Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt made me remember how much I loved her "Prince" series. After the rather uneven offerings in her "Four Soldiers" series and a few "meh" ones in her Maiden Lane series, I was ready to throw in the towel. Though one outstanding book in a rather lengthy list of disappointing ones doesn't automatically add this author back to my "auto-buy" list, it does go a long way toward adding her to my "wait and see" list. I'm not giving up just yet.
Artemis Greaves has been one of my favorite characters in this series since the first time she quietly stepped on stage, her arms full of her obnoxious cousin's shopping. There has always been a quiet strength that made her shine brightly in the background, an undaunted spirit that allowed her to fetch and tote for Lady Penelope while maintaining a gracious demeanor. At one time I envisioned her as the perfect mate for Winter Makepeace, but, alas, that didn't happen. Artemis is far from flamboyant, and appears to blend perfectly into the woodwork. Indeed, as far as Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield is concerned, Artemis is nothing more than "that invisible little woman who trails her (Penelope) everywhere like a pale wraith." (Lord of Darkness) But that changes one night in St. Giles when footpads attempt to assault Lady Penelope and Artemis only to be thwarted by the Ghost of St. Giles, aka Maximus. I wouldn't have bet on Artemis's ability to defend herself prior to Duke of Midnight, but she is a delightfully brave, fearsome surprise.
"Artemis Greaves did not like to think herself a cynical person, but when the masked figure dropped into the moonlit alley to confront the three toughs already menacing her and her cousin, the hand on the knife in her boot tightened. It seemed only prudent."
Unlike Penelope, Artemis is prepared to do battle against the Ghost of St. Giles, and her temerity is an eye-opening experience for Max.
"Even before last night he’d been aware of Miss Greaves trailing her cousin, always in concealing colors—brown or gray—like a sparrow in the wake of a parrot. She hardly spoke—at least within his hearing—and had mastered the art of quiet watchfulness. She made no move to draw any attention to herself at all. Until last night. She’d dared to draw a knife on him in the worst part of London, had stared him in the eye without any fear at all, and it was as if she stepped into the light. Suddenly her form was clear, standing out from the crowd around them. He saw her. Saw the calm, oval face and the entirely ordinary feminine features—ordinary save for the large, rather fine dark gray eyes. Her brown hair was pulled into a neat knot at her nape, her long, pale fingers laced calmly at her waist. He saw her and the realization was vaguely disturbing." (p. 35)
Max's restrained demeanor is all tangled up restoring his honor and avenging his parents' murder. Every year of those 19 years since that night has been all about Max righting a wrong: being a Duke his father would admire and finding the man who killed his parents. Max's every action, thought, and emotion is evaluated, examined and, if judged inadequate/unsuitable, discarded. That's how he finds himself courting the wrong woman, and it's what keeps him chained to that course of action no matter the cost. The end result is that the real Max has retreated behind the mask of the Duke of Wakefield and as the Ghost of St. Giles. People are deferential to the powerful Duke, and the evil-doers in St. Giles curse him even as they fear his spectral wrath. But no one, not one person, sees or knows that Max loves fishing or putting on old ratty clothes and walking the family estate early in the morning with his dogs. That Max has been pushed/shoved so far beneath his public faces, no one can find him. Ironically, Max inadvertently hands over the means of unmasking both those personas to a woman whom he has never noticed before: Artemis.
What fascinated me throughout Duke of Midnight was the way both Max and Artemis are revealed to each other. It is in the knowing that there is genuine loving of another. Max doesn't quite comprehend how fraught Artemis's life as a companion is until one conversation. But even beneath his puzzlement resonates a deep abiding knowledge of the woman Artemis is.
“Meet them, yes. Have a true conversation?” She shook her head. “Gentlemen have no reason to talk to ladies such as I. Not unless their intentions are less than honorable.”
He took a step toward her, almost as if the movement was involuntary. “You’ve been accosted by men?”
“It’s the way of the world, isn’t it? My position makes me vulnerable. Those that are strong will always go after those they think are weak.” She shrugged. “But it isn’t often, and in any case I’ve been able to fend for myself.”
“You aren’t weak.” It was a statement, final and without doubt. She found his conviction flattering.
“Most would think me so.”
“Most would be wrong.” (pp. 49-50)
Yes, indeed. Most are wrong. Her strength shines through her unwavering belief in and love for her twin brother, Apollo, and his in her. There is absolutely nothing she wouldn't do to free him from the asylum, including attempting to blackmail Max. Artemis recognizes an answering strength in Max as he relates the events leading up to his parents's murders:
"He glanced up at her and somehow he’d come back to himself, contained all that terrible sorrow and anger and fear, enough to make ten strong men fall down like babes. Maximus held it all inside of him and straightened his shoulders, his chin level, and Artemis couldn’t understand it—where he got the strength to hide that awful, bloody wound in his soul—but she admired him for it.
Admired him and loved him." (pp. 317-318)
She sees, truly sees, the man beneath the office of Duke of Wakefield as well as the man beneath the Harlequin costume:
"She saw a news sheet, a letter from an earl mentioning a bill before parliament, a letter in a much less refined hand pleading for monies to send a boy to school, and a scrap of paper with what looked like the beginnings of a speech in a bold hand—Maximus’s, presumably. For a moment Artemis studied the speech, tracing the words and feeling warm as she followed the clear points he laid out in making his argument.
She laid aside the paper and saw the corner of a thin book peeking out from under one pile. Carefully, she pulled it out and looked at the title. It was a treatise on fishing. Artemis raised her brows. No doubt Maximus had scores of streams on his properties, but did he ever have time to fish? The thought sent a pang of melancholy through her. Did he sneak peeks at his fishing book in between all his duties? If so, it shed a curiously vulnerable light upon the Duke of Wakefield. (pp. 240-241)
The Ghost of St. Giles plot thread was given new life in Duke of Midnight. This time, there was no resurrected "lassie snatcher" story line. Instead, the Ghost is after a truly evil villain by the name of "Old Scratch", and the mystery and hunt for him fits in perfectly with Max's search for redemption and forgiveness. I did scratch my head at one point in the final confrontation between the Ghost and "Old Scratch" when Artemis does something inane, and Max has the romantic hero's expected dramatic realization to give up revenge for true love.
Artemis's fondness for Penelope was a source of amazement to me. While Apollo and Artemis have a mutual love and respect for each other, the only one Penelope loves is herself. Penelope has never been less than irritating with every appearance. Everything she does screams selfish, self-centered, and, at times, stupid or downright hateful. Like her appalling suggestion to Winter Makepeace to spend the home's meager funds on yellow jackets for the boys while the orphanage struggled to feed the children, her malicious bid to oust Winter as manager of the home because he was the son of a brewer and lacked social polish, or her purchase of a dog, not as a companion, but just to offset/compliment her attire. Or her stupid acceptance of a wager to go into St. Giles at night to buy a cup of gin just to win a jeweled snuffbox from a dandy. People/pets are merely accessories to Penelope. I never understood Artemis's countless defenses of Penelope's callous disregard for Artemis just as I never understood how Max thought Penelope would be above reproach as his future duchess. Penelope's response to Artemis after she learns Apollo is dying erased all doubts from my mind about a possible redemption for Penelope at some future time.
“Apollo is ill. Or”—Artemis drew in a shuddering breath—“he’s been beaten again. I must go to him.”
Penelope sighed deeply, in the same manner as she would if she’d been presented with a new gown and found the lace edging the sleeves not quite up to what she’d expected. “Now, Artemis, dear. I’ve told you again and again that you must learn to forget your… brother.” She shuddered delicately as if even the mere word somehow acknowledged the relationship more than she wished. “He’s quite beyond your help. It’s Christian, I know, to wish to give comfort to him, but I ask you: can one comfort a beast maddened by disease?”
(...) “Papa did all he could for your brother—and you, for that matter. Really, this harping on about that poor, insane thing isn’t very grateful of you. I do think you can do better.” (pp. 140-141)
This "beast" is Artemis's brother, beaten and near death in Bedlam. Yet Penelope forces Artemis to remain with her in order to carry Bon Bon around, to fetch her fans, to stroke her ego while she attempts to secure a proposal from Max. I do hope the Duke of Scarborough marries her and takes her far away, never to appear in a future book in this series. Enough already!
I did find Max's repeated use of the pet name "Diana" and "my goddess" in reference to Artemis tiresome and a bit weird. In fact, the analogy of Artemis to Diana, goddess of the hunt, was written with a very heavy hand. So much so that, at times, I felt like I was being pounded over the head with it. Archery skills? Check. Love of pastoral setting? Check. Pairing "Artemis" up with a man named "Maximus"? Check. Sigh. . .
I did love this book. I loved Artemis for her strength, her determination, her love and support of her brother, and even her fondness for her cousin, Lady Penelope, who absolutely doesn't deserve Artemis's regard. I loved Maximus because he's one of those uber controlled heroes just waiting to be unchained, unloosed. The writing was superb and, though I may be proved wrong, I felt a spark similar to the one as I read Ms. Hoyt's "Prince" series. Duke of Midnight has a few problems, but overall I had a smile on my face and was flipping pages quicker than my Kindle could keep up.