RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

A+

Title: Duke of Midnight
Author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Publication Info: Grand Central Publishing October 2013
ISBN: 978-1455508341
Genre: Historical: European

Book Duke of Midnight This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Pam G. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Historical Romance category.

The summary:

WHEN A MASKED MAN . . .

Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe—and won't back down . . .

MEETS HIS MATCH . . .

Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .

DESIRE IGNITES A DANGEROUS PASSION

Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

And here is Pam G.'s review:

The Books on Sale posts here at SBTB will be the death of me one of these days.  Typically, I become hooked on a series and either go nuts with non-sale priced ebooks or cheap and cheerful used books.  Either puts a strain on the exchequer.  If the series is long, those purchases can become monster time-suckers as well.  All this is by way of admitting that Elizabeth Hoyt’s Wicked Intentions hooked me neatly into the Maiden Lane series and made reading Duke of Midnight inevitable.  But it was so worthwhile.

The Maiden Lane series tickles my fancy in a number of ways, and Duke of Midnight scores on all these points.  The series is set primarily in London during the Georgian era.  Most of the historical romance that I read is set in either the Regency or Victorian periods.  While I enjoy the more mannered style of 19th century society, the 18th seems to have more latitude for the swash and the buckle.  And I do love me some swash & buckle.  I like that Hoyt portrays this era with a more 21st century sensibility than some older romances set in Georgian times.   The heroines are strong and smart; the heroes not given to over-the-top alphholiness; and there is an awareness of the social milieu that avoids preachiness—all qualities I deeply appreciate.  Although I’m a fan of the series, I think that, particularly as an award nominee, a novel should work well on its own, and Duke of Midnight succeeds very well as a standalone.

Duke of Midnight opens in St. Giles, one of the worst slums in London.  We are introduced to the somewhat featherheaded Lady Penelope Chadwicke and her stalwart lady’s companion, Artemis Greaves, as they are set upon by random ruffians in the street.  Artemis is just pulling a knife out of her boot—as you do—when the ladies are rescued by –ta-dah!—a mysterious masked man in harlequin garb.  With biiiggg swords.  And a biiigggg nose on the mask.  Enter the Ghost of St. Giles!

Clearly this is not purely a drawing room piece, and if any uncertainty remains, the second scene is set in the Duke of Wakefield’s sub-sub-sub-basement, where he is in training for his nightly excursions across the rickety rooftops of the slums as the Ghost.  Much is revealed through his conversation with his faithful valet/henchman, Alfr—no, Craven.  It becomes really obvious really quickly that the only thing missing for the complete Bat-vibe is a Boy Wonder.   Fancy costume and weapons?  Check.   Bat/Ghost cave?  Check.  Elderly servant/mentor?  Check.  Wealthy, powerful alter ego?  Check.  Parents murdered before his childish eyes?  Check.  Mission to avenge their deaths?  Check.  Guano-ton of grief and guilt?  Checkity-check.  The parallels to the whole Bat-thing are so marked that, at first, the reader has no way of knowing whether to expect satire, sly cultural references, over-the-top melodrama, or all three.

I have to admit, the blatant Battiness made me snicker this time around, though I didn’t actually remember it from my first reading of the novel.  However, as I continued to read, I came to feel that the whole superhero trope was a way of framing a theme that threads through the story.  Both Maximus (the Duke) and Artemis have complicated multi-layered identities.  The ultra-responsible Duke plays an obvious role as the Ghost.  As the Duke, Maximus is driven to find the villain who took his parents from him and to rid St. Giles of its primary evil, gin.  He pursues these goals by day as a skilled, if rather cold-blooded politician, as well as by night with his harlequin’s motley and double swords.  Even his courtship of Lady Penelope furthers his political and ducal goals.  At all times, he maintains a rather frightening control over his emotions and never reveals his inner life even to his family.  He comes across as rigid and blinded with only the occasional flash of self-mockery to belie appearances.  Only Artemis eventually recognizes all his personas and begins to understand the man beneath the masks.

It’s clear from the beginning that Artemis has far more substance than a mere lady’s companion, but as the story unfolds, we learn that the hidden Artemis is infinitely more complex than the typical heroine with the standard troubled childhood.  Artemis’ role as Penelope’s companion hides a woman who grew up in an unstable and poverty-stricken household that allowed her an unconventional yet untrammeled childhood.  Her skills are practical rather than refined, and she harbors a love of the countryside that she can no longer indulge.  Like Maximus, her existence is driven by duty, her need to help her brother who has been accused of a bloody multiple murder and confined to Bedlam.  She accepts the constraints of her existence, but she is never unaware that she is constrained.  Both she and Maximus share this trait, and this bond may be what enables each to see beneath the other’s public facade.  Artemis uses her cleverness to hide in plain sight, but Maximus “sees” her from the very first chapter.

I really like Maximus and Artemis.  Too often when duty and obligation are the forces keeping the hero and heroine apart, those supposedly noble virtues come off as dull and dreary compared to the emotions—often unrecognized, unacknowledged, or just resented—that make them lovers.  Maximus and Artemis are as passionate about their responsibilities as they are about each other.  These opposed passions create a much more believable conflict than cookie cutter “issues.”  Both Maximus and Artemis have serious responsibilities to others that must come first. They also have a pretty clear eyed understanding of their own motives and situation; their major blind spots have to do with the depth and seriousness of their feelings for each other.  Maximus has an extremely dry, self-deprecating sense of humor that manifests in little sparks of sarcasm.

“And then he was aware that he was no longer alone.

His heart certainly did not leap at her presence.”

‘Course it didn’t, Max.

Ms. Hoyt gradually reveals the different layers of her characters’ personalities with her adept staging of the novel’s action and interactions.  There are a lot of great scenes in this book.  The author is a descriptive maven.  For instance, the scenes set in Bedlam are vivid yet harrowing.  St. Giles & the Duke’s subterranean gym are wonderful settings, full of atmosphere and menace.  The final chapters are full of disaster and drama and peril.  Ironically, though I love the buckle and swash, for me, some of the best scenes unfold in the middle of the book, when Artemis accompanies Lady Penelope to a house party at the Duke’s estate.  Most of the action actually takes place out of doors, but it involves a wider cast of characters, and places our hero and heroine more in their social milieu.  It also takes them outside that milieu with a series of early morning encounters between the Duke and the lady’s companion. 

Both the predawn hour and the natural setting are a vital escape for Artemis.  She expects to encounter no one else as she enjoys the unfettered experience of nature.  Inevitably, she meets the Duke as he too seeks a few moments of freedom on an early morning walk.  A lovely scene, this dawn encounter.  Artemis is by far the more self-possessed during a conversation ranging from the Duke’s tragic past to fairy tales and follies.  Barefoot, she commands his attention, his dogs, his reluctant respect.  The secret identity concept manifests again, as Maximus begins to see her as her goddess namesake, yet, with typical stubborn dukiness, renames her as her more staid Roman counterpart. 

These scenes are beautifully rendered.  Sexual tension ratchets up incrementally through each encounter, but the build is delicate and precise.  No insta-boner or suddenly sodden for Ms. Hoyt’s protagonists.  Instead, the reader is offered perfect moments, perfectly described.

“She tilted her head back to eye the top of the little building, and the long line of her pale throat was caught in a beam of sunlight.  A pulse beat delicately in the soft juncture of her neck and collarbone. 

He looked away.”

How much more effective is this tiny passage than the constant reiteration of obvious physical response?  Sometimes there is just nothing sexier than restraint.  When they finally do the deed, there is more than a sufficiency of hotness, but no sense of “Insert sex scene here.”  Love-making is serious, sensuous, and integrated into the narrative.  Best of all, it is the result of Artemis’ clear-headed choice, not some form of aggression on the part of the Duke.  Artemis knows there will be consequences, and she accepts them.

Obviously, there is a lot more I could say about this book, but I’ve probably already said too much.  I do want to note that the secondary characters are drawn with the same degree of precision and detail as the central couple.  Lady Penelope could so easily be a stereotype, but even her foolishness and self-absorption are portrayed in a surprisingly sympathetic manner.  Artemis’ tortured brother, Apollo , Maximus’s half blind sister,  Phoebe, Phoebe’s companion, Bathilda, even the dogs all have distinct, highly individual personalities.  If there is a flaw, it is perhaps in the presentation of the villain.  Though a mystery underlies the action from the beginning, that mystery is mostly hinted at in the first half of the book and really only takes off in the second half after the relationship between Maximus and Artemis is established.  The mystery is unraveled with fireworks and derring-do, but the bad guy seems a little one dimensional in contrast to the high passions of the various good guys.  He also splices the various sub-plots a tad too conveniently.  Part of the reason for this impression may be that he is fully introduced so late in the story, causing the ending to seem a little rushed.  Overall, the problem is a minor one, but worth noting as it is the one thing keeping me from giving an A+ grade.

Duke of Midnight is far more than an excellent offering in the Maiden Lane series.  It is a beautifully crafted, gripping read in its own right, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys an historical novel that transports the reader fully to a place and time where powerful and passionate characters flourish in an atmosphere of swashbuckling derring-do.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Karin says:

    Fabulous review! Hoyt is an auto-read for me, but you are so articulate about what we love about her books. Duke of Midnight is already on my TBR list, but it was nice to see what I have to look forward to.

  2. 2
    CynaraM says:

    I really dug this book; I found the pop-culture parallels delightful, and internally called our hero Regency-Batman from early pages.  I did find that it ended a bit abruptly – I suppose the unresolved threads will find their ways into future books? 

    Most of all, the book had a fresh feel to it.  The specificity of the characters, the outdoor scenes, and the unusual plot and character elements made this a compelling and delightful read, and very deserving of the A rating!

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