubt in my mind about just how much he loved and wanted Thea. It seemed there was no escaping his emotions, so he could only accept the inevitable before going off to “war” against their enemy.
I have to say the ending the very satisfying. I was so happy for not only Thea-Wyn but also for Hugh-Sophie and Lavinia-Max. I hope the author considers giving some of the secondary characters their own stories. I’d read them, in the hopes of seeing the Furies once again. Needless to say I would miss them a lot. 4.5 Stars.
I received this ARC, courtesy of Entangled Scandalous, via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.