Today I need y’all to bear with me as I take a little detour from the angsty world of Young Adult into the world of Regency Romance. Every once in awhile I need to escape into the stories of elegant balls, dashing dukes and feisty wallflowers. I’ve read a quite a bit of RR in my day, but my hands down favorites of the genre are Loretta Chases’ Lord of Scoundrels, Julia Quinn’s What Happens in London, and the entire Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. I have a near fanatical obsession with the Maiden Lane series, actually. I own them, I’ve read them several times and each new book released is infinitely better than the last.
For the last three books we’ve had only glimpses of the mysterious Winter Makepeace, the manager of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children. Winter’s father founded the home many years ago, and when he died Winter took over and has devoted his life to the children of St. Giles. The original house the home was founded in burned to the ground, which turned out to be a blessing as the whole event caught the attention of the aristocracy. Now the home is being sponsored by several bored, yet wealthy, society ladies and thanks to their donations, a new home has now been built. The children’s needs are never ending, and the home could do with new patrons and more funding. This would require the very studious, straightforward, no-nonsense Winter to attend society functions and actually talk to people. The ladies are in serious doubt of his ability to make nice, and they assign Lady Isabel Beckinhall – Baroness Beckinhall – to teach Winter the ways of Gentlemen. Here’s a snippet of how their first lesson went:
“Now.” She had to stop to inhale, for oddly she found herself out of breath. “Now, I would like you to practice kissing the hand of a lady.”
She extended her hand, hopoing he wouldn’t notice the faint tremor of her fingers.
He paced toward her, took her hand, and bent over it. For a moment, his bowed head obscured their hands, but she felt the brush – warm and intimate – of his lips on her knuckles.
She gasped. “You’re supposed to kiss the air above the lady’s knuckles.”
He raised his head, still bowed over her hand, the position bringing his face much closer to hers. She could see tiny shards of gold in his brown eyes.
“Isn’t this a lesson in fliration?”
He straightened to his full height. “Then it seems to me that a real kiss is more to the point than a pretend one.”
Only now did she see the shadow of a smile lurking at the back of his eyes.
Her own eyes narrowed as she attempted to withdraw her hand from his. His grip remained firm.
And so it goes. Isabel attempts to teach him civility, and Winter demonstrates that he really does have manners, even if they aren’t what society deems appropriate. Winter is completely outrageous in these lessons, and not long after this scene they get into a conversation about lovers. Isabel is a widow and has taken a few discreet lovers since her husband’s death, but Winter decided to take an almost monk-like vow to his position at the home and openly admits to Isabel that he’s a virgin. O_O Whoa, buddy.
Isabel can’t understand her attraction to the ”plain, rigid schoolmaster.” She parties and flirts with some of the most handsome men in society, yet she can’t get Winter out of her mind. The only other man she has felt this connection to is the Ghost of St. Giles, whom she rescued off the street from a mob and spent one night nursing him back to health. She continues to run into the Ghost, and as she spends more time with Winter she starts noticing similarities between the two. She discovers Winter’s dangerous secret, and it thrills her to know the two men are one and the same. Well, until little girls are starting to disappear in St. Giles, and Winter risks his life to save them despite the heat that the Ghost of St. Giles is facing from the law. Isabel begs him to give up the Ghost, and Winter must soon decide if he should stay true to his vows to protect the innocent of St. Giles, or give in to the incredible passion he feels with Isabel.
Thief of Shadows is, in my opinion, the best book of the series so far. Winter is a tortured character, but in a unique and different way. He was raised to believe that the best way to conduct his life was to remain rigid and unattached to those around him. It’s only when he dons his Ghost outfit that he feels safe in letting his warm and passionate nature loose. He calls that half of himself the “animal” or the “beast,” but he feels so deeply about everything. Winter is such a swoon worthy hero. He has some of the best lines too, and I practically melted every time he told Isabel how much she meant to him. When they finally made it to the bedroom, Isabel may have started out as the tutor but it didn’t take long for Winter to figure out what he was doing. Again: O_O. Yowza!
What I love most about this series as a whole is how dark and gritty the books are compared to other books in this genre. There are no simpering maidens and ridiculous dukes, and while the the books all have happy endings, the characters have to work hard to get there. St. Giles isn’t a happy and safe place to live, let alone visit, and anyone who spends time there must be tough and strong-willed. Hoyt’s characters are mired in this world of gin sellers, whores and kidnapped children, but they somehow manage to make their own happiness among the dark streets of their home.
My Summary: Have I gushed enough for you yet? Winter and Isabel were truly a fantastic read. I loved the concept of the older, more experienced woman falling in love with younger, less experienced man. The humor in their battle of wills made the story even greater. If you were ever to venture into the world of Regency romance, I highly recommend all of the books in this series, with particular emphasis on Thief of Shadows. Winter is permanently taking a place of honor among my Favorite Heroes Hall of Fame. I LOVED this book!
My Rating: A+