Oct 10 2013 9:30am

First Look: Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke of Midnight (October 15, 2013)

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth HoytElizabeth Hoyt
Duke of Midnight
Grand Central / October 15, 2013 / $8.00 print / $7.59 digital

Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe-and won't back down . . .

Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .

Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” —Janis Joplin

Artemis Greaves has very few freedoms left to her. She is a companion whose position may or may not exist after her employer marries. Her brother is wrongly imprisoned in Bedlam for the murder of three men. With no private resources, her future seems entirely bleak. What Artemis does have is the freedom to observe, reflect, and occasionally speak and act. Her confrontation with the Ghost of St. Giles unlocks her inner strength and intelligence. When Artemis reluctantly accompanies her cousin into the bowels of St. Giles, however, no amount of strength or intelligence will protect her entirely. Even so, she refuses to be criticized by the Ghost for what she sees as an act of protective allegiance (even though Penelope’s desire for rotgut gin is entirely whimsical, verging on daft).

Within the genre, we’ve been here before—a compelling duke meets a demure lady’s companion—and somehow they find each other and fall in love. What makes Duke of Midnight an authentic story of two people meant to be together rather than a clichéd retelling of a common trope? Elizabeth Hoyt subtly weaves a story where two very different people turn out to have a lot in common. Artemis and Maximus are both living in the shadows. He plays the Ghost of St. Giles by night and she plays the pliant demure companion by day.

As Artemis sadly recalls, when a mysterious man in a harlequin costume rescues her and her cousin from danger, “Once upon a time she had believed that most people were kind. That God watched over her…” In that first scene, it is Artemis’s misery and sense of her own powerlessness that makes her confession so believable. With nothing to lose, her analytical brain emboldens her to make a thorough assessment of her rescuer. When “he launched himself at the three men, Artemis stared, still kneeling, her hand gripping the little blade sheathed in her boot.” Whether duke or ghost, Maximus is unaccustomed to being sized up, certainly not by a drab mouse of a companion.

“His wide mouth twitched—in amusement? Irritation? Pity? She doubted the last, but she simply couldn’t tell—and bizarrely, she wanted to.”

It is telling that Artemis hedges with the word “bizarrely.” To her own mind, it is bizarre that she wants to explore the sexual frisson which surrounds her encounters with the taciturn rescuer—turned—duke. In the past she would have let fear for her brother overrule her desires. But a ticklish interest in an attractive, articulate man (somewhat reminiscent of Mary thinking about Vidal in Heyer’s Devil’s Cub) along with an intelligent woman’s desire to live—not just exist—cause her inner cauldron to simmer and boil.

Even before Artemis and Maximus see, really see each other and start their tentative, entrancing courtship dance and blackmail pas de deux, Artemis’s quiet façade start to crack. To onlookers, “…she must be a dark little troll. Her gown had been made the first year that she’d come to live with Penelope and the earl,” but she is tired of being defined by drab gray and brown. When we meet Artemis she’s at the crossroads of her young life. With no likelihood of marriage and children, she is being encouraged to accept her fate as the relative in the background, living on the scraps of familial ties and loyalty. Those urging Artemis’s quiescence are not unkind, but they’ve made their own compromises with their situation and so should she. Artemis is beginning to fight against that fate, as we see here, “Artemis held very still because she had a quite mad urge to tear sweet Miss Picklewood’s hand from her leg. To stand up and scream.”

Accepting that both characters present a façade to the outside world, we realize both have become trapped in their roles. As the story unfolds, Maximus gradually realizes he wants more from life than revenge, while Artemis allows herself to hope for the rewards—along with the accompanying societal dangers—of embracing carpe diem, grasping “the reins of her own life, however hobbled.” In order for that to happen, they need to shed their camouflage. Artemis doesn’t even pretend to ignore the duke’s surveillance and investigation of her and Penelope, particularly since Maximus thinks the wealthy and beautiful Penelope might make an eminently suitable duchess. For instance, Artemis shoots Maximus a sharp glance and tears at him for his pretense that he doesn’t know everything about her family situation, “But then you already know that. My brother is notorious and you’re the type of man to find out all he can.”

Suspicion soon turns to hot, heated, fevered glances, as when Artemis “stared into the gaze of a tiger and knew, even as she watched the cat retreat into the camouflage of a gentleman” that her duke was intent on having her. And he was becoming obsessed, to the point of public madness, “The corner of her lush mouth quirked in her not-smile, and he had a black urge to take her hand and pull her into the copse.”

So often in historical romance the heroine is transformed by attractive clothes or a bewitching coiffure, but not so in Duke of Midnight. After a ladies’ shooting demonstration, Maximus notices a bunch of arrows “clustered together at the center of the red circle. Miss Greaves, who “did not shoot,” was a better shot than all the other ladies.” It is her secret skill, hidden like so much about her, that entices the duke. Artemis embraces his fervor with passion of her own. It was “that whirlpool pulling her in, sweeping away all the doubts and fears and sorrow, all her thoughts … She felt nothing but exultation at the prospect. To finally live.”

A rather overused phrase comes to mind when thinking about the love between Artemis and Maximus—YOLO. You only live once. When you only live once, why not exult at the prospect of love?

Learn more or order a copy of Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt, out October 15, 2013:

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Janet Webb

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
I was already biased towards loving this, since I think Elizabeth Hoyt is a fabulous writer, but this just makes it sound so good. I can't wait to dive in. Thanks, Janet!
2. Torifl
Lovely first look, Janet. Though it took me awhile to warm up to Maximus, I found the romance enchanting. Hoyt coninues to make this a delicious series.
Mary Beth Bass
3. marybeth
Fabulous first look, Janet! I adore Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series and I can't wait to read DUKE OF MIDNIGHT.
Janet Webb
4. JanetW
Elizabeth Hoyt definitely knows how to reel in a reader. I liked the decisiveness of the heroine--as "delicious" as Maximus was, it was Artemis who intrigued me.
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