Narrated by Ashford McNab
All good things must come to an end, and here we are, at the end (almost – I think there are a couple of novellas to follow) of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series with the twelfth and final full-length novel, Duke of Desire. I’ve read some of the novels and listened to others (and in many cases, done both) and there’s no doubt that Ms. Hoyt has maintained an incredibly high standard of storytelling throughout the series, gifting us with some wonderful stories, plenty of action and adventure, a group of memorable characters – gorgeous, sexy heroes to sigh over and their equally gorgeous and sexy ladies to envy – and her own brand of steamy, earthy and heartfelt romance. Duke of Desire brings us all of those things, although I’ll say now that anyone expecting a big reunion between all the protagonists from the other eleven books is going to be disappointed, because this isn’t that sort of story, and in fact, I’m glad of it. To have brought back all the earlier heroes and heroines would have been too much and actually, rather implausible, and I’m glad that this book concentrates on a new hero and heroine and gives them their chance to shine.
At the end of the previous book, Duke of Pleasure, Iris, Lady Jordan was abducted from the wedding of her friend, the Duke of Kyle. Days later, she finds herself in the middle of some sort of Bacchanalian revel, surrounded by men wearing animal masks – and nothing else – who are intent on using her as a sacrifice. When a chance of escape presents itself, Iris immediately takes it and, still in fear for her life, shoots the man whom, she later learns, had actually been trying to rescue her. He reveals himself (well, his face anyway!) to be Raphael de Chartres, Duke of Dyemore, and explains that he has infiltrated the secret society, the Lords of Chaos, with the intention of exposing their identities and putting an end, once and for all, to their depraved practices. Listeners to earlier books in the series will recall that Dyemore’s father had once been a leader of the Lords, and that in Duke of Pleasure, the Duke of Kyle had been charged by the king to bring down the society and had almost succeeded.
Raphael is badly wounded and instructs his coachman to make for Dyemore Abbey, the home at which he spends as little time as possible because of the horrible memories that await him there. But it’s close and he needs time to recover before he faces the Lords again; he can’t afford to show any weakness if he is to protect Iris from them while he figures out his next move… which, he quickly decides, is to make her his wife. Raphael is surrounded by a group of fiercely loyal servants from Corsica who will defend him to the death, and such loyalty and devotion will automatically be extended to Iris if she is his duchess. With everything happening so quickly, and the threat to her safety a very real one, Iris can’t see any other alternative and agrees, even though this is certainly not the way she’d envisaged ending her widowhood.
The story this revolves around two different elements; Raphael’s self-imposed mission to expose the identities of the Lords of Chaos – a secret society so secret that even its members don’t know each other’s identities –and the developing relationship between Iris and Raphael, which certainly has a lot of obstacles to overcome. Duke of Desire goes to some pretty dark places and the conflict in the relationship arises because Iris had hoped, after a loveless first marriage, to find love and create a family while Raphael, who has been emotionally crippled as the result of terrible childhood trauma, regards himself as the progeny of a monster and has no wish to pass on his tainted genes.
It’s clear from early on that Raphael has been more than half in love with Iris since he first met her, even though he doesn’t realise it. He wants her desperately but refuses to bed her – not only because he doesn’t want to risk creating a child, but because he doesn’t want the intimacy it will likely engender and because he believes he doesn’t deserve to be happy. Iris is most certainly physically attracted to her darkly brooding, sexy husband and is bewildered when he makes it clear that even though he intends to sleep beside her he doesn’t intend to do anything else in bed with her.
But Iris isn’t prepared to forego the things she wants most from life without good reason; she challenges Raphael to allow her to care for him and love him – and to tell her the truths she knows he is holding back. He stubbornly refuses to let her in, fearing he will lose her once she knows what a disgusting creature she has married, and unwilling to taint her by sharing such dark and horrible secrets with her. And while Raphael and Iris are struggling with the nature of their feelings for one another and with the seemingly unsurmountable gulf lying between them, Raphael is getting closer to discovering the identity of the Dionysus – the leader of the Lords of Chaos – and putting an end to the group and its depraved activities once and for all.
Duke of Desire is an intense and gripping story that is firmly focused on the progression of the central relationship while also picking up threads from the previous two books and wrapping them up. I admit that I’m not wild about the “You are so pure; I will not sully you with my filthiness” thing that Raphael has going on, but I enjoyed the story overall even though, as I said earlier, it is quite dark in places, possibly the darkest of all the books in the series. Raphael is a deeply traumatised man, and while he does eventually allow Iris to break through his barriers, it’s clear that he still has a way to go and a lot of adjustments to make if he is to come out the other side. But it’s also clear that with the woman he loves by his side, he’s going to get there.
Ashford McNab has been the voice of Maiden Lane for ten of the twelve books in the series, and while I’ve had some issues with certain aspects of her performances, for the most part, I’ve enjoyed her work. Her pacing is a little on the slow side – but not overly so – and she has a habit of overdoing the dramatic pauses, but her narrations are always very expressive and well-acted. She adopts age and station appropriate vocal characterisations for the female characters – in this book, that’s just Iris and a couple of Raphael’s Corsican servants, who are given appropriately European sounding accents. But as I’ve said before, her heroes are less well-rendered; they tend to have an ‘Eeyore-ish’ quality about them, a nasal drawl that isn’t especially attractive (and they all sound the same), and Ms. McNab’s repertoire of male voices in general is quite limited. There are several male speaking roles in this story, and while the Corsican servants are differentiated by accent, the listener will sometimes need to rely on dialogue tags to work out which of the other male characters is speaking. Ultimately, however, none of those things interfered with my enjoyment of the story to any great degree, and I’m sure fans of the series will be pleased with this final instalment.
Duke of Desire is a well-written, compelling story featuring a couple of captivating central characters, a steamy romance and an intriguing plot. Ms. Hoyt has done us proud over the last few years in creating such an enthralling set of stories, and I’m looking forward to whatever she comes up with next.
Note: the narrator’s name for this book at Audible/Amazon is spelled Ashford McNab which is a pseudonym; this narrator also uses the spelling MacNab, apparently interchangeably. The Maiden Lane series is “McNab”.
TITLE: Duke of Desire
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hoyt
NARRATED BY: Ashford McNab
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt on Amazon