Historical Fiction · Romance

A Lady for a Duke

Well, y’all, the ‘rona got me…the day before I was scheduled to work at the library and planning to pick up this hold, which I was so hype for. So I sent my partner in to get it for me, because what is better sickbed reading than a queer Regency romance?! (Answer: nothing.) But apparently when he got there, everyone gave him a hard time (on my behalf), saying he didn’t have to come in and pick up my holds cause I work there and they’d hang on to them for me ’til I got back, and he should stay home to take care of me. Which is so sweet. But I just really wanted my hands on this book. All in all, lots of warm fuzzy feelings about my coworkers, as well as a public recognition of thanks to my partner. Haha. 

A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

“My point […] is that I don’t see what use we can be to others if we must deny our own most fundamental selves. We all have the right to be recognised for who we are.”

After being presumed dead on the battlefields at Waterloo, Viola Carroll leaves behind her old life (her name and title and wealth) to finally live life as herself. She figured that her closest friend, the Duke of Gracewood, would mourn her, but move on with the rest of his life too. But when their families reconnect years later, Viola realizes how lost in pain and memories Gracewood has become, and, in her guilt and sorrow, takes it upon herself to bring him out of it. Their time together stirs up feelings in Viola though, feelings that were impossible before…and maybe only differently impossible now. 

This is my third novel by Hall, and both the first two (Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake) were phenomenal. He is fast become a “auto-buy” (or “auto-read,” since I’m an avid library patron, obvs) author. This was no exception, and possibly my favorite so far? I don’t know – it’s a bold statement because they are all so good! The important part is, I loved this. It was the perfect sickbed reading, but would really have been perfect at any time. I LOVE Hall’s writing. OMG. It’s so quick and smart and, as always, some of the very best dialogue. I thought the premise/set-up was great, as far as the time-period-realistic way that Viola was able to transition into and live as her true self. I also loved the point at which we come into the story, after all that, and get to know her only as that true self. She would love that framing. 

And speaking of Viola and her true self, I also loved the connection and romance between her and Gracewood. It was the perfect mix of sweet and bittersweet. Their story was so tender and intense from the very start and I cried like three times in just the first 75 pages. But like, in the best way. I was so invested and was cheering so hard for them from the start! This was a connection-of-souls romance in a wonderfully devastating way, to a level I have rarely read before. So. Good. 

Also, I read a bit more about Hall’s goals in writing this novel, in which he points out wanting to portray a trans love story in which “trans” was not the conflict. And what a way to do it! He shifted (or really, just kept it true to the genre) the focus to be on the ability and propriety of the age, with the reason the two couldn’t be together coming down to their (now) difference in social station/title, reclaiming this very hetero genre for the queer community with aplomb. There were insecurities from both sides related to how Viola’s trans identity may affect other life goals, like having a family/passing on the Gracewood family name, but no different than they might be if infertility was an issue for a hetero couple. And Viola’s last concern, her lack of sexual experience, lines up with any other historical fiction “maiden” character, so that fit the vibe perfectly. (And definitely didn’t prevent some fantastic steamy scenes either. Phew.)

A few other notes about things I loved, because I’m gonna overwhelm you with gushing in this review. First, Hall addresses PTSD really well, exploring how it affects some more than others, especially from the perspective of how ‘real men’ should not be experiencing it at all (*eye roll*), and the ways that makes it even harder. Similarly, Gracewood’s disability, from a war wound, and addiction issues, are also handled with depth and respect, while still allowing Gracewood’s personal reactions to be authentically written (based on my conjectures of the time period, anyways). I also loved the supporting characters. Viola’s sister-in-law, Lady Marleigh, is phenomenal – I love a strong female character who is unapologetic about her talents and faults and owns her space in the world. In addition, Gracewood’s younger sister, Mira, was a delight. She was perfectly odd and a great addition to strengthen both the character-base and, towards the end, the plot (I won’t give any spoilers here, but things do get quite entertainingly dramatic towards the end.) There was also some really nice, understated but very clear, other queer rep (wlw specifically) that I feel like could go under the radar, but deserves to be recognized! 

Even with how long this novel was, I wanted more, I wanted it to never end. The pull between Gracewood and Viola, at a bone and soul deep level, was so lovely and tender it hurt. I cried and I smiled and my heart was squeezed with so many feels and it was a reading experience of emotional wreckage that I would choose over and over. 

“There are so many forces that would shape us, or break us, or twist us, or re-make us: friends, family, ‘what is done,’ duty, history, expectation.”

“Weakness is hard enough to bear when it isn’t the first thing everyone sees when they look at you.”

“It had never occurred to him to question beauty before. He’d always assumed it was obvious, fine eyes or a trim figure, rosebud lips or hair of whatever colour was currently fashionable. But it wasn’t. It was details. The way you could wait forever for the dimple to appear beside someone’s mouth, unable to imagine ever growing tired of seeing it.”

“Small acts of defiance, he well knew, could become great acts of rebellion, and little intimacies could become alliances or passions that shaped lives and worlds.”

“Having spent so many years dwelling on yesterday, it would be the height of folly to dwell instead on tomorrow, when there was so much joy to find in today.”

“I am not sure love unshown is really love at all. What good does caring for a person do if you’re never there when they need you?”

“‘Where is your logic now?’ / ‘At your feet, clearly.’” (OMG the SWOON)

“Strength is not the capacity to hurt. Or the capacity to remain unhurt. It is…what we let ourselves feel. And how truly we love.”

“And I will no longer tarnish what can be with what cannot.”

“Perhaps there were things you could only learn about yourself when you shared them with someone else.”

2 thoughts on “A Lady for a Duke

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