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Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling is the book 1 of her brand new historical romance series, Greycourt. It was one of my most anticipating releases of 2018. Her previous series, Maiden Lane, which stole many hearts and made many new Hoyt fans—as a huge fan myself I’d like to think that’s happened!—had ended in 2017 after a long run with 12 books and some novellas under its belt. Naturally, we fans were eagerly waiting for this new series to see what Ms. Hoyt has in store for us in this new journey. I’m excited that there’s a new series, even if the introductory installment wasn’t as good as I was hoping it’d be.
Not the Duke’s Darling, so far, doesn’t look to have any connection to Maiden Lane whatsoever. I haven’t come across anything that pointed to me to that direction. However, it’s only the beginning and one can only hope! Though still set in the Georgian-era, the setting is slightly after the time-frame of Maiden Lane. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any possibilities of.......
Okay okay, that’s the Maiden Lane fan in me blabbering away. :P I’ll just get into the review... The story begins with our heroine, Freya de Moray, running from some miscreants while also protecting a baby and his nanny as they ran. At first, it’s all very confusing. Is the baby hers? Or is he a family member? Then, within a few pages we discover that she’s the ‘Macha’ or spy of a secret ladies group called the Wise Women and been working for them for a while now. The Wise Women were women with healing powers (healers) who existed for generations and openly helped people with their knowledge. They abounded all over England since the ancient times. But as time went on and the threat of witch hunt—as they were termed at one of point of history—and many killed, the number of Wise Women has now gone down drastically.
The Wise Women were, and still are, selected from various families (wasn’t sure if only peers or from any family) and given education and training from a young age. These days all that is done in secret. Well they don’t have any magical powers but they have other knowledge to help. Nowadays, with a new form of witch-hunter fanatics called the Dunkelders after them, they had to go in hiding. Wise Women also love living an independent life that doesn’t go with the social norms. Some live unmarried, while others marry and go as far as to have children. Some would take lovers. Many of them live among normal people hiding that part of their identity. After all, they have to be very selective of who they trust. Many now live in Scotland where their headquarters is. Or so I thought it was. I’m not sure how far the Wise Women are still scattered all over England cause, for this book, we only learn about the Wise Women that live in an estate called Dornoch in Scotland conveniently close to Freya’s own ancestral home.
That’s just the information we get in bits and pieces from the book as it went on. Sometimes it was confusing, especially for me cause I wasn’t really that interested in the Wise Women bit. Freya herself is the daughter of a Duke. One of her aunts was a member of Wise Women. Freya lost her mother young. Later, when her father died too, Aunt Hilda took her and her 2 younger sisters, Caitriona and Elspeth, in and that’s how she became a part of it.
Freya also has older brothers, Ranulf and Lachlan. Even though now the Duke is Ranulf, the majority of the Dukedom’s work is done by Lachlan. If you ask the whys of it, I’ll have to talk about what’s been termed in the story as the Greycourt Tragedy...
When Freya was being chased by those miscreants, she was saved by a ducal carriage that came between her and those men. With it, we meet our hero, Christopher Renshaw, the current Duke of Harlowe. Christopher was never meant to inherit any Dukedom but it came down to him from a distant relative whose issues have passed away before him. We’re also immediately aware that Freya knows Christopher, or at least used to know him many years ago but he doesn’t recognize her at all. It enrages Freya a lot. What’s clear soon enough that she hates Christopher with a vengeance for the tragedy that befell her brother Ranulf some 15 yrs. ago.
Now, the Greycourt Tragedy was a backstory that I would’ve loved to know more about. In fact, there should’ve been a prologue which would’ve cleared out some of the confusion surrounding it. But the whole thing was vague at best, frankly quite jumbled. The majority of it you get to learn from the recollection of the people who were present then. It seemed that Christopher were buddies with Ranulf de Moray and Julian Greycourt, nephew of a Duke. I’m still a bit confused about the absent characters due to the vast amount of them being introduced throughout the story so my apologies if I mix up their titles and all.
Julian had multiple siblings including 3 sisters; the eldest Aurelia and the other two are Messalina and Lucretia. While at a house-party, something horrible happened. Ranulf and Aurelia, one 18 and another 15 or 16, allegedly, tried to elope with the help of Christopher and Julian. Then Aurelia ended up being murdered somehow, a mystery that still haunts everyone who remembers that night. Ranulf was convicted of the murder, though by now everyone present there knows he never did it. But he was beaten mercilessly nonetheless which left him both physically and psychologically scarred. According to Freya, he’s now practically living the life of a recluse. Admittedly, Freya was quite young and her sisters even younger. So all in all, the recollections are vague even from the people who were present at that time. Many of the older individuals like Christopher or Julian’s parents and Freya’s father, are all dead now.
Because Freya was pretty young, a gangly teen with bright red hair, Christopher couldn’t recognize her in that carriage ride. But Freya did, if not for their grim family history but because she’d had a major crush on him back then, which then turned into this soul-burning hatred after what happened to Ranulf. All because, Freya, who couldn’t even remember what exactly happened on that fateful night, thought Christopher had abandoned his best friend when he needed him the most. It was also why she doesn’t talk to Messalina’s family any longer, though they’d been bosom buddies in their teenage years. Even though it was Messalina who had lost a sister. In short, lives were destroyed and turned upside down in a matter of seconds. 15 yrs or more have passed and no one tried to make amends.
Freya’s family had fallen on hard times, though not enough for her to take up a job in London. But before that, she’d been the Macha. She just liked the ‘thrill’ of it all; being independent and doing whatever she wanted to do without all the societal burden of being known as a Duke’s daughter. She’d taken the job of a companion to a nice family in London and been doing her Macha work from here under the guise of Miss Stewart which is her mother’s maiden name. I don’t know what her family thought of it, especially her brothers. I’m not even sure if they know of her involvement with the Wise Women. :/
Christopher, on the other hand, had been eaten up with guilt because he did remember some of what happened on that night. Though he was quite disoriented and overwhelmed at the time, Christopher knew down to his gut that he’d failed Ranulf. And he’d carried this burden ever since. But that wasn’t the end of his bad luck. He was promptly married off by his father to a girl of his choice. His father had not an ounce of fatherly affection for Christopher, especially after the scandal broke loose. He was made to leave England ASAP for India in hopes of ‘redemption’. Only Christopher found it to be another hellish experience. Shortly after his wedding, he discovered that his wife is a simple minded girl who couldn’t even understand the concept of marriage, let alone anything else that comes with it. Christopher had no idea cause the match was made for him and he’d met Sophy only a few times in the presence of other people. Though their marriage was anything but normal, he’d been affectionate and very protective of his wife of 11yrs (though the author never explored their marriage and life in India in details). But then, other tragedies followed and Sophy died; another burden for Christopher to carry. He’d also gone through some nightmarish experience of his own that he carries around all alone cause he had no one to share it with but his devoted dog Tess.
Back in England, Christopher wouldn’t have much to look forward to had he not been found to be the heir to Harlowe Dukedom. Ironic because he’d always wanted to return no matter what. But the challenges of Dukedom now keep him busy through his lonely existence. Yet, when he saw that green-eyed girl in the carriage, who only gave him the looks of pure contempt and spoke with veiled sarcasm, Christopher’s interest heightened. He couldn’t imagine why would this girl hate him so cause he couldn’t remember meeting her before. Nevertheless he found himself to be quite interested in her business and hoped he’d see her again.
Christopher’s wishes are granted when he somehow ends up in another house-party, this time by the Lovejoys. Lord Lovejoy is also his BIL, Sophy’s elder brother. Since he’d been back to England, Christopher had avoided as many social engagements as possible. He knew Lovejoy wasn’t happy about it so he decided to accept this invitation, never even imagining he’d meet that green-eyed termagant once again! On the other hand, Freya, who was attending the house-party mainly cause her employer Lady Holland decided there was a good chance her meek daughter Arabella would have a chance at one of the attending gentlemen, had other plans. She had been given a mission recently by the Wise Women and wanted to see it through. Her query was neighbors with Lord Lovejoy, a convenience she couldn’t pass up. Then again, being a companion she had no other options, did she?
The story, from here, completely takes place in this house-party. It involved Freya seeing Christopher once again and them colliding more than once. Christopher being confused as hell but nevertheless enjoying the banters. But one thing was absolutely certain; they both harbored insane attraction for one another and it was becoming ever difficult to deny that pull. One thing led to another, and Christopher found himself kissing Freya, not knowing who she actually was. But I give it to the author that she didn’t drag this through and Freya’s identity was revealed to Christopher pretty soon in the story. With that, him confiding to her about the burden of guilt he’d carried alone for so long. I’d say they made up on spot which IMO was sweet.
The story was also about Freya and Messalina seeing one another again, where we learn how Freya had avoided acknowledging her once best friend thus far. She’d known that Messalina had figured out it was her even when she dressed as drab as possible, always hiding her vivid red hair under her caps. She had to hid away anyway due to her Macha work. Freya held some kind of misleading grudge for Messalina’s family as well. After so many years, the chasm opened in that fateful night, has now become too big to overcome. Or was it? As it turned out, both girls longed to talk to one another just like they did when they were young. And after confessing to Christopher about her ‘secret identity’, the temptation of unburdening herself to Messalina became too much to handle for Freya. It was simply a boon that she later learned that Messalina was also interested in the same query that Freya was after and that now, she’d have some help in her investigation after all!
I’d tell you straightforwardly that I adored Christopher. He was no rake, no arrogant POS. He was an overall good guy. A gentleman to boots who felt everything deep within. Even though it was clear he’d never gave Freya much attention when she was young, Christopher fell for her hard almost from the beginning of the story. He knew soon enough that what he felt for Freya was much more than just a need to protect. He’d thought of Ranulf as a brother even if no one would believe it now. He wanted to make things right so badly that it was a palpable thing throughout the story. I personally was confused as to why he fell for her TBH but there he was, falling in love quite rapidly for someone who kept denying him what he ardently longed for for the most part of the story. Why? Because Freya thought marriage would be a hindrance to her independent lifestyle, even though she knew in her heart that Christopher was very open-minded and would possibly support her. But she was very reluctant about that gamble. She kept on saying she didn’t want to hurt Christopher, but the next moment she’d seduce him (by then they’d also become lovers) and then reject his marriage proposal. Even after he confessed his feelings. Even after he saved her from her kidnapper she couldn’t f*cking make up her mind! Finally Christopher had to acknowledge that it’s a lost cause until Freya comes to the realization on her own. So he leaves her to her own devices and leaves the house-party altogether. I felt SO bad for him but I could also see that that was the only way.
Frankly, I wasn’t particularly fond of Freya, most certainly after the above happened. Though I could see why she was so confused and reluctant about Christopher, IMO she shouldn’t have led him on and become lovers in the first place. Very early on she figured out it wasn’t ‘just sex’ for Christopher. That he may have had feelings for her. She acted first, thought later (IF she did that is!). She thought she’d be totally okay with him as her lover as long as there are no other entanglements. *eyeroll* Then when she finally acknowledged her feelings for him to be something deeper than a childhood crush, she wanted to marry him. But still she held back and refused Christopher over and over again. It was TBH quite annoying.
Apart from that, the storyline was rather uncomplicated, at times way too predictable. So much so that I often wondered if I really was reading a book by Elizabeth Hoyt not. The villain was predictable too, as was the ‘climax’ of the story. I’d go as far as to say that it read more like a prequel with a scatted storyline and introductions to too many characters in one. I also wasn’t sure how would Freya tackle the bit where she’d come to be known as ‘Miss Stewart, the companion’ to all who knew her in London when she married Christopher. She couldn’t very well marry him hiding away her true identity, could she? Unfortunately, the story never went that far so I just had to use my imagination, which wasn’t helping btw. :/
But, as this is also the intro to the series, I can overlook this disappointing book 1 because I’ve seen other possibilities that need only to be fleshed out. I think (at least, hoping!) more light would be shed on the Greycourt Tragedy as more installments are published. I could do without the Wise Women part but I guess that can’t be avoided. There were quite a few interesting characters introduced here. But the one I was absolutely fond of was Messalina, who probably has one of the most unfortunate heroine names I’ve come across (Messy, anyone? – she was called that when she was young, much like Christopher was called ‘Kester’ LOL). But Messalina also came off as someone pretty smart and rational and there’s already something brewing in her own family...... I can’t wait to read her story! On that note, 3.5 stars for Not the Duke’s Darling.