I read this for the Virgin square (heroine is one) for Romance bingo.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Hugh is the bastard son of the King but with the given title of Duke of Kyle, he finds himself existing in two worlds. Tasked with bringing down a secret society called The Lords of Chaos, he finds he'll need some help from an unexpected source.
Alf was born and bred in St. Giles and has masked her true identity as a woman since she was five years old. However, clashing with Hugh has brought desires and thoughts she never knew she could have.
To bring down The Lords of Chaos, Hugh and Alf are going to have to work together and become who they were meant to be all along.
Never let them see you cry, he'd said. Never show them your weakness.
If you've been a frequent Maiden Lane series reader, you'll remember Alf. We've had fleeting glimpses of her and how she has navigated and survived St. Giles. It's hard for me to get excited about the woman dressed as a man trope because of its past frequency but Alf's reasons weren't frivolous, done for comic relief, or scandal. Dressing as a boy was survival for Alf and Hoyt did a great job showing how this seemingly innocuous action emotionally shaped Alf; how it affected her thought processes and how it psychologically wore on her.
I've said it before but I miss how long romance books used to be and I think this particular story would have benefited greatly from a longer page count. The first 40% or so gave us a wonderful building up of Hugh and Alf; we got to know them separately. I cared about these characters and my anticipation for them to come together was only heightened because I had the solid foundation for how right their relationship was going to be. I miss this gradual weaving that seems to be left behind for instant lust and gratification.
Even though I was anxious to see them together, I was a little disappointed when it did happen. Not because I didn't feel they belonged together but because Hugh's love felt a bit instant. He doesn't know Alf is a woman until around the 40% mark and while he knew the Ghost of St. Giles was a woman and felt drawn to her, he didn't know it was Alf. I think he had 3 or 4 encounters with the Ghost, they are sexually attracted to one another but their conversations aren't lengthy or anything. It felt, to me, like a quick loving without knowing because Alf was basically unknown to him.
He admired her even as he feared for her.
I liked the bonus of Alf being the Ghost of St. Giles, even if I felt she didn't get to shine in the role as much as others. I would have liked to have seen more scenes with her and St. Godric. Hugh's support and belief in Alf as a competent being was one of his sexiest attributes and how it was obvious that he completely accepted Alf for who she was. Their star gazing scene was my favorite and I thought beautifully showcased the author's talent for creating two characters that felt so right for one another; even if I felt it was a bit rushed.
I like the villainous Lords of Chaos' storyline but they were somewhat regulated to naked men in animal masks here and I wanted a little more of their workings or stratagems. I hope there's more to their plot than occasional nighttime naked gatherings to unsuccessfully rape women. Don't misunderstand, I'm very glad they're unsuccessful, but there were rumblings about how they infect all of society, even the government; I'd like a new devious plot.
The ending felt a bit awkward to me with a misunderstanding you could see a mile away and a resolution that came super quick. The lack of building conversations between our leads before the love made it feel instant. I want to clarify though, that I felt this couple belonged together, I just wanted more scenes to prove and deepen what I was feeling.
I'll definitely be reading the next in the series because I liked Iris, the heroine of the next, right off the bat and am intrigued by the dark and scarred hero. Hoyt's talent in creating a world and characters can't be denied but I hope she's given more pages to really let them breathe and take off.