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The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo is the 6th installment of Kerrigan Byrne’s dark and steamy Victorian Rebels series. Despite the ups and downs I’ve faced in this series, liking some installment more than the others, I’ve been a fan of it since book 1.
The Victorian Rebels series is based on a few Victorian-era bad boys getting their HEAs with women who bring them down to their knees, quite literally. They are a diverse bunch who’d do anything to survive and protect the ones they love. As mentioned in the intro of my review, I was sold on the idea since book 1that started it all. Kerrigan’s writing was pretty dark and she, throughout the story, took us to places I never thought I’d explore. I.e. book 2 where some really nauseating stuff that were happening, seeing the hero was an assassin. The description of it all weren’t always for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, I found the stories thrilling and engaging.
In The Highwayman, Dorian Blackwell AKA Dougan McKenzie is introduced to us alongside his plight of life in a prison as a youngster. He’s one of the bastard sons of the cruel and lecherous Hamish MacKenzie, now-deceased Laird of MacKenzies. His darkness has seeped into every single one of his sons, doesn’t matter whether they’re legitimate or illegitimate. The only difference was Dougan/Dorian wanted to fight it for the love of his life, Farah. But, as he grew up seeing and experiencing stuff no youngster should, Dougan had already transformed into someone with a blackhole for a heart. He is called ‘The Black Heart of Ben More’; the reigning king of the underworld for a reason. It was a great beginning to this series that I absolutely enjoyed.
Book 2 and 3, The Hunter and The Highlander, kind of followed book 1. The Hunter is the story of Dorian’s best friend since prison, Christopher Argent, the aforementioned assassin. I really liked his story with a famous actress of that time. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy task to make a hero out of a ruthless killer but Kerrigan pulled it off quite masterfully. The Highlander veered more towards the McKenzie family. It’s the story of Liam McKenzie, the legitimate heir of the McKenzie kingdom, who is also Dorian’s half-brother. He didn’t even know Dorian existed until book 2, as their father was infamous for emptying his nastiness everywhere he went, never bothering with the repercussions. Liam also grew up in a disturbed household as we find from the beginning of the book. His life afterwards was what can only be called hell-ish. He was forced to marry the wrong person, a woman his younger half-brother, Gavin St. James, loved. He’s Hamish’s son from his second marriage. Later, Liam finds love in Mena, a woman haunted by her own past and hunted by a cruel husband. I loved that Liam and Dorian are now united, their wives being friends, because Farah already knew Mena before she escaped to the Highlands to save herself.
Book 4, The Duke, wasn’t directly related to the McKenzie family but the hero was someone Liam knew. I didn’t really care for it cause the H, Collin, I had a difficult time liking him throughout. I knew he was suffering from PTSD, still... On the other hand, the h, Imogen was quite literally an angel. Like there was nothing negative about her, and only she could suffer through Collin’s antics the way she had. I asked her ‘why’ a few times cause I got so frustrated him blowing hot and cold and treating her like sh!t. Long story short, not my favorite installment.
When I thought book 4 was my least favorite of the series, I was delivered with book 5 which was just... mind-numbingly bad. It was Gavin’s book which I was eagerly waiting for since I read about him in book 3. Him despite being a charmer and a rake, I thought he had hidden depths. All it needed was the right woman to come and explore. So much for that! The h of this book was so not for Gavin, or anyone else for that matter, that it left a sour taste in my mouth. She was a sly bitch just down on luck and dumb Gavin was her target for a smooth way out. I can’t explain it in any other way. She was an American but she was send to the Highlands by someone—a twist I don’t wanna divulge here— to take down Gavin’s lust for an adjacent property of his own lands. She did just that, and more, quite easily since he thought more with his manbits than his brains (so much for ‘hidden depths’ -_- ). I had no idea why he was attracted to this girl, why she was in it to begin with when she’s just not a likable character, let alone the heroine of a book. And why this story was ever written! This was so out of the realm of my imaginations that I ended up shaking my head throughout. As a result, The Scot Beds His Wife became my least favorite book of the series.
Even though the stories are standalones I’d suggest reading this series from the beginning cause there are interconnected incidents flowing through each storyline. Also the characters of the previous stories do make appearances often. Personally I always eagerly await the next installment. Kerrigan’s hints for a future story always intrigues me and I can’t wait to pick up the next book to see what’s happening happen!
In that vein I’d note that this story was the result of a twist that I didn’t see coming. Like quite literally it was shoved in my face at the end of book 5 and I was like OMGOMGOMGOMG!!! If you begin with book 1, you’ll probably know the story of real Dorian Blackwell, who was a cellmate of Christopher and Dougan. Dorian was especially bonded with Dougan cause they had the same type of looks, height and build and looked more like brothers than buddies. Dorian was beaten to death, which helped Dougan escape prison. He made his way into this world borrowing Dorian’s name. He knew it was his father’s men, send to kill him, who mistook him for Dorian. To survive he needed a new identity. From then on Dougan’s been known as Dorian Blackwell to everyone who knows the Lord of the Underworld or the Blackheart of Benmore.
Now, for the most part of the series, we’ve known the real Dorian to be dead cause they’ve all seen his battered, seemingly lifeless body being taken away from that cell on that fateful day. No one could survive that beating. But what his cellmates, who have made their ways in the worlds despite how dubious those ‘ways’ were, didn’t know that Dorian was alive. Maybe not very well, but he was alive. That, life took him to another journey where he found young love, and lost her too and then he went out to conquer the world as the cruel, ruthless pirate named The Rook. Dorian’s identity was lost under the power and guise of The Rook; not only because it’s been years since that fateful day but also because The Rook had lost most of his memory from that horrific beating that also scarred him for life, both physically and mentally.
Yet, when, after a few days, he was found by Lorelei Weatherstoke, looking quite dead alongside the road in heavy rain, Dorian didn’t think he’d survive. Hell no one thought he’d pull it through. He was so scarred from the beating and the lye that was poured on him to, uh, egg on his decomposition that... it simply brought tears to my eyes. He had no memory of who he was and where he came from. He was unconscious but only fought to be back to life because of her voice. A sweet angel who was fighting for him and Dorian couldn’t let her down. So he fought with her and pulled through, hoping to see her in flesh once he realized that she’s a real person rather than a vision that his pain-laden body conjured while it was burning up with fever.
Lorelei, the only daughter of the Earl of Weatherstoke, has never lived a life like one. Her mother passed away when she was young, and while her elder brother the heir to the earldom and her father should’ve loved and protected her, they didn’t. Weatherstoke was a spineless man ageing fast and his son, Mortimer, was a monster in disguise. He was cruel, callous and a disgusting, sadistic POS. Lorelei was slightly disabled from an ‘accident’ in her childhood and she limped. Mortimer simply laughed at her, pinched and beat her when it suited him and threatened her with worse if she dared to disagree. We later learn that the aforementioned ‘accident’ was all Mortimer. But what touched my heart the most was, that even with such a sad excuse for a family, Lorelei was not a broken human being no matter how much Mortimer tried to beat her to submission. She had a quiet strength that kept her going, her soft heart crying out for wounded animals. Though her family hated it, the servants took pity on her knowing what she suffers at home, Lorelei had a little menagerie of animals that she had found hurt and unable to walk/fly and took care of them. It was one of those things that she loved, maybe a culmination of the fact that she had no help and no one to turn to. It kept her distracted, rather innocent even after everything. It kept her sane TBH. Needless to say I loved her.
Even as he got better, Dorian couldn’t remember his name or his life before the Weatherstokes, though inside he instinctively knew there was something bad lurking in his past. His reflexes while he slept among other things, as if he was scared of something happening to him. But Dorian, who was named ‘Ash’ by Loreilei, had only one voice of hope in his life. The same person who’s been there every day for him until he opened his eyes and finally saw her, instantly thinking she was an angel coming down to earth with her sweet, innocent face. Her blue eyes and blonde hair. And in the course of them knowing one another, Lorelei and Ash found themselves falling in love. Ash was already in love but he was scared as hell. He was young but had no memory of his past. He didn’t know what he can offer an Earl’s daughter or if he’d ever be given the permission to court her, though the family had come to accept the fact that Ash will remain with the Weatherstokes since he had nowhere else to go. He was utterly obsessed with Lorelei, extremely protective of her, hating Mortimer with a vengeance that bordered on violence. He already knew what a POS Mortimer was and Ash was ready to take on him. At the same time, for Lorelei, finding someone like Ash to protect her was incredible. She already had a crush on him and it was growing into something deeper each day. She was in love too but both were too young to understand something so immense, so life changing and not yet ready to express that feeling in words.
This was THE BEST part of the story, the first few chapters of Lorelei and Dorian AKA Ash’s meeting and courtship. I thought it was absolutely perfect, childhood friends to sweethearts. Possibly lovers soon. However that wasn’t how it was going to be. :( It changed one day when Ash went to the village with Mortimer and never returned. And he was never seen again. Mortimer came back and told Lorelei that Ash has abandoned her when he remembered his past life with many other hurtful things as typical of that POS. This time it did break Lorelei. She was heartbroken, feeling empty, betrayed and lost. Many things ran through her mind, shattering her already battered self confidence.
20 yrs. passed after that. Lorelei had survived though barely, with a broken heart and all the distrust towards men that she could muster. Her father is gone and now she and her sister in law, Veronica whom Mortimer married some years ago, are living under his dictatorship. Mortimer who has already gambled away whatever meager fortune they had. All that was left was his ‘useless’ sister, whom he was going to get rid of too alongside the house they were living in—by marrying her to a ugly lecher who could help him financially. Lorelei was past hope and totally resigned to that fate. She thought of Veronica for strength. A beauty in her own right with dark hair and green eyes, Veronica could’ve married anyone had she been from the family of a peer. But her father was into business and had a lot of money so Mortimer snatched her up ASAP. Her life has been living hell ever since. There was not a soul left in the house who didn’t know of his cruelty to Veronica, in and outside of the bedroom. Lorelei was disgusted and tried her best to shield her SIL, feeling guilty that an innocent is now suffering alongside her. But neither had any idea what to do until Mortimer perished. Even then they may not have had anywhere else to go.
On her unwanted wedding day, Lorelei was resolved to marry so that Mortimer and Veronica still had a home to live. Not for her brother but mostly for her SIL. Oh but then she had no idea that soon, fate would once again play it’s games; this time with something so unexpected that it’d turn her life upside down. She didn’t know that one of her hidden wishes would come true, by the same man who’d abandoned her. It was as his and her fate entwined so irrevocably all those years ago that despite the circumstances and the years that had passed, they were simply destined to be together. Whether for the better or for worse that remained to be seen.
As Mortimer met his just end by the hands of the infamous Rook, the pirate everyone knew of and feared, Lorelei and Veronica are kidnapped by him and his men to a luxurious steam ship. At first, Lorelei was confused about the identity of Mortimer’s killer, who didn’t even bat an eyelash while doing the deed. But as soon as Lorelei knew who that older, weather-worn face belonged to, she was......mad. So utterly mad! He’d abandoned her to her fate. What did he want now? A wedding? What?? Is he joking with her? It was a lot to take in for a day that went from bleak to completely insane. But the man, who had Ash’s face though he was way bigger and taller than Ash was when they met, didn’t possess the kind of adoration Lorelei had came to appreciate. This man was battled hardened, even more scarred then he was back then. Had tattoos all over him. He scowled all the time and was too direct with his words. When she heard that Ash was the famous pirate The Rook, she couldn’t believe it. But his demand to marry her then and there was the last straw. Lorelei fainted right away.
And that’s how Ash and Lorelei’s reunion went. Not the stuff of dreams to be sure. There were distrust and distance created by the years passed that changed them both. But if there was one thing that was absolute fact; it was they still loved one another to the point of insanity. It’s just that the years in between had been so touch for Ash that he thought he’d lost his humanity. He had no heart to offer to Lorelei. But he knew she was his and she will be his no matter what. Before knowing what Mortimer did to her Ash, Lorelei distrusted him. But after knowing everything, she knew she had her work cut out to make a man feel things he claims he can’t any longer. It was a crazy journey and I’ll tell you that Ash’s obsession, insane love and total adoration and devotion to Lorelei, even if he claimed he felt no such thing, was just sighworthy. Lorelei SO needed someone like that and she knew she’d found it in Ash. If only things went smooth for them...
As they work to rebuild their relationship, or whatever you called it when Ash was being super stubborn and exasperating Lorelei in every way possible, he was also looking for a lost treasure. It had its own back story too but I was more into their crazy relationship; sometimes loving it, sometimes wanting to bash Ash’s thick skull with something.
A secondary romance was also emerging between Veronica and one of Ash’s right-hand man, an exceptionally handsome pirate called Moncrieff. Who also later conveniently turns out to be the black-sheep of a very well-known family and an heir to some title too. I really REALLY want their book even though Moncrieff seemed to have blown it quite a bit in the later part of the story. I know there should be something, anything after all the tension building between them throughout. They have crazy chemistry despite both wanted nothing with one another. Damn!
Now back to Ash and Lorelei. As Ash work to find that so-called treasure, mainly for his men because he was rich like Croesus, if not more, his new found relationship with Lorelei was shaky at best. If you read his monologues, you’d know that he’s SO in love and yet thought he didn’t deserve her because of his dark past and the things he’d done in his life so better keep her away. -_- Even though they’d married and even consummated their marriage, Lorelei still didn’t know if she can live with a man who wouldn’t even try to change himself. Wouldn’t let her call him nothing but The Rook. Wouldn’t let her inside his black, deeply buried heart though she longed to help him heal. She just wasn’t sure it’s going to work and I agreed with her.
In this push and pull, Lorelei and Veronica try one of their escape attempts, where Moncrieff helps them (his reason was totally selfish) and they end up at the hands of The Blackheart of Ben More and his men. I knew a climax in the story is approaching and I wasn’t disappointed in it. Not at all. The reunion was soo good that I was in tears, even if I was worried about our H and h’s relationship status. And oh, Inspector Morley showed up too and I again was reminded again just how much I dig that guy and wanting his book to surface.
Frankly speaking, I mostly enjoyed The Duke with a Dragon Tattoo until the last chapter or so. The ending seemed a bit rushed and I’m not really fond of sex scenes in dark, dank caves where my mind only wonders towards creepy crawlies. Eek! :/ I also thought the writing was gradually becoming a little on the ‘purple prose’-side. There were times I couldn’t help eyerolling at certain lines and words. IMO sometimes simple words are the best way to express the deepest and vastest of emotions.
In the end, despite everything, I think this was one of the best installments of Victorian Rebels series. The most surprising one that I didn’t see coming, didn’t know the H and h from previous installments but oh, I had no doubt Ash and Lorelei belonged together. :D 4.5 stars. I highly recommend to anyone who’s a fan of the series. I heard next up is our Inspector’s book. I can hardly wait. ;)