Series: Maiden Lane #11
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 29th 2016
“When had the Ghost of St. Giles become a woman?”
FINAL DECISION: Loved! Loved! Loved! Immediately one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. Alf is an amazing character — cynical and world wise and yet hopeful, gentle and innocent in a way that touches and changes the heart of a man who doesn’t want to hope. Alf’s also a kickass hero in her own right and Hugh is a man who can appreciate her.
THE STORY: Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle is the bastard son of the King. Returning to England after years abroad, Hugh is trying to rebuild his relationship with his sons after his wife’s death. He has spent much of his adult life doing “tasks” for the English Crown. His latest is to destroy the Lords of Chaos — a group of depraved aristocrats who prey on women and children. When Hugh is attacked in the dangerous St. Giles area of London it looks like his luck has run out until he is rescued by the Ghost of St. Giles. Hugh is thankful for the help but is amazed when he discovers that the Ghost is a woman.
Alf is 21 year old woman who has protected herself in St. Giles by living her life as a boy. During the day, she is the street rat informant who makes her living getting information. At night, she becomes the Ghost of St. Giles to protect the innocent. When she rescues Hugh, she can’t resist stealing a kiss.
OPINION: I absolutely loved this book. I consumed this book in one quick gulp — reading late into the night. But even more, I didn’t want to leave it behind. I normally read a book a day…but this book lingered for me. I felt compelled to revisit parts and I essentially almost re-read it in its entirety. Beautiful, exciting, adventurous, deep and meaningful and just plain fun. This one has moved onto my favorite of 2016 list for sure.
A book about longing for connection, for being known as ones true self, for belonging, for hope and dreams, this is a book that grabbed me from the first to the last page. Sometimes a book soars because of the characters (and this one does) and sometimes it soars because it has something significant to say about the human condition (and this one does) and sometimes it is just a good exciting adventure (and this one is).
“At night she was the Ghost of St. Giles. She protected the people of St. Giles — her people, living in the big, dark woods. She ran out the monsters — the murderers, rapists and robbers. And she flew over the roofs of the city by moonlight, free and wild. During the day she was Alf, a boy. She made her living dealing in information. She listened and learned, and if you wanted to know who was running pickpocket boys and girls in Covent Gardens or which doxies had the clap or even what magistrate could be bought and for how much, she could tell you and would — for a price.”
Alf has been a longtime presence in this series. She is an informant, a information rat. If you want to know something, Alf is your “man”. Having worked for many of the characters in the series, she has loyalty to those who pay her, but looks out for herself.
As this book begins, Alf has also become the Ghost of St. Giles. As has been true with each “Ghost” in the series, Alf has her own reasons for taking on the role. Forced to hide herself in her role as Alf for most of her life, Alf finds a freedom in being the Ghost. It allows her to be a different self than she appears as Alf. Reckless, daring, free. It is entirely fitting that Alf first kisses Hugh as the Ghost because while her face is masked as the Ghost, her femininity is not. As Alf, she binds her breasts and acts as masculine as possible. It is as the Ghost, that her breasts are unbound and she is free to act on her attraction to Hugh.
What Alf is not free to be is a woman. The world is a dangerous place for a woman.
Remarkably, while Alf is worldly and cynical (having grown up on the streets), she has been able to retain a sense of innocence, dreams, and hope. It is those qualities which most appeal to Hugh.
“He wanted her worldly cynicism and her innocent wonder.”
Hugh is a man who has learned to not want too much. He has learned that wanting can only lead to disappointment. For Hugh, every promise of happiness had actually been problematic. He is a king’s son who grew up without a father. He found love and married the woman he wanted, only to end up estranged from her and his children.
His attraction to Alf is something Hugh inherently distrusts.
“He didn’t want to know her. Didn’t want to care about her, didn’t want to worry about her, didn’t want to long for her.”
Yet, Hugh is helpless before the reality of Alf. She is more than he ever could have imagined. Hugh is a generous caring hero and he is captivated by those same qualities in Alf along with her wildness, her intelligence and her ability to see beauty and hope in the world.
“He and she were more alike than she ever would’ve guessed, that first time she’d seen him”
Hugh and Alf seem to be opposites as the book begins and yet they have an essential sameness which attracts them to one another. There is a real sense of camaraderie between them as they work together to take down the Lords of Chaos. There is a swashbuckling feel to this book that had me completely enthralled.
This book has a tremendous amount of energy because of their adventures. There is a sense of wildness and freedom and a real pull of these two together as they fight and scheme and puzzle their way through the mystery of the book. Hugh truly respects Alf’s abilities. She is a skilled swordswoman and a clever thief. She is strong and fearless and sometimes reckless. While Hugh wants to protect her, he doesn’t try because he knows she had incredible skills. I loved that about Hugh. He demonstrates true respect for her as a person throughout this book.
While I loved all those aspects to this book, what kept me thinking about this book all day was how Hugh and Alf are revealed and exposed to one another. Hugh is a man who appears on the surface the perfect cold duke and yet Alf discovers that he is an incredibly loving father, a man who gives money to his commoner relatives but eschews requests from the aristocratic ones. Hugh discovers Alf’s secrets and asks the one thing she wants and fears — for her to publicly become a woman. Hugh wants and needs all of Alf — boy urchin, Ghost and woman.
I loved Alf, loved Hugh and loved the excitement and adventure of the story of this book. Hoyt has a beautiful and lyrical quality to her writing which tugs on my heart and makes me warm and happy.
I loved, loved, loved this book!
WORTH MENTIONING: This book also sets up the next book which is advertised as being the final in the series.
CONNECTED BOOKS: DUKE OF PLEASURE is the eleventh book in the Maiden Lane series. Normally, I recommend reading these books in context, but I think a new reader could read this book as a standalone.
STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars!