Thief of Shadows  - Elizabeth Hoyt My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

Here I am, trying to write a review for Thief of Shadows. I loved this book, loved EH’s writing and so happy that Maiden Lane is continuing for a good while. I know the Ghost’s identity, which I kind of guessed from book #2, but it was fun because Winter blew my mind. There’s NOTHING wintry about him, mind you! His intense regard and confidence for everything, from the Orphanage to Isabel was just... *sigh*

If you already hadn’t read the first three books- Wicked Intentions, Notorious Pleasures and Scandalous Desires, it’s highly recommended that you read the series in order. Anyway, in book #1, we met the 6 Makepeace siblings, who are the offspring of a beer brewer. Their father was a good, honest man, who cared for the poor of St. Giles, where they have been living. Now, Makepeace siblings weren’t all financially strong. Their eldest brother and sister, Concord and Verity, are married and not seen much (Verity only by mention). They live apart. The next, Asa, is every bit mysterious as he has been in book #1. We don’t know what he does or where he lives. The next sister, Temperance had been married once, so was Silence (loses her husband in book #2), the youngest of them all. Winter, the second youngest, has helped Temperance looking after the orphanage, build by their deceased father, from a very young age. This orphanage mainly cares for the abandoned children of St. Giles. Sometimes people leave the babies on their doorsteps, sometimes Temperance (before she married) and Winter would go and retrieve the kid if they hear of any.

Winter has been (and till now), someone very kind and honest. He is a very responsible young man. There were incidents, with Temperance falling in love with Lazarus, Lord Caire and marrying him in book #1, Winter took care of the orphanage and Silence would help out whenever she could. Then, there was a fire, a Lady’s beneficiary society with Lazarus’s mother Amelia and Lady Hero (heroine, book #2) and their friends took initiative to help the orphanage out. In book #2, Lady Hero found her match in Lord Griffin. But the story of Makepeace siblings continued through it, focusing on Silence and a new found baby, Mary Darling. A notorious St. Giles pirate, Mickey O’ Connor, had his eyes on Silence since she pleaded her husband’s case about his ship’s cargo, which Mickey robbed. I had mixed feelings about this drop-dead gorgeous pirate, who, everyone said, had not a kind bone in his body. He has always been cunning and ruthless. But boy, did he prove everyone wrong in his own book! In book #3, Silence and Mickey came together, quite marvelously IMO, their only unusual connection Mary Darling. There were actions, Mickey’s conviction and (almost) hanging, mysterious murders that link back to Mickey’s past. There were beautiful scenes with Mary Darling also, who was rumored to have been this womanizing pirate’s bastard. He took the baby in quite unwillingly but fell in love with later. Mickey also fell in love with Silence, unknowingly yet most irrevocably. Silence saw a very different man from what she initially assumed Mickey to be and she reciprocated his love. Later, they eloped as the Ghost of St. Giles saves Mickey from the hangman’s noose. Mickey took his real name Michael and married Silence in secret. But a staged death in his gaudy mansion at St. Giles made everyone think that the Pirate is dead.

But the mysteries surrounding the Ghost of St. Giles carried on. This Ghost, no one knows who he is. There are every which kind of rumors about him, some vile, him as nothing but a goon and a murderer and some are good, as a savior. It depends on who’s telling the story. But this Ghost is like Zorro (I couldn’t help thinking this way), who appears in a Harlequin’s motley, with a mask on his face in the most unexpected of times. People are always in awe of him. We have been driven to various kinds of guesses as to who this Ghost might be. My first guess was Asa, and then somehow settled on Winter. The quieter ones always have the biggest surprise and all that. Winter has been there in every book, proving his worth as a caretaker of the orphanage and as a very dutiful, kind brother to Temperance and Silence, giving his help and support whenever they needed it. He also came off as a reserved, stiff arsed man who was married to his duty. But we did see some of his mysterious comings and goings from the orphanage at night. But of course, he was the Ghost of St. Giles, so that would’ve been a surprise only if we knew of it! Winter started his quest to become the Ghost aged 17, under the tutelage of the first Ghost, a man who was also a benefactor to their orphanage and their father’s close friend. It’s after his death that the orphanage came under bad financial condition.

So far, Winter has been very good at concealing his identity, even taking care of his wounds all by himself. He was taught a lot of things, including best of sword/fighting skills, scaling the buildings and searching the alleyways through the night. He was also taught tremendous self-restrain and because of that, Winter has been celibate. Yes, he was a virgin (YAY!) before he met Isabel. The Ghost’s job, as it was, something he did because he wanted to help out the poor. Living in St. Giles all his live, Winter has witnessed suffering and abuse of various kinds, especially that of the children. His heart always cried out and after his training, he could do something for them or try his best while doing it. Winter knows this job is something all consuming and there is no room for a family of his own. He never minded that because he loved both his jobs; the prudish manager of the orphanage by day and the Ghost by night. I could see that he had an almost inhuman routine. All night scouring through the alleys of St. Giles for crimes or someone to save, even dodging various skirmishes as he did so, Winter would get up very early in the morning to take care of the children’s lessons and other numerous responsibilities that came with running an orphanage. It didn’t matter if he was injured or tired, Winter never uttered a negative where his duties were concerned. His training came handy in this regard. Now with Temperance and Silence married and gone, Winter had the most to do. There were new servants, along with the older ones, now that they have strong financial backbone, but still, Winter had to do his duty and one of them was meeting with the benefactresses of this orphanage. This is where, Winter meets Isabel, who came to help, along with her friend, Lady Margaret, Lord Griffin’s younger sister.

I honestly had some problem connecting with Isabel at first. No, I didn’t dislike her, even though she came off as one of those spoiled, worldly widows I usually don’t like as a heroine. But the more I read about her, the more I began to appreciate her smart and strong personality. I found a person who is as strong, almost as she’s vulnerable inside. Isabel is beautiful and she treads with grace. She is jolly and flirtatious. She married a man much much older than her at a young age. But that marriage, even though not a bad one, held its own disillusionment. First and foremost was her miscarriages; not once or twice but four times. And the last time marked the death knell, doctors told her she would never be a mother, ever. Her husband understood, or so it seems, until he died. About a month after his death, his mistress showed up with his bastard in tow. Isabel never even thought that Edmund had a young mistress tucked away somewhere! In all the other ways, he was good to Isabel, even granted her her own townhouse, which she decorated as her wish. She is a wealthy widow no doubt. The mistress tells her she can’t take care of the baby and as Edmund made no provision for them, Isabel was forced to take the boy in. All these were revealed gradually throughout the book as she spoke to Winter and I begin to understand depth of Isabel’s pain, which she hid behind this flirtatious veneer. After being widowed, she waited for a respectable amount of time to take lovers but not that many and has been very discreet too. I’m just trying to say that she proved me wrong about everything I feared she would turn out to be and in my mind, may not measure up as Winter’s heroine. Anyway, after she met Winter at the orphanage, Isabel was attracted and to prove it, she would poke and prod at him to rile him up. His prudish words and attitude tickled her no doubt and it was serious fun to poke him... lol Winter, like me, also had a conflicting image of her in his mind. But he was also attracted to her as he has never been to any woman in his life. But both knew this attraction can never go anywhere. I was a bit apprehensive as to how this would work out but I put my faith in EH to find a way.

The story starts almost where book #3 left off. Mickey has just been ‘saved’ by the Ghost. The Ghost, or Winter, has been badly wounded. Isabel, who was already fascinated by this Ghost, finds him lying in his costume, in a bad shape. Isabel’s mind works quickly enough and she takes him home. She takes care of him (and noticing a few attributes of the Ghost that certainly interests her, it was kinda fun, lol). Other than Isabel, her air-headed lady’s maid Pinkney and the butler’s wife knew of him. The Ghost is conscious and doesn’t let her take off his mask. Even then, she shares something with this man, a kind of attraction but Isabel had no idea of course who it was. The next day, the Ghost takes off. After that, Isabel attends the orphanage and meets up with the benefactresses. The ever annoying, ditzy Lady Penelope, who has the most money amongst them, makes suggestions; they need a better manager for the orphanage and the prudish Winter, who doesn’t know any aristocratic social grace, won’t do. Isabel and the others don’t agree with her. Margaret tries to make Penelope understand that Temperance, her mother-in-law and Lady Hero, who were out of town, should be informed before making any changes. But Penelope is determined to find someone funky for the orphanage. Then, they come up with a plan to thwart Penelope, to guide Winter into all things social grace. And who better to do this than Isabel herself, known for her social charms? She’s a widow too, for which she can mingle with Winter without ‘hurting’ her reputation.

It was weird for Isabel at first and Winter, upon hearing it, dismisses the notion with a curt ‘no’. But Isabel was having fun and she tries to make Winter understand that he HAS to work with her here if he wants to keep the position. And she understood how much Winter loved this place. So, Winter gives in after sometimes but he can’t say it was totally about this ridiculous training! Isabel comes in one day with Pinkney to measure for some better dresses if they have to attend balls and such to represent the orphanage to others. Isabel didn’t think the scholarly manager of the orphanage would have such muscular and attractive body! It totally shakes her and she has this déjà vu, which reminds her of the Ghost’s body. After all, she’d seen the Ghost’s body, save his face, quite thoroughly while taking care of him. But she dismisses it. Winter goes to her townhouse for his lessons as they planned. On the first day, he meets Christopher and assumes him to be Isabel’s son. But it was soon revealed that Isabel is very distant to the boy. But Winter doesn’t think it has anything to do with dislike or hatred of any kind. I loved how watchful Winter was and how he sort of ‘unearthed’ Isabel’s inner-self, which she hid so well because soon enough, he understood that Christopher is a source of pain for her own failure to conceive and a constant reminder of her husband’s infidelity. I have to mention that I just LOVED the scenes between Isabel and Christopher because the boy demanded her attentions in a way that would surely melt your heart.

Anyway, with the lessons of social grace, starts the flirtation and Winer just can’t help himself. He was enjoying this immensely and everything about being the Ghost and the vows just flew out the window. Gradually, they begin to open up about various aspects of their life too. One day, their conversation drifted into the intimate things. It was fun to watch how Winter maneuvered Isabel about talking about her sex life and lovers (which made him jealous). Winter comes forward with the fact that he’s a virgin (totally surprising Isabel here). It was sort of unsaid but established that they want each-other. Winter wants Isabel to ‘tutor’ him in this too. Now, Isabel can’t really do it. She has all sorts of conflicting thoughts and emotions rifling through. She tries reasoning with facts like he’s younger than her and so on but this was the sort of madness that can’t be avoided. Socially, she introduced Winter to some possible patrons. We get to meet some new characters in a few balls, including rakish Lord D’Arque Adam Rutledge, with Mr. Roger Fraser-Barnsby, Mr. Seymour and Lord Kershaw, his good buddies. We learn more about Margaret too, that she’s been seeing Roger secretly and has become lovers. I, at first, thought she’s being fooled by the man for money but soon, I learned that they love each-other very much and will announce their secret engagement soon, as soon as Roger takes care of a little business that would help him financially. After all, Margaret’s eldest brother is a Marquess. We see a bit of absent minded Godric St. John too, who it seems has become detached from the society after his wife’s death, until recently. For some reason, Winter and Adam take an intense disliking to each-other, which later was explained. It seems like Isabel and Adam have been, sort of, flirting for about a year and they both were interested in a liaison. Adam doesn’t take it lightly that Isabel has a new interest. And Winter, well, he was just waiting to stake his possession, that’s all. He knew Isabel would be his even then, and that was just totally wowed me. *winkwink*

In between, Isabel became suspicious that Winter was the Ghost and it was confirmed in the opera, where Adam invited Winter into a challenge of sort. Winter was already investigating a mystery of ‘lassie snatchers’ and whoever the ‘toff’ who were paying some ruffians to abduct little orphaned girls for some reasons. The orphanage even gets two new inhabitants in the process: Peaches and Joseph Chance. I was, again, so moved by the scenes with the kids of the orphanage and Winter’s interaction with them. Just can’t explain. Winter saw one of those ruffians as Adam’s coachman and had suspected him for a while. But as Winter comes out as the Ghost in the opera, he finds Isabel followed him. And Isabel’s instinct tells her this is undoubtedly Winter. Some actions follow, where Adam charges at the Ghost for ‘attacking’ Isabel, but in truth, they were kissing each-other senseless. Afterwards Winter is confused. Is Isabel attracted to him or the Ghost? It doesn’t make him happy that she might choose his masked persona over his true self. But he doesn’t have to wait long. They soon attend a ball, I think it was Adam’s house and Winter had to go there as the Ghost to investigate. This little investigation leads to something more as Isabel follows him here too. And phew! That alcove scene, their very first sexual encounter was just... oooh lala! I totally adored how Isabel took the reign. But the night goes awry as the news of Roger, Margaret’s lover being murdered comes in. Isabel takes care of a grieving Margaret. Winter leaves but soon the town patrol is after him.

Isabel was really worried about Winter since it was bandied about that the Ghost was behind this murder. She drives to St. Giles and soon enough finds Winter and takes him in the carriage. This scene was another of my favorite. Things just come together here, with Isabel finally telling Winter that she knows it’s him. It was much more apparent that she cares about him more than she cares to admit as well. And they finally end up making love in the carriage. It was hasty and oh-so-hot. I don’t have to tell you that Winter, after experiencing something like this for the first time, can’t even think of staying away. He is determined to make Isabel his no matter what. Winter just knows he has to be patient and that he can do very well. Isabel, on the other hand, has been totally shattered. Winter sees her in a way that no other man ever did, neither had they ever tried. And they carry on with their secret affair, as Winter would come at night in her house in his Ghost costume. I totally admired the love scene where Isabel was finally ‘tutoring’ Winter. It was both fun and really different. Winter, of course, proved to be an avid and quick learner. He is not a man who likes to hide behind pretty words and innuendos, so Winter soon enough confesses his love for Isabel. Now, it was Isabel who was feeling confused. I could only guess her reluctance. But let me tell you, Winter was very convincing about proving his love to her, wreaking havoc on more worldly Isabel’s senses.

Lady Penelope finally chooses Adam as the manager, who gladly took it up just to piss Winter off. He also makes an offer to Winter which he couldn’t deny, something that would be good for Joseph Tinbox. Winter really cared for the boy, which was very endearing. And because of that offer, Winter gives up the post. But he also had another, more important quest in mind; to win Isabel’s love. I can’t tell you enough how good Winter was and you’re going to love the banters (with some hot love scenes) between them. Winter thoroughly baffled Isabel by ‘taking over’ her house! Lol He comes in, self-appoints himself as Christopher’s tutor (he adored the boy) and starts living there. I was giggling because this Winter was not the prudish Winter we came to observe in other books. And the best thing was, this was the real Winter. Later in the story, the mystery behind the ‘lassie snatchers’ comes into the light. I was surprised by the villain TBH. After the climax, Isabel just knew she can’t let this man go, whereas, Winter re-thinks about his job as the Ghost and savior of St. Giles. He knew he has to give it up one way or the other. You know what? Isabel decides to live in the orphanage later on, which gave me so much pleasure, how can I not adore her? But, overall, this book was Winter’s, from the beginning till the end. I can’t seem to put it in any other way. 4.5 stars.

FYI: There were snippets of a story in here as usual, titled “The Legend of the Harlequin Ghost of St. Giles”.

PS: Haven’t read the excerpt of Lord of Darkness. Self-preservation, if you ask me! But the series is totally taking a new direction, with new Ghosts and all that. 2013, come faster!

This ARC was provided to me by Hatchett/GrandCentral via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way. thankyou