My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
I’ve been a part of the journey that is the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt for the past 5 or so years. I started the series right after book 2 was published. Since then, I have been eagerly awaiting every single installment to know more about my favorite characters. Duke of Sin marks the 10th installment, which kinda leaves me WOWed. I never thought the series would see 10 books (and counting) but boy I’m glad it did. Maiden Lane has been a wonderful journey so far, most especially the first 7 books and I can’t wait to find out more as the series keeps growing.
I’ve decided not to do my usual recap in this installment. I don’t really have experience with a long-running series where I’ve reviewed ALL the installments from the beginning. In that sense, this is a unique experience to be sure! Recapping 9 isn’t going to be easy. Besides, if you haven’t read the series from the beginning, you really shouldn’t be reading this review. The installments connect each with ongoing events, or characters, or an event that was hinted at on one installment and you will find it taking shape in another. So yes, true to Ms. Hoyt’s style, it’s a very interconnected series.
Maiden Lane originally was based in Georgian-era St. Giles and revolved around a shadowy character with Harlequin costume and a mask to protect his identity; who went by the name of The Ghost of St. Giles. He was a legend among the locals; some thought him a friend, while others thought him the bad guy. But no one really knew who he was and what the hell he was doing, running in the dark alleyways of St. Giles every night, evading the law enforcement send out to catch him. The series also originally started with 4 Makepeace siblings—Temperance, Asa, Silence and Winter, with Concord and Verity already married and moving on with their families. The siblings used to run an orphanage badly in need of financial help, passed down to them by their deceased sire. Some of the Makepeace siblings had their stories told in the first installments— Wicked Intentions (Temperance and Lazarus, Lord Caire - #1), Scandalous Desires (Silence and Charming Mickey, the river pirate - #3) and Thief of Shadows (Winter and Lady Isabella - #4). We didn’t know about Concord and Verity much as they were there mainly by mention. Asa had made a few cameos here and there but he was always the mysterious one with no one knowing about his whereabouts, until things starts getting unraveled by book 6, with Asa having his own story, FINALLY, in book 9, Sweetest Scoundrel, with Eve Dinwoody as his match.
Duke of Sin takes place in 1741, so at least 14 yrs. have passed since Temperance and Lazarus found each-other. In the interim, the core plot of the series has also pretty much veered away from the original Makepeace siblings who are all now happily married, most with kids. The Ghosts aren’t around anymore since we’ve learned their identities too. Even though Winter still runs their orphanage with Lady Isabella’s help, Silence and Charming Mickey have not really been seen much throughout after their own story. I get a bit of the “why”, if you read their story, you’ll too. The sibling that now regularly makes appearance is Temperance as dowager Lady Caire is her MIL. And they all play quite the important roles in this latest installment.
Eve Dinwoody is the half-sister of what people deem as “deranged” Duke of Montgomery, Valentine Napier. Eve was introduced in book 7 (I think) and Valentine, or Val as we shall call him from henceforth, was introduced in book 6... after Asa’s pleasure garden burned down to ground. Oh yes, he was doing pretty well as the manager of Harte’s Folly, a endeavor of his no one in his own family knew about until... well, he couldn’t hide it from them any longer. Val came into the scene when he made some tempting financial offers to Asa to help restoring the pleasure garden, Asa’s love of life until Eve, which he couldn’t refuse. That’s how Asa met Eve actually, because she was sent to keep an eye on him (and Val’s investments). I’ll let you pick up on that in Sweetest Scoundrel.
Now Val’s “activities” go back a long way. He has kidnapped people, blackmailing the people in power is a fond pastime of his. Val finds profound amusement and extreme pleasures in these activities, maybe almost as much as he finds in his whores and mistresses. He’s a beautiful man with blonde hair and azure blue eyes; what you can call a male perfection of sort. Total eye-candy if you will. ;) And Val knows how to utilize his “weapons”. *snickers*
In his life, Val has only loved one person and it’s Eve. In her book, we could see some of the background and their past that made them just so; Val, a heartless villain and Eve, who looks like a pinch-faced spinster, as plain in her appearance as she’s wounded up inside. Asa, who was the exact opposite of Eve’s prudishness, did his best to coax out the sensual woman within, which won him his Eve. However, there were things that she had endured had traumatized her so much that she had been scared of dogs, and men in general, for the best part of her life. She’d also only trusted 2 men only; Val, her beloved brother and Jean-Marie, her blackamoore bodyguard who did provide the protection she needed until she met Asa.
Val has been running for his “life (!)” after he’s had the temerity (or idiocy, I don’t know) to try and kidnap Lady Phoebe, Duke of Wakefield’s sister in book 8. Wakefield had been none too happy and would’ve see that Val paid for it. However, Val had other plans. He’s not scared, nah-uh, just irritated that one of his ‘plans’ got bungled for Wakefield. I didn’t even want to venture into Val’s thought process here since I was trying to figure him out much like any other reader of this series. So when he went to “the continent” just overnight and disappeared from London, no one thought anything of it… Well, except maybe for his newly appointed housekeeper Mrs. Crumb. She wasn’t sure what to think of it because she was always suspicious of Duke’s every move.
But Bridget had legit reasons to be suspicious of Val as we have come to learn in the past 2 installments that she’d been introduced to. It was clear as the daylight that Bridget had an ulterior motive to get into Val’s house, though she has been trained as a housekeeper and has excellent work reference. No one would’ve thought twice before hiring her. But Bridget still had another reason why she was here. We found her snooping about Val’s bedroom ever since his “sojourn to the Continent”, with something niggling at the back of her mind. Because she felt someone has been watching her the whole time she’s been looking for something that the infernal Duke has acquired, obviously with the purpose of blackmailing that person. Or persons. Now, it couldn’t be that shamelessly nude picture of the equally vain Montgomery, would it? Even though that picture has made her stand and stare at it for a while, more than once... which was unheard of for someone like Bridget, for she’s super strict and starchy. She doesn’t harbor secret crushes and daydreams away. Bridget is all practical. A workforce who runs the household like a well-oiled machine. The other servants are a little in awe of her and never nay-says her orders. Then why does that nude picture give Bridget the shivers? Well, good or bad, that’s anyone’s guess. But it can’t be the picture that makes her feel like someone’s watching her every move when she’s in this bedroom. Creepy, that! (see? I also got carried away there a bit................... :/)
However, I had some really good idea what was going on, now knowing Val and his whimsies. Or a complicated thought process that was his weapon. Val could work so well because no one took him seriously until he struck. This time, he had a plan to hide away, and he did so thanks to the hidey hole of his own room. The only person who knew was this street urchin we’ve seen on and off in the series, Alf, who dresses like a man but is actually a girl... or a woman (we’ll soon know as her book is coming up fast, in fact, early next year!). Val of course figured out Alf’s long harbored secret, though he liked to play along. She was in charge of dispatching Val’s letters and to bring him food etc. while he’s inside that hidey hole, having fun spying on his prudish housekeeper. For some reason, Val had an itch for her from the very beginning. Oh it was fun to watch her snoop around, to Val’s utter amusement. But what is she looking for, hmm?
Val would ask the same question when the book opens up, with Bridget on her knees in a very… er, unflattering position (or flattering, depending on who is watching her on hands and knees, on the Duke’s bed ;) ). The moment, also, when Bridget would figure out exactly why she felt eyes on the wall of this room. Infernal #^^%$##$!! Even though Val acts that he’s just suddenly arrived from the Continent, Bridget quite guessed it to be clap-trap. She already knew of Val’s reputation, so she also knew unless he had something to hide, or had to be hidden from something or someone, he won’t hideaway in his own home like this. And what will that be?
So you can see, both sides had their own question and suspicions. And for some reason, both harbored an instant attraction to each-other. Bridget wasn’t the type Val would ever look at, and knowing his reputation, Bridget knew he’s up to no good almost always. He’s someone who should be avoided completely. However, that wouldn’t be the case as they both start a sometimes silent, other times quite vocal, war between them; a push and pull of sort, where Val would find extreme pleasure in taunting his prudish housekeeper, even by bringing whores at home or flaunting himself naked in front of her, as if he wanted her to break down and give into him (which he knew she won’t, not so easily… and he loved a challenge), while Bridget would do her best to pinch her face and not look at his “assets” so readily available for her enjoyment. But the problem was, the tide has shifted and now she’s aware of those assets all too well. Aware of the Duke of Montgomery more than she’d ever been. Darn it!
But Bridget still had to look for a miniature that belongs to England’s richest heiress, Hippolyta Royle, another recurring character in some of previous installments. A miniature that the Duke had, could ruin her reputation. Bridget also was in search of another token of a noble woman, who may have given birth to her in secret, but has never acknowledged her as her daughter. Even though Lady Caire (oh that surprised the hell outta me! ;o) has seen to it that Bridget is taken care of, has provided her with the training and education she needed to become a housekeeper, she has always been a distant benefactor in Bridget’s life. Even though, in later scenes, we do see her wondering if the woman ever felt any love or even a little affection towards her. Maybe not, since she was a shameful secret, the result of a long forgotten affair, hidden away like one. When finally she and Val got closer and more intimate, his questions would haunt Bridget, making her look at the whole scenario of her birth and rearing, in a new way. And it hurt Bridget that her own mother could do this to her. I can’t blame Val since he was rather mad after learning of her relationship with Lady Caire, that she didn’t bother to put her daughter in a family at the least close to her own sphere, maybe a gentleman, so that Bridget was given the life and opportunities of a young woman of some consequences.
Either way, Val was having fun with his housekeeper, at first by taunting her, then by being conquered by her. But that didn’t mean danger wasn’t on Val’s heels, when soon he’s poisoned and left to die, only Bridget and his valet to take care of him. This is “the incident” that brings them closer. Bridget finally realizes why she started caring for the annoying Duke of Montgomery; because he saw her, really saw her as a person, and not as a servant; like a wallpaper no one looks at. Much like what her own mother did.
In the meantime, Bridget rescues Hippolyta’s miniature, but still couldn’t find the letters that she needed that belonged to Lady Caire. Val isn’t mad, oh no... he’s having more fun than ever, chasing after his housekeeper, trying to figure out her next move like a game of chess. Oh he’d always loved a good challenge! ;) And his Seraphim of the Burning Eyes (don’t ask me, that’s what Val thought of Bridget ^_^) has, so far, proven to be a worthy adversary. This game would soon lead to a game of the most pleasurable sort. Bridget simply decides that she’s tired of running from Val and her own attractions to him. Since he’d, in every way, showed her he also feels the same, why bother hiding it any longer? But most of all, Bridget knew she’s falling for her Duke, even though she also knew she’d never be anything more than a fling, or a mistress. She’d probably never be a permanent fixture in his life.
But their game jumps the next level when Val, again, does something foolish (TBH it was idiotic). He kidnaps Hippolyta. *SMH* His first attempt was because he wanted to marry her, don’t ask me why cause Val sure as hell didn’t need money. He was filthy rich himself, and he wasn’t blinded by love either. So Bridget was rather irritated about the whole thing when she finds out, and does what she thought was the best. Free Miss Royle when the opportunity arrived (the events of which will take you to Hippolyta’s own story, a novella).
But for Bridget and Val, things won’t be so easy. For one, Val was going to try and become the member of a cult that his debauched father used to be a part of. The reason why Eve was so scared all her life until Asa’s intervention. The reason why Val’s family was destroyed, the dark secrets of which he keeps hidden away under the veneer of his own debauchery and whimsies. And a little madness. The secrets he finally hands over Bridget, trusting her with his own life, to show her that in his own, crazy way, he cared. Something Bridget could understand, even though she wasn’t sure where this relationship was heading towards.
It was also Val who took the initiative (for the lack of better word) to break the ice between Lady Caire and Bridget... and have her, oh well, introduce to her half-brother, Lazarus for the first time, the events of which will lead to another disaster of sort. Oh Val, only you!!! :/
The final blow, though, comes from the dirt hole that was that cult of his father’s, which comes back to bite Val in the a$$, quite literally. But Val is Val, and he would do anything to save the love of his life, the only other person he’d loved apart from Eve, his Seraphim—his Bridget. And he did in his own style, in cold blood, quite ruthlessly eliminating men who meant to abuse her.
Dear Val, you have surprised to hell outta me in many ways. I’m still not sure I get you all that much. I still think I needed to read more chapters on YOU to get you better because everything else sort of fell right away. You and Bridget’s chemistry was great, if not super. Knowing you, I had hoped to see some maneuver from the Kamasutra, so was a bit disappointed on that regard. :( But I loved the fact that I finally knew you are just a man inside; a vain, arrogant, sometimes you try everyone’s patience, but you’re just a man with a lot of vulnerabilities. And you have trusted and loved your housekeeper enough to make her your housekeeper in every sense of the way. ;) Bridget definitely deserved that acknowledgment.
In addition, we were introduced to some new characters, including Hugh, a Duke, who would be Alf’s match. I still don’t see how it’s possible cause I see no chemistry yet. Alf has been nothing but a street urchin so I need to know more about her. Guess I’ll just have to wait to find out next year. *sigh* Right now, I’m reading Hippolyta’s story, and it’s kinda interesting to be sure. I’ll report back when I’m done. For Duke of Sin, 4 stars but I think could’ve been better.