Without a doubt, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin was one of the best romances Miss Bates ever read. It was natural, therefore, that she greatly look forward to Duke Of Pleasure, Hoyt’s 11th Maiden Lane novel. She had a glimpse of its hero, Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle, as probity to Valentine Napier’s debauchery in Duke Of Sin. Therein and as Duke Of Pleasure opens, Hugh Fitzroy has been pursuing the Lords of Chaos, a group of immoral, aristocratics who use and abuse children and women. With Valentine’s semi-taming by his house-keeper-heroine, Bridget Crumb, Hugh finds himself relying on Valentine’s Constaninopolean correspondence to help him identify and eventually destroy the Lords. Late one night, he is beset and hurt by a hired group of thugs near the notorious St. Giles area of London. The night-bound Ghost of St. Giles rescues him, the boy who doubles as the information-gathering daylight guttersnipe, Alf. When Alf, at the end of their encounter, boldly kisses Hugh, he realizes that the guttersnipe “from the dung head that was St. Giles” is a guttersnipette! Hugh brings Alf to his ducal abode to help him pursue the Lords. What Alf finds in Hugh is an emotionally closed off widower with two troubled young sons , still mourning the mere months-old loss of their mother and Hugh’s estranged wife, Katherine. At 21, Alf herself feels a certain restlessness with her life, wondering what it would be like to live as a woman, have children, and how to react to the strange heart-and-body-stirrings Hugh elicits in her.
Initially, there was something thrilling about Hugh and Alf’s encounters. They were fraught with danger and excitement. Alf was a wild, ethereal creature, glimpsed high above on London’s rooftops wielding swords and moving at lightning speed: “his feminine savior danced an elegant dance of death with her swords” and “the roofs were her home, her place, where she felt the safest” Hugh, in turn, was a jaded man of sorrow, still smarting not as much from Katherine’s infidelity as from his own inability to judge who she was. He blames himself for being carried away by passion and vows “never [to] let passion for a woman sweep away reason, self-preservation, and sense, for that way led to devastation”. The aristocrat and this nebulous creature of the night held promise and mystery. Miss Bates was thrilled.
Sadly, the further Miss Bates read, the greater the thrill-deflation. Firstly, she dislikes the widowed-hero-with-the-bad-wife convention. At least in this case, it wasn’t accompanied by the putting-down of every woman as fickle, dishonest, and/or avaricious save the heroine. As a matter of fact, it is a testament of Hoyt’s talent that she creates a most sympathetic near-non–rival for Alf, a woman who befriends and teachers her the ways of being a lady. Iris and Alf end up friends and their relationship, as well as the cool little boys and the adorable puppy, Pudding, are more interesting than Hugh and Alf together. If you’re looking for heart-wrenching romance, you won’t find it in Duke Of Pleasure. Therein lies Miss Bates’s disappointment with Hoyt’s recent romance. While Hugh and Alf’s attraction is natural and believable, it’s not what makes up this novel. The romance meanders and other characters and events, albeit interesting ones, take over.
There’s significant sequel-bait too, though it is MOST intriguing. And there’s the Maiden Lane rub, dear readers. Even when Hoyt pens a less successful romance in one of its many volumes, the Maiden-Lane world, with its ethical core of fighting evil and myriad crossings of class and privilege, is compelling. Miss Bates counts Duke of Pleasure as her fourth foray into its elegant sitting rooms, debauched dens, and narrow St. Giles alleys. The result: she can’t quit it. She’ll happily be back for Duke Of Desire. With Miss Austen, in Duke Of Pleasure‘s case, Miss Bates found it was “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke Of Pleasure is published by Grand Central Publishing. It was released in November 2016 and may be found at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Grand Central Publishing, via Netgalley.