My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Sooo, I finished Kerrigan Byrne’s The Duke, book 4 of her dark historical romance series Victorian Rebels and I’m not sure what to say. My feeling is rather ambivalent. I was really anticipating the release because the H of this one sounded very intriguing; however he failed to meet my expectations. Actually, there were equal bits of likes and dislikes throughout.
Wanna add that Victorian Rebels has no paranormal or time travel elements in it like the author’s previous works; just a few Victorian-era bad boys of the underworld getting their HEAs with women who bring them down to their knees, quite literally. More than once I’m happy to add. ;) These people are deadly and will do anything to survive.
In book 1, The Highwayman, we were introduced to the King of the London underworld, Dorian Blackwell and his band of misfits. Dorian is actually Dougan MacKenzie, the bastard son of the cruel and lecherous Hamish MacKenzie, now deceased Laird of MacKenzies. His darkness has seeped into all of his sons, doesn’t matter whether they were legitimate or illegitimate. The only difference was Dougan/Dorian wanted to fight it for the love of his life, Farah. Their story had a tragic beginning that started as young love kept apart for almost 20 years. They both thought all hope were lost for them until they found each-other again. Dougan was imprisoned for murder at the tender age of 12, where his life was a hell no one would want to wish upon another human being. However, he and a few of his rebellious friends survived that hell, came out deadlier than ever. They wanted revenge for what was done to them, they wanted to rule the underworld but most of all, Dorian wanted to find his “fairy” who he knew was still alive. He knew her to be his soulmate. Now all he wanted was to find the peace that eluded him forever. And no one but Farah will do. I really loved book 1, which was a great start to this series.
The men Dorian met during his “tenure” in the prison had stood by him always, staking their lives while doing so. They also saw his rise as the dubious King of the Underworld. This series features many of them as secondary characters throughout. A few got their stories told, like the “silent” assassin Christopher Argent in book 2, The Hunter. He was one of Dorian’s closest buddies. Theirs wasn’t an instant bonding; one only has to read their stories to find out why. But now that the bond has formed, Dorian and Christopher would do anything for each-other. So far, Christopher has survived hell, and done things more hellish that anyone can possibly imagine... well, can you imagine the life of an assassin? We get bits and pieces of his past, things he’d done from his musings, nothing to make you sick but enough to make you dizzy.
In all his life, Christopher knew he’d never have what you call a ‘normal’ life. It just wasn’t possible. Love wasn’t something he ever known since his mother died. What he never anticipated was that he’d be brought down by one of his “assignments” in such a way that’d leave a seasoned killer like him open, vulnerable, wanting for love and affection. But that’s what happens when he was assigned to kill the latest darling of London’s Operas, Mille LeCour. They met, the attraction was instant, and the rest was history. I really enjoyed the dynamics of Mille and Christopher’s complex relationship, and the story itself of course. By then, we were aware more about the H and h of book 3, The Highlander.
Book 3 is Dorian’s eldest brother Liam’s story. Liam is the legitimate heir to the McKenzie title. But he was never a pampered lordling. Hamish had made it sure that none of his sons will ever have any kind of normalcy in their lives; that they never feel happy. Though Dorian had now found his happiness in Sarah, Liam was far from it. He was called The Demon Highlander for a reason. Liam was in the army. And he fought like a demon too, like nothing mattered; as if the hounds of hell were after him. It’s because he never went to battle hoping to come out alive. Unfortunately for him, he was never killed in any battle either.
Liam was also a Marquess so he went to serve his British monarch, leaving his wife and little children at his Highland castle. When his dejected wife committed suicide, his children, daughter Rhianna and son, Andrew were left without much care. His brewery farm also, gradually, became a loss. When Liam finally retired and returned home, he was disgusted to find his home in total disarray. He wanted to take care of everything, including his children who are his future. He was also determined to bring his brewery back to business. It was in the quest to tame Rhianna and make a Lady out of her is how Liam found Mena as a governess, who came highly recommended by his sister-in-law Farah. But Liam didn’t know about Mena’s sad lifestory. Just how desperate she was to escape her cruel husband who has done nothing but abuse her. Not only that, the Demon Highlander was also about to find out that love comes in all shapes and size; that it can often be found in the most unexpected of places. It’s significant because Liam never expected to be in love, let alone find someone like Mena who’d love him 10 times over.
I did like book 3, but I wasn’t too fond of it. During Liam’s various monologues and dealings, we read about a Duke who had worked for the government as a spy. Collin Talmage is smart and experienced; a deadly spy to boot. Nowadays, ex-spy. Only a handful of people knew about his involvement in espionage, it was such a well-kept secret. Because Liam was also a part of that whole thing and closely worked with Collin, is how he knew everything. But what we didn’t know that Liam also helped rescue Collin from a hellish Turkish prison where he had all but given up hope to ever survive and see the light of the day. It all was about to be revealed in The Duke.
But the story begins with an odd prologue. About a girl who has been working in a tavern+brothel. But she was only there to work as a barmaid, paying off his father’s debt. Imogen had a family to look after; a family their father abandoned to poverty before he died. Her mother and younger sister needed help, and Imogen was determined that her younger sister would never know this life. One day, a soldier, whom she’d later come to know to be the new Duke of Trenwyth, came in with his regiment. His was handsome, instantly attracting attention with his height, looks and bearing. He tried to be jovial with his comrades, yet his eyes were sad. It looked like he needed a pair of comforting arms around him but there was no one to lend him that. One thing led to another and Imogen found her virginity being “sold” to the Duke for the night. The astronomical price he offered for the ‘pleasure of her company’ that it was pretty much unheard of! So nothing would’ve moved the greedy tavern owner even if Imogen begged him. Yet, she was attracted to the man and... was curious. For all intent and purpose, it wasn’t a bad thing since Colin, or Cole as he asked her to call him, was a very considerate lover. Their night went well but there was also a note of intimacy there that neither Collin nor Imogen could deny. They talked, then Collin slept like he hadn’t been able to for the past few days. His whole family, except for his youngest sister, had just been killed in an accident, leaving him pretty much alone. And when the night ended, Imogen knew she’d probably never see her Duke again.
But as fate would have it, she did, around a year from that night. Imogen never forgot him, and like the starving puppy she was, avidly followed any news of Cole just to feel a bit closer to him. It was told that Cole had vanished while on a mission and no one really knows where he is now. Or if he’s even alive. The mystery of his whereabouts comes to an end one morning when Imogen stepped into the hospital where she’d started working as a nurse. She still worked in that tavern at night, having still not been able to fully pay her father’s debt. She was in a precarious situation, knowing she’d be fired from her day job if anyone knows of her night time activities. No she wasn’t a prostitute but still. That would ruin whatever reputation she’d left. Thankfully, she wore make up and wig to conceal herself as much as possible. She did that the day she met Collin, who saw her as a dark-haired, pale and small waiflike creature with bright eyes. Imogen was already 22 at that time but didn’t have dark hair; her hair was red-gold, very vivid, a shade no one would be able to forget. I always wondered how that wig stayed in place while they had sex. :/
Anyway, what awaited her there was something Imogen hoped to see but never thought she will. The Queen herself (Victoria) is in attendance because someone of obvious import has come to the hospital. News spread and Imogen was informed of who it was. Cole was the Queen’s cousin, no wonder she came accompanying him! Though she was overjoyed by the news that he was found, harboring a secret hope of seeing him again, nothing went according to plan. Cole was not the same man she knew that night. He was tortured, that much was evident. So gaunt, pale and severely ill that Imogen knew if he lived, he’d never again be the same man. But what shocked the hell outta her was the fact that one of his hands were missing.
Not surprisingly Imogen was given the responsibility to take care of him, thinking he had the small pox. Imogen had it once when she was young so she was deemed safe from it. But when the fever didn’t go down and he kept on suffering, she had her suspicion that the diagnosis was wrong. It was because of her that Collin finally opened his eyes after a few rigorous days after an emergency surgery on his infected hand. You’d think he’d at the least show a little gratitude to the nurse who saved his life. Nope. He crushed Imogen by not only not recognizing her but also by being extremely rude, calling her pale and ugly, then pretty much throwing her out of his room. He threw a tantrum, making it very clear that he doesn’t wanna see her again. That was the first time I had my doubts on Collin’s ability to control his temper, his impulses. On his ability to act coherently.
The next bit of the story was quite sad for Imogen. After losing her job because of a vengeful doctor, she had a close call on her life too. She didn’t know what she would’ve done if she had to run to save herself but the very unexpected help came in the form of an elderly gentleman who was dying; Imogen was his nurse. Edward was also a rich and titled man, and Imogen found herself to be the Countess of Anstruther in no time. All her woes were swept away as suddenly as they fell upon her and almost destroyed her life.
Two more years have passed since then and we find Collin to be about town, though not as a happy young buck as he used to be. And he’s been searching for someone; the girl he’d come to worship as his lifeline during those hellish months in the prison. A girl with whom he’d only spend one night, but that one night he forged a bond with her that he didn’t think he’d ever have with anyone. Unfortunately, “Ginny”, as she had introduced herself, was not working in that tavern anymore. No one knew where she was and by now, Collin should give up all hope. But he can’t. Even when he’s irritated by his neighbor, the scandalous young widow of the Earl of Anstruther whom he was watching from his study window. The thought of her gives Collin the hives because she can’t be anything but an opportunistic bitch that somehow got the Earl fooled at the end of his life, now rewarding herself with everything the Earl had. Being a neighbor since his father’s time, Collin knew them well. He really liked the couple, especially the Earl’s first wife, Sarah. But they were childless and the property wasn’t entailed. And now this opportunist is enjoying what should never have been hers. Collin even airs his displeasure to Liam who was visiting him at that time. Unluckily for Collin, Mena, Farah and Millie were this widow’s good friend and because of their backings, she had a respectful stance in the society. Then he hears that the widow means to help the poor and the destitute, transforming the Earl’s big mansion abutting his own townhouse, into some sort of a shelter for all the thieves and prostitutes. It angers Collin so much that he decides he needs to give the widow a lesson.
Yep, Collin does exactly that for the next few chapters, being the bane to Imogen’s existence. Of course he didn’t recognize her now that Imogen is not wearing a wig and makeup. Plus the last few years of living a good life had led her to put on some weight. She’s not that waiflike creature anymore. Collin was so snobby, looking down at her from his lofty nose and so rude, I don’t know why Imogen even held onto any hope for anything. She was still overwhelmingly infatuated with him, or should I say “in love”. I don’t really know. Collin had such a volatile temperament that I’d not feel comfortable around him at all. But Imogen, though hurt and angered by his behavior, had no such qualms. She knew what he went through, and though she knew that him recognizing her can ruin her stance in the society (no one can know of that night or what she used to do before her circumstances changed), Imogen kept hoping that someday he would.
Unfortunately, again, Collin wasn’t a nice guy to deal with. He was more irritated at himself and at everything else when, after a heated argument and a few hot kisses, he finds that he’s extremely attracted Imogen. He felt like he was cheating on Ginny whose memory he still cherished. However, I had questions. For one, I don’t know how come nothing about her sparked an ounce of recognition in him. He was totally oblivious! And why suddenly so worried over ‘cheating on Ginny’? In another part of the story he’d indicated about not being celibate, in the sense that those meaningless encounters helped him keep his PTSD at bay, which he had without a doubt. I also didn’t think he was waiting celibate until the day he found Ginny, IF ever. So that thought of him struck me as quite ridiculous. After all, in the beginning, he hadn’t contemplated a lasting relationship with Imogen. His intention was solely to have an affair. She wasn’t from a noble family so he will never even entertain the notion of marrying someone like her. Yep, that kind of a snob he was for the most part. And I don’t think he had any notion of what he wanted if he ever found his “Ginny”.
Though gradually knowing Imogen began changing Collin’s outlook on her, he kept questioning that attraction. Of course, in a few weeks, he’d conceded that he’d never find Ginny so it’s best to look for a new relationship and see where it went. He also found himself helping Imogen out of some serious problems, again involving people trying to take her life. Amidst all, there was a murder mystery going on and one of the victims end up on Imogen’s back garden, where she enjoyed her artwork or went just to bask in the afternoon sun. The whole case was being investigated by Chief Inspector Morley whom you’d recognize from book 1. He was one of Farah’s suitors and apparently, still harbors a tendré for her. He was accompanied by our somewhat reformed Silent Assassin Christopher. Why he’s a part of that “group”, you will know in book 3. They’ve formed a sort of a brotherhood to help the law out with their knowledge of the underworld.
Now, the story this far, was okay. I liked it but I wasn’t too thrilled. A big reason for that was Collin himself. On the other hand, Imogen was all that was good in the world, in and out. She had a level head on her shoulders, except when it came to Collin. *eyeroll* And I hated when he disrespected her in some way. I also thought that Imogen’s identity should’ve been revealed to Collin a long time ago and not dragging it to the end of the story cause that meant whatever little bond they formed before this, was based on a ruse. IMO it was not true, which bothered me a lot. Collin definitely wasn’t happy when he found out. If revealed before, we would’ve had the opportunity to see them working their differences together. I didn’t expect a swiping HEA cause they’ve been through so much in the intervening years that that would’ve been stupid to even expect. But I would’ve loved seeing them overcoming all that after KNOWING the truth.
The ending was rushed after the revelation, taking away further enjoyment. As I said, I wanted to see them together for a while AFTER that, but there were precious few pages of those before the book ended. So overall, The Duke won’t be my favorite in the series either. 3.5 stars cause Kerrigan’s writing is very deep and polished, which I like a lot. And because I thought Imogen was an amazing heroine! Apart from the glimpses of the other H and h’s from previous installments, she largely saved the book for me.
I read that the next book, The Scot Beds His Wife, is going to be Liam and Dorian’s half-brother, Gavin’s. He was only introduced in book 3, and though he was portrayed as a womanizer, I liked him. I had already imagined a type of heroine for him. The blurb tells me that may not be happening so we shall see how that one goes.