This book, like Alf, deserves all the stars in the world! Alf was my favorite secondary character in the Maiden Lane series, and I couldn’t wait for her story. Here it is, and it is everything I could have wanted! She’s the kind of woman I’d love to have as a friend! Loyal, trustworthy, beautiful inside and out! Sweet, strong, smart, and full of heart!
Early in the story when Hugh is still under the impression that she’s a boy, he teasingly asks her what she likes in women, blue eyes, “tits or arse”? She answers that it’s the heart that matters, a woman’s spirit and personality, her humanity, the way she treats others, her laughter, joy, kindness, and caring, and how she perceives the world. But she adds slyly that she prefers dark eyes (like Hugh’s).
Unlike Alf, Hugh is a bit cynical. He doesn’t trust his judgment with women. His love for his first wife was passionate but unhealthy because they fought a lot and eventually she cheated on him. So, he left England for three years doing spy work for the King, and returned after his wife’s death to take care of his sons. Unfortunately, his eldest son resents him and his youngest son has terrible nightmares and tantrums.
Hugh has no idea that Alf is the same Ghost of St Giles who had rescued him from assassins and kissed him in an alley with all her heart, longing, hopes and dreams. When he hires her as an informant to help him dismantle the secret criminal society, the Lords of Chaos, he eventually discovers her true sex and gender. In order to help him, he needs her to be the woman she is inside.
Alf is afraid she can’t be a woman, and even Hugh’s sons, who see her as an ally and friend, dislike her transformation and are afraid that turning her into a woman will change everything that they like about her. Instead, wearing ball gowns, heels, and makeup doesn’t change Alf’s fundamental identity. It isn’t the clothes that make a woman. It isn’t the affected, upper crust accent that make her a lady.
It wasn’t her clothes, her Ghost of St Giles male harlequin costume, that first attracted Hugh to her. It was her courage, wits, strength, generosity, and values. It’s that she saved him, even though she didn’t have to. In their first kiss, she was wearing breeches, but her costume didn’t hide from him her womanly curves and softness.
If Alf has any flaws, it’s her insecurity about not being feminine or woman enough, which is something I think all women can relate to. That she wouldn’t fit in Hugh’s world, because she isn’t a proper lady, whatever that means. Because being a woman really is one of the hardest things in the world. She speaks bluntly and sometimes uncouthly, but despite her hardships in life, she hasn’t abandoned her hopes and dreams, because without them she believes there’s no point in living. She’s mischievous, not hopeless. And though she’s sad that she might never have a man like Hugh to love forever, she doesn’t pity herself.
To Hugh’s credit, he doesn’t pity her either. He sees her as his equal, fully capable of taking care of herself, though he worries about her safety because she’s so independent. Yet, he needs to put her in dangerous situations due to their mission, because she’s the only person who can do the job. He’s afraid of the wildness she brings out of him, that kind of passion he had for his first wife, but he also revels in that sense of freedom and uninhibited delight he and Alf share.
As Alf integrates all the fragments of her personality, the experiences of her youth living as a boy on the gritty streets of St Giles, explores and liberates the woman she has been hiding, she also helps to heal the rift between father and sons. I loved how Alf was a hero not only to the people she protects in St Giles but also to the people she loves and who become her family.
Hugh is everything she has ever wanted and never thought she would ever have. And I loved how determined she was to have him! And most importantly she believed that she deserved him! Alf is a woman who knows what she wants, what she deserves, and isn’t afraid to ask for it. I loved her backstory and the special friendship that had helped her survive her childhood. It was sad but precious and showed how Alf didn’t take for granted her blessings in life. She knows what’s important in life. It’s a lesson she teaches to Hugh.
Alf makes Hugh a better man, and makes his world, like those of the people she rescues, a better place. This book was so emotional for me. I loved all their special moments, their sweet, passionate kisses under the stars on rooftops where Alf flies, their treasured and intimate lovemaking, their hot and spontaneous sexy times. And I loved how Hugh didn’t try to change her, but loved her just the way she is.
There was so much poetry and romance in this novel. I loved the metaphor of flying, freedom and hope. I liked that it wasn’t as dark and angsty as previous novels in the series and that Alf was the best kind of hero, saving lives and helping people because she cared and it was the right thing to do! Alf is such a good person I love her so much! And I am so happy that Hugh made her happy and she got the happy ever after she deserved.
I loved this book so much I plan to purchase a print copy for my collection of favorite romance novels ever, and maybe the audiobook too 🙂
DUKE OF PLEASURE is by far my favorite Maiden Lane novel (though I could be biased because I’ve loved Alf from the moment I met her). Once I started reading it, I didn’t want to put it down.
IMO, DUKE OF PLEASURE is the best book in the series, which ought to be developed for TV. The Maiden Lane series has lots of adventure, romance, intrigue, passion and sensuality, heroes, heroines, and villains, in an immersive, interconnected world, conquering social divides, simply by being human or in some cases discovering their humanity for the first time.
I highly recommend DUKE OF PLEASURE and the Maiden Lane series with all the stars in the world!
*ARC received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.