Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series (1 and 2)

A few weeks ago, my friend Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict suggested that we should read some books together–since we have outrageously similar taste in books, and all–and I suggested this series.  So far, there are 4 books released in this series, and we are now rabidly awaiting book # 5 (see here for an excerpt hosted on the author’s page), due out in February 2013.

I initially intended to write about all four books in one post, but I just want you to think for a moment about how unbelievably long that post would be (and boring to everyone, really…).  Right.  So I plan to discuss the first two books in this post, and the second two books in a later post.

Cover image, Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

The only of Hoyt’s series that I’ve read in full was The Prince series, and that’s really just three independent stories that share a very casual link.  The Legend of the Four Soldiers series was much more connected, but I still haven’t read the first book (never got around to it…).  With Wicked Intentions, I felt that so much of it was setting up the world and characters for the other books in the series, and it isn’t as good as a stand alone story as a result.  That was kind of a disappointment to me, but maybe that’s how it always is with a series’ first book…

What I loved: Lazarus is delicious as the tormented-by-his-own-demons hero.  I loved his poetry translating and all that darkness.  You know how it is; sometimes you just want a good anti-hero to root for.  The book dabbles in some pretty heavy themes – love, infidelity, trust, shame, gender roles (specifically what happens when a prescribed role is not followed to a T), etc. – and it gives them due weight.  As I’ve come to expect from Hoyt’s writing, the characters are complex and develop over the course of the story, and their decisions always make sense in light of their motivations.  This story also has a neat little mystery (or two) that serves to bring Lazarus and Temperance together, and it helps to keep the plot moving along.

What I didn’t love so much: I really wanted to know what caused Lazarus’ touch issues, but it isn’t divulged either because Lazarus himself doesn’t know (fair) or because it’s not really important to the story (boo, but probably fair).  I adored the bit with Silence, but it was left unresolved.  I assume later books in the series will deal with it, but it left a slightly frayed edge to me.  The ending felt rushed (not quite Northanger Abbey rushed, to be fair – that book has an etch-a-sketch ending if ever I saw one).  For a book with so many heavy themes, the happily ever after was a tad slapdash.  Temperance and Lazarus each resolve their random issues, but the resolution seems almost magical and rather too convenient.

But, you know what?  It’s still worth it to read this story, because the books that follow are amazing and are made better by the world building that occurs in book 1.

Cover image, Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt

Notorious Pleasures benefits from all the world building that was accomplished in Wicked Intentions.  You might very well wonder, eh?  There’s world building a romance novel?  Isn’t it usually reserved for fantasy or science fiction novels that actually have a unique world to build?  The thing is that historical romance novels are actually kind of a subgenre of fantasy novels.  Tangent: in a way, all novels are fantasy novels /tangent.  Successful/good historical romance authors do lots and lots of research and then tweak the circumstances slightly to give their story and characters some plausibility.  Let’s face it: strong female characters who have some autonomy over their lives are a bit of an anachronism.  So are stories with young, handsome dukes that marry commoners or *gasp* Americans.

The Maiden Lane series is set in Georgian England (early-ish eighteenth century), and a lot of the action takes place in St. Giles, a gin-soaked slum.  The setting is remarkably atypical for the historical romance genre.  It is gritty, and although Notorious Pleasures features considerably more ballroom scenes than the other books, the focus of the book remains set on St. Giles.  I enjoyed that Hoyt was willing to ask a few moral questions about justice and leave them unanswered.  In Wicked Intentions, there were a few such questions–e.g. is it right or wrong for an orphanage to pay a procuress a hefty sum of money to save one child from a life of childhood prostitution, knowing that the procuress has a nearly endless supply of children to sell and the orphanage has a finite amount of money to use towards feeding and clothing the children it has already saved?–and Hoyt was right back to that gritty line between fantasy and reality in this book.  Is it right or wrong for a man to save his family by illegal means?

Of the four stories I’ve read in this series, I found the love story between Lady Hero and Griffin to be the least compelling (which, to be clear, is not to say that I didn’t find it compelling… it’s just that the other three stories had so much more to offer by way of characterization).  I think this might be a case of my holding Elizabeth Hoyt up to a far stricter standard than I use for everyone else (because she’s just that awesome).  My real issue with Lady Hero and Griffin is that it sticks too closely to the Perfect Lady paired with a Perfect Scoundrel trope.  You pretty much know how it will be in their first scene together when Griffin dubs Hero “Lady Perfect”…

To be honest, the strangest parts of this book were all the random We Interrupt This Novel for a Public Service Announcement about Silence Hollingbrook and How She’s Doing episodes.  They made sense in the first book because they directly tied into Temperance’s story – Silence and Temperance being sisters, after all – and helped fuel Temperance’s emotional journey.  In this story, the episodes behaved as interruptions, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why I was supposed to care so much about Silence’s woes within the context of Hero and Griffin’s story.  Silence gets her own story in book 3, and I was glad, while I read it, that it wasn’t weighted down with a butt-ton of back story, but that doesn’t mean that I completely enjoyed having all the necessary back story play out real-time as an interruption to another unrelated story.

Other than all that, the story is well-paced and gripping; there’s a bit of mystery and drama, and a rather evil villain was thrown in to keep things interesting.  The end, thank heavens, was satisfying, and I jumped right in to book 3 (Scandalous Desires).  But I’ll write more about that in another post.