Elizabeth Hoyt is a name that frequently appears alongside other famous regency "brand names" like Lisa Kleypas and Courtney Milan, which just makes it all the more criminal that I haven't read this book until now. Because DUKE OF SIN...is incredible.
DUKE OF SIN is a bodice-ripper of the modern age, with an icy, tortured, dangerous gamma hero who wouldn't be out of place in an Anne Stuart novel. Valentine Napier is a hedonist and a ruthless blackmailer. He flaunts conventions, bedding men and women alike, and the only reason he hasn't been kicked out of polite society is because he has them all scared shitless that he'll reveal their secrets.
Bridget Crumb, his housekeeper, is working for him precisely because of that. Her mother is just one of many people the Duke has blackmailed, and she's using her vocation as an opportunity to search for the letters in his possession that will ruin her mother.
I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. But Valentine is the epitome of everything I love in a romantic hero (and the fact that the author herself says that she imagines him as Tom Hiddleston certainly doesn't hurt!); he's clever, and ruthless, and sexy, and dangerous, and utterly capricious and mercurial. His back story is probably one of the darkest I've ever seen in a romance novel published after 1990, and brought me to tears at several points because of how broken he was; and he doesn't really angst about it - what's even more heartbreaking is that he doesn't realize that he's missing a vital part of what makes him human. He takes it completely for granted as being part of who he is. It's Bridget who realizes what's been done to him, and she who feels all the pain.
And let's talk about Bridget. I loved her no-nonsense ways, and her kindness. She was able to win over people by being very level-headed and calm and personable, so the fact that everyone was naturally drawn to her didn't seem Mary-Sue-ish at all. She made an effort. Her interactions with Valentine made me laugh and cry, by turns. The sexual chemistry between them was amazing - and surprise, when they finally do have sex, she isn't at all passive. In fact, she even initiates and takes charge on several instances. I can't tell you how much that shocked me (among other things).
I have a confession here: a huge reason behind my love for this novel is that Valentine really reminded me of Jareth from Labyrinth, so if you love the cool commanding hero who's witty, and totally in control, but who falls hard for the heroine in a way that borders on obsession, I would definitely recommend this book to you. DUKE OF SIN is a book that was made for Labyrinth fangirls. He's so regal and utterly absorbed in himself, that you don't question for one minute that he's of noble blood. The fact that he flaunts society's rules is testament to this.
And on that subject, I want to talk about the hero's bisexuality, because apparently that's got some people real mad. Yes, the hero is bisexual. He has sex with men. It isn't explicitly shown, but it's heavily implied, and you know that it probably happens behind closed doors. Some people were mad about that - and other people seemed to be upset that his bisexuality seemed to be included in his litany of perversions to show how depraved he is. I chose not to interpret it that way, although I can see how others would: rather, I saw it as the Duke wholeheartedly embracing who he was and what he wanted, selfishly, yes, but unapologetically using his sexual desires to fill the emptiness inside.
For those of you still on the fence, picture Tom Hiddleston masquerading as Jareth, while wearing a purple silk robe with a dragon on it...and nothing else.
I rest my case.
5 out of 5 stars.