Julie Anne Long
Publication Date: November 30, 2021
Series or Standalone: The Palace of Rogues #4
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
CW: Sexual assualt; sexual harassament
Once again, Julie Anne Long knocks it out of the park with the fourth installment in The Palace of Rogues series. If you like age gap romances and slow burns that turn super fiery, After Dark with the Duke is for you! I’m usually not an age gap fan, but this one works incredibly well as Long once again manages to write characters with incredible emotional depth and takes you on a journey you can only experience at the Grand Palace on the Thames.
After up and coming opera star Mariana Wylde is branded the ‘Harlot of Haywood Street’ by the gossip columns and run out of her own home by a mob out for her blood, she has nowhere else to turn by the Grand Palace on the Thames. With little money to her name, she works out a deal with Angelique and Delilah to be the starring act for the musicales they hope to host in their new ballroom at the Grand Palace on the Thames. Meanwhile, General James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, seeks out the Grand Palace on the Thames for quiet and solace needed to write his memoirs. The last thing he needs is the bold and fiery Mariana to cross his path, capture his attention and steal his heart.
Long manages to craft such richly compelling and complex romantic leads with Mariana and the Duke. James is cold and closed off; he’s got a pristine reputation for honor and service and was granted a Dukedom for his military service. He comes off as incredibly arrogant and superior, but beneath that, he’s a conflicted man who protects those he cares about. Yet no one knows the true him. With Mariana, we get his opposite. Her reputation is in tatters thanks to the dumb actions of two men who have ruined her ability to support herself. Society has judged her by the actions of others, with no one willing to see her side. She’s bold, outspoken and not afraid to push the Duke’s buttons. Underneath that, she’s incredibly vulnerable and worried about her future and how she’ll support herself. Yet, she has a fire and a drive to do whatever she can to make things work.
Mariana and the Duke work well together, despite outward appearances making it seem like they’re a mismatch. They both are defined by the opinions of others yet struggle to have people see them for their true selves. I loved the romantic journey Long takes these characters on. They start out not getting along – she thinks he’s cold, he thinks she’s a harlot. After he embarrasses her, his penance is to teach her Italian lessons. I loved the Italian lessons as it forced the two of them to get to know each other one on one. Through these lessons, they slowly learn more about what the other has faced, especially as Mariana wants to learn key Italian phrases she’s heard from those she worked with. I truly enjoyed watching their preconceived notions fall away as they got to know each other better – it reminded me a bit of Pride and Prejudice.
The romance is a slow, simmering burn…until it turns into something fiery. We don’t get much action until the second half of the novel, but once they give in to the growing attraction, boy, do things heat up! This is probably the sexiest book thus far in the Palace of Rogues series as they engage in an affair with a set end date. Both have deeper feelings brewing under the surface and regret that their time at the Grand Palace on the Thames is ending. But then the Duke has to muck things up a bit, leaving their parting on shaky ground. However, I loved how Long resolved the conflict in their relationship. Long is a master at having her characters make the grandest of gestures that reveal just how well the romance leads know each other, and this book is no exception. I love how the Duke makes it up to Mariana, and I love that she was going to turn her pain into something beautiful. It worked so well and made my heart squeeze!
Outside of our central romance, I again have to admire Long for the world she’s crafted at the Grand Palace on the Thames. Each book I read in this series makes me long to stay at this unlikely boarding house near the docks in London. Angelique and Delilah’s mission with TGPOTT (as they come to abbreviate it) was to make it feel warm and welcoming – as if you’re staying with family – and Long has accomplished that. The secondary characters who reside in the TGPOTT imbue it with such life and personality. Everyone from Mr. Delacorte to Dot is a fully realized character. I’ve loved watching their growth over the stories and have come to care for these secondary characters who could easily fade into the background but don’t.
With her signature wit, humor and emotional depth, Long has managed to craft another engaging romantic entry in the Palace of Rogues series! If you haven’t picked this series up, I highly recommend it. I devoured all the available books within less than two weeks, and I look forward to returning to the Grand Palace on the Thames for the next entry in the series coming in summer 2022.
Thank you to Avon/Netgalley for the ARC. All thoughts, ideas and opinions expressed in this review are my own.