My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
[... just because ...]
My, my! How I love it when the uptight (and sometimes obnoxious) Dukes go all ga-ga over the Bluestockings. It’s so much fun to watch them fall, almost as much as those incorrigible Rakes! *snickers* Apart from JQ’s newest in the Smythe-Smiths, Duke of Midnight was another of my most anticipated in 2013 and I’m happy to report that it lived up to my expectations and more (this has nothing to do with the fact I’m biased towards EH’s writing. :D).
I’d still recommend for you to start from the first book if you haven’t started this series yet, as all the events, characters are very much interconnected. I won’t be doing a detailed recap as the spotlight has very much shifted from the original Makepeace Siblings. Yes, they’re still seen from time to time but the main focus is now on different other characters who were secondary characters in those first books. Not that I’m complaining since I loved all the installments more or less.
To be short, it all started with an orphanage in St. Giles which was run by the Makepeace siblings Temperance and her younger brother Winter, sometimes Silence, their younger sister. They have three more siblings. Eldest Verity and Concord are married and not much seen throughout the novels so I almost always forget about them. Asa, the middle one, is another story altogether. He comes and goes so suddenly that I’m not sure what to think of him... until this book that is (you’ll know why when I’m finish with the review). Now Temperance, Silence and Winter have married and settled down. The dilapidated orphanage has big support, in regards of both influence and money, so it’s running smoothly.
We met some secondary characters such as Maximus, the Duke of Wakefield, the rich and beautiful but vapid brained Lady Penelope (a benefactress of the orphanage) and her lady’s companion, Artemis Greaves before in different books. There were Lady Hero, Maximus’s sister, also a benefactress of the orphanage who married Lord Griffin (book 2, Notorious Pleasures). Griffin’s sister, Margaret or Megs is now married to Godric St. John, the scholarly man (book 5, Lord of Darkness). Godric is also a very good friend of Temperance’s husband, Lazarus, Lord Caire (book 1, Wicked Intentions). Silence and her pirate, Mickey are in hiding so they haven’t been seen since their book, Scandalous Desires (book 3). Winter married a rich widow, Isabelle, who has come to love the orphanage (it’s manager and all :p), now living there with him (book 4, Thief of Shadows).
The phenomena of the Ghost of St. Giles has been there since the beginning but the secret of ‘who’ was revealed in book 4. We now know that there is more than one ghost working, sometimes at the same time, sometimes separately; each having their own agenda for hunting the dark and dirty alleys of St. Giles. All of them were hired by one man, Sir Stanley Gilpin, a stage actor who loved all things dramatic. A Ghost himself, he trained three more Ghosts. Winter was the first to be revealed as the Ghost. His main reason was to help the orphanage and its kids. Also to hunt down and bring in abandoned, abused children, punishing their captives. Godric trained because he needed a distraction. He didn’t even live the life of a Ghost until his first wife, whom he thought was the love of his life, contracted a wasting disease and gradually started fading away. Already a reserved man, a distressed Godric needed another distraction to keep him going and dealing with this bleak life. Being the Ghost gave him that adrenaline rush, even if for a couple of hours a day. Now having married, Winter and Godric have given up this life because of the dangers it pose on their everyday lives. But why, Maximus, our prudish Duke became the Ghost in the first place is another story, about which I’ll talk in my review.
Maximus’s life isn’t exactly a fairy tale, even though he’s rich, young and handsome; a Duke who is also one of the most sought after bachelors. Maximus lost his parents very young. It was revealed in one of the earlier books in the series that he witnessed their deaths in the St. Giles. He was a spoiled brat of 14 at that time, but this one incident changed everything, all because Maximus deemed himself guilty of their murder. How and why is revealed much later. Needless to say, he changed entirely and made himself the worthy Duke his parents would’ve expected him to become and be proud of. One of the reasons Sir Stanley took him in was to divert his attentions elsewhere from the grief. Maximus wanted revenge, to hunt down the killer of his parents and training with his father’s friend only seemed the right thing to do to prime himself up for that cause. He hates St. Giles with a passion, more so because of the gin business that he was all but unable to erase so far. Still, Maximus has ‘haunted’ the alleys of St. Giles ever since he was able enough to take care of himself. So far, the killer has been very elusive, to Maximus’s utter disappointment and burgeoning remorse. It eats him inside that he hasn’t been able to avenge his parents still. But Maximus won’t give up as long as he lives.
On his quest on becoming the worthy son, Maximus has been as ruthless about keeping his noble bloodline alive as he is about any other thing. That is by ‘doing the right thing’ aka marrying an heiress who is rich and beautiful. He failed to do this with his sister, Hero (I remember the mess that ensued well enough). He didn’t relent until at the very end. She has to be someone of his station, so even Lady Penelope will do. She’d suit him just fine, seeing how he’s not really interested in her personality all that much.
Maximus is known as a stuffy man with a constant grim demeanor. He’s also quite infamous for delivering cutting remarks, which is why most mamas and their daughters are more scared than charmed. But for a rich, young Duke, that doesn’t matter. It did strike me rather profoundly that we actually never learn of Maximus’s sexual life/behavior at all; no indication, as if it’s something he ruthlessly hid or stamped down to punish himself for what happened to his parents... until he met Artemis. Or rather, he begins noticing her something other than a ‘shadow’ that moves with Lady Penelope. If I remember correctly, he said something very insulting about her in book 5, making me want to slap him hard. Artemis heard it and was hurt. I wish she questioned him about that remark but it was never really mentioned in here.
Their attraction started from the very first scene though, when Artemis didn’t even know that it was Maximus behind that mask and Harlequin’s motley as he saves them at night in St. Giles from another of Lady Penelope’s hare-brained ‘adventures’. Our batman even followed them till they were inside the carriage, safe and sound. But both leave something behind; Maximus his signet ring and Artemis, an impression in Maximus’s mind which makes him notice her other than what she seems; a plain, prim looking lady’s companion.
This leads us to our Bluestocking h and her own life of misery. Artemis was born in a underprivileged family where love was not present. Her father being an unstable man (hence the rumor of madness running in the family) ruined a lot of things for her and her twin brother, Apollo; her only true companion among all the crazies. It was by no means a happy childhood, and then her mother died, leaving the siblings pretty much emotionally destitute. I could see why the siblings were so close until Apollo turned 16 and moved away to study etc. For Artemis, life became rather hellish. Then her father died... then Apollo was caught for murdering 3 of his friends and Artemis didn’t know where to go or what to do, until her distant relative, Penelope’s father, the Earl took her in. It was more of a charity case, and I really didn’t think it was out of affection but Artemis was grateful that she didn’t have to go to the streets, begging or worse, for a living. She was fed and kept well, earned a little as Penelope’s companion.
Artemis was too grateful when the Earl saved Apollo from a certain journey to the gallows and admitted him in the Bedlam. It’s been four or so years since the incident, and Artemis has visited him whenever she was allowed to, bringing him whatever she could. But anyone could see that it’s not enough. Apollo is sick, getting sicker by the minute in this dirty, disgusting place. It’s not even suitable for a madman, let alone someone who still somehow stayed sane. Apollo always maintained his innocence. He was drunk and woke up with their blood on his body, their bodies surrounding his own. But in this place, any man would go insane and Artemis is very much worried that she’s about to lose her brother, her only close living relation. If she doesn’t take any step to free him from here, the inevitable will happen. Probably sooner than she fears.
What’s a girl to do in this situation when she knows no help will come from the Earl, who has all but washed his hands off of Apollo? Yah, smart girls look for a way out and desperate times call for desperate measures. Which is exactly what Artemis does next. As soon as she figures out to exactly who did this old, worn family ring belonged, Artemis makes up her mind. That one person can help her without a doubt because he’s the Ghost and he has the powers too.
Penelope is invited to Maximus’s house party and Artemis, of course, accompanies her. Maximus hated all sorts of gatherings as it invaded his much needed privacy but he had no way of ignoring them. In there, Artemis and Maximus keep meeting up; at first, very unexpectedly on their morning strolls. Maximus can’t help this new-found appreciation for Artemis; her flawless skin or her big, beautiful grey eyes. Artemis always thought the Duke was sinister looking but when she looks into his deep blue eyes, things seem so very different. The fact that he loves taking strolls in the morning makes him a human... almost. Even though she has a plan, Artemis begins to feel the need to know that man inside; a man he hides so well behind that mask of indifference. Just what kind of man scours the dark alleys of St. Giles when he has no need of doing any such thing?
She finds her answer rather soon but I loved how, together, they stuck an unexpected companionship, and the lonely man in Maximus could not but appreciate Artemis. This was one woman he never tires of talking, with whom he can share things he can’t share with any other person. A woman who doesn’t cower from his dark scowls and cutting remarks. This must’ve been surprisingly freeing for him! Artemis was falling too, but before, she needed to rest her case. One day, she blackmails Maximus with his secret, she’d keep quite in exchange that he saves Apollo from Bedlam. Maximus is angry and denies her appeal on spot. I didn’t blame Artemis for doing this, she had no one else and Maximus was her only hope. I felt so sad when he just walked away, telling her it’s not his business to get involved.
In between, we see flashbacks of Apollo’s past, things that may have happened and why he’s here today. Also his miserable existence and the abuse of the people in charge of the mental institution. Apollo, even with his big boned body can’t keep up with the vicious beating he takes to help a woman who was on the verge of being raped. He heard noises and knew what that meant... However big and strong he once was, Apollo’s body has given into the gross mistreatment, and after that beating, he slips into unconsciousness. Someone from the Bedlam sends a missive to Artemis stating that Apollo might be dying. This scares her so much, she again, begs to Maximus, on the verge of breaking down. Her teary-eyed pleas finally break though Maximus’s resolve. He already has become obsessed with his ‘Diana’, now he can’t bear see her so sad. He rescues Apollo in the Ghost’s guise with the help of his ancient butler, who knows everything there is to know about the Batten family.
When she hears of it, Artemis is overwhelmed with gratitude. She accompanies Maximus’s almost blind youngest sister, Lady Phoebe to his townhouse as her temporary companion. Later she is reunited with Apollo who was recuperating in the basement of the house. I think Artemis was not only grateful but also a little bit in love with Maximus already, though she knew this will never go anywhere. She was very much aware of Penelope’s interest in him. She knew they’d probably end up marrying. But the only way Artemis wanted to show her appreciation was by giving herself to Maximus. If their stormy kisses were any indication, she knew he wanted her just as much. Personally, I was a little surprised that she’d seek him out at night and just ask for it, but I wasn’t turned off by any means. What surprised me more were all those bedroom tricks that our so-called Prudish Duke had up his sleeves, with a delightfully dirty mouth. Hot, HOOOOOT!! *grins*
As their relationship become much more than physical, Maximus begins to open up to Artemis; about how his parents were murdered. How he’s been in pursuit of the killer, The Highwayman, who has suddenly returned to haunt St. Giles once more and yet again, has escaped Maximus’s clutches. Even Trevillion’s reports can’t help him, though, by now, he knows that the dragoon captain is on the Ghost’s side. The matter of those lost family Emeralds come up too, giving us another surprising, yet not unexpected, revelation that links Artemis with Maximus. I loved how she soothed away his pain and vulnerabilities, falling for him a little bit more, discovering the real Maximus one confession at a time.
This is why I was kinda mad, when at one point, Maximus begs Artemis to stay... and become his mistress, since obviously he can’t marry her. But it was clear that he has fallen for her deeply. At the same time, Artemis started feeling guilty about the whole thing because she thought she was deceiving Penelope. Her apprehension becomes reality when Maximus’s aunt returns from her trip to a friend and confirms the gossips that have been abound about their ‘affair’. It was spreading like wildfire, thanks to the same gossips from the house party. Maximus’s offer, the temptation of taking up on it because she’s already in love with him, the guilt, alongside the scare of a scandal leave Artemis with no other option but to break it off and leave ASAP. Before that, she gives Apollo some money so that he can hide away for a while. She knew she’d have no place with Penelope anymore, but she finds help from a very unexpected source.
Maximus, of course, had to make up his mind. It was too much fun to watch the butler showing his disapproval of how Maximus treated Artemis, making the poor Duke cringe. Everyone in the house appreciated her and wanted her to be the mistress of the house more than Penelope. But when Artemis leaves, Maximus’s days are listless but he’s determined to soldier on and propose to Penelope ASAP. *sigh*
Funny thing was, Phoebe and Hero didn’t bother about the gossip because they really liked Artemis and had already welcomed her into their fold. They knew she was so good for their brother, if only he’d stop being so obnoxious. When, later, they’re all invited to Harte’s Folly to watch a performance, Artemis accompanies them, not knowing how their world would turn upside-down on that day. First, Penelope shows her true color by calling Artemis a ‘whore’ in front of all those people (me wanting to b!tchslap her)... then, there’s the fire... then, Artemis is kidnapped by The Highwayman... Maximus having the scare of a lifetime seeing her jump into the murky water of Thames........... Oh my!! But IMO, he needed that ‘slap’ to shake himself up and grab the most important thing in the world for him; his Diana.
Then, there was Apollo with a friend... Asa. OMG, Asa was the manager of Harte’s Folly, or some such thing? All these time? Sh!t!!! I was already waving my fangirl banner for Apollo, now there’s Asa too. I’m also very intrigued by Trevillion. I have some ideas about their heroines, can’t wait to see if my guesses fit! People, this is why I love EH so much, she keeps me entertained no matter what and makes me eagerly anticipate her next release. I just hope she never stops writing, most especially where Maiden Lane is concerned! 4.5 stars.
[end of gushing... until next time, that is. :p]