5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Honestly? I wasn’t overly impressed with the plot blurb, but this was wonderfully written, plotted and paced, with the romance, drama and action all very-well balanced. We’ve got a regency-era batman story (complete with joker/villain-who-murdered-parents, Alfred-like-valet, and a training grounds). He’s a believably compelling character who only sometimes allows himself to become maudlin about what he “owes” to the duchy. Artemis, his eventual lover and love interest is believably layered as well: she clings to the background because it’s what’s expected of her, as a companion, but has streaks of boldness that are believable and surprisingly not-overdone. Their initial passion, followed by emotional entanglement is well-crafted and very satisfying.
Maximus Batten, the current Duke of Wakefield, witnessed his parents being robbed and muders two decades ago. Via mysterious circumstances that aren’t fully explained in this novel (I believe it’s a series that the explanation is probably more detailed in one of the earlier novels), he becomes trained in combat (very, very well trained) and begins moonlighting as a bit of a justice fighter (though his real point is to find and capture the murderer of his parents).
Artemis, meanwhile, is acting as a companion to her spoilt, beautiful, heiress cousin. Her twin brother Apollo has literally been locked up in Bedlam this past four years. When Artemis meets the Ghost of St. Giles (the vigilante identity Maximus moonlights under) she doesn’t initially realize who he is, even though she accidentally acquires his signet ring (she’s in no position to recognize what, exactly, it is).
When she eventually figures out his real (daytime identity) she decides it’s the perfect opportunity to finally have her brother rescued from his living hell. She blackmails the duke… and we’re off!
This is not normally the type of plot I think I’d enjoy. But the story and characters are so believable that you’re just kind of drawn along, nodding, smiling, enjoying, and before you realize it the book is over! None of the misunderstandings or awkward moments are too drawn out, the action sequences are just-right in duration, and we totally believe that these two (completely different) people are increasingly drawn to each other.
My one small quibble (spoils ahead) is that the he-has-to-marry-for-duty was a little less-believable than the rest, but kind-of understandable, and for once, I felt like the villain was not completely obvious (it’s guess-able, for sure, but she keeps you wondering about your guess…)
We’re also given a great cast of truly memorable characters, from her pampered cousin, to another, aging duke who’s single-mindedly pursuing the cousin, the Alfred-like-valet, and the tortured-soul-twin-brother.
A great read, and definitely intrigues me enough that I’ll have to go track down the rest of the series.