A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall
Publication Date: 24 May 2022
Every time a new Alexis Hall book comes out, I find myself declaring that it is the best book he’s ever written. And then he releases another and makes a liar out of me. Such is the case with his new Regency romance, A Lady for a Duke.
This is the story of Viola Carroll, who used her presumed death on the battlefield at Waterloo to be reborn as the woman she was always meant to be. She left behind everything she had for the opportunity to have that freedom of identity. She abandoned her title, her estate, her wealth, her standing in society, and most painful of all, she gave up her best friend, Justin de Vere, Duke of Gracewood, who believes her to be dead. As the story opens two years later, Viola is living with her brother and his wife, the only people who know that she is alive.
Viola’s sister-in-law, the hilarious Lady Marleigh, convinces Viola to accompany her to visit Gracewood’s estate. What Violet finds there is not the hale and hearty young man that she last saw in the war. Instead, Gracewood has become a shadow of his former self. The severely injured leg that he carries from the war is not nearly as worrisome as the duke’s addiction to alcohol and laudanum. He is a shell of his former self, haunted by the ghosts of his past and drowning in the depths of his grief over the loss of his cherished friend.
The primary thing that struck me about A Lady for a Duke is something that the author addresses in his notes at the end of the book. It is extraordinary to me that Hall has crafted a love story with a trans heroine in which the fact that the heroine is trans is not a source of conflict. At all. There is a beautiful acceptance of Viola by all of the other characters. It is something I would love to not be surprised by; something that was so commonplace in our modern world as to be completely unremarkable. Let us hope that our children and grandchildren will do better than we have in that regard.
One of the things that I can always count on in an Alexis Hall novel is prose that is so lush and quotable that I become a maniac with my highlighter. For perspective, I would say that in an average-length novel by any other author I might have as many as forty or so highlights. In A Lady for a Duke, I have ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY TWO highlights. Some of these were things that made me laugh, some were passages that made me cry, while others were quotes that just made me think. And then there were little bits of sentences, a stray word or two that just jumped off the page at me, sparkling with brilliance. Hall is one of those writers who does not just deliver a story, but makes reading an experience.
Another thing I can always depend on from Hall? A cast of supporting characters who are fully developed and who bring depth to the story as a whole. Lady Marleigh and her husband Badger are exceptional as comic relief (“You have to be quiet when you’re eavesdropping. Otherwise it’s just a logistically difficult conversation.”). Gracewood’s younger sister, Miranda, is the perfect picture of a young woman trying to find her own path in the world, coming out in a society that she doesn’t completely understand. I do hope Hall will grace us with more from Miranda, as I found myself growing very fond of the quirky girl. Even our villains are remarkable in the depths of their schemes.
The romance in A Lady for a Duke is the sweetest of slow burns, with the longing and yearning jumping off the page and wrapping itself firmly around the reader’s heart. And Hall does not shy away from the bedroom once our couple comes together; he intimately shows us all of the love and affection that these lovers have for each other. Prepare to swoon.
I predict that this book will become a regular comfort read for me, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This will definitely be one of my favorite books of the year, and I hope everyone will take the opportunity to see Alexis Hall at his finest. I’d love to give this a hundred, a thousand, a million stars, but I will settle for just the regular five.
Thank you to NetGalley and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.