Publication Date: May 24, 2022
Series or Standalone: Standalone
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads – StoryGraph
CW: deadnaming; misgendering; ableist language; suicidal ideation; drug/alchol use; PTSD
A Lady for A Duke has a beautiful love story at its center, and I would love to read more historical romances with trans characters as protagonists. And as much as I thought I would be giving this 5 stars at the start, the story did drag toward the end, which knocked my rating down a bit.
When Viola Carroll was presumed dead at Waterloo, she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But the freedom to be herself comes with a price as she lost her wealth, title, and her best friend, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood. Only when Gracewood and Viola’s family reconnect years after the war does she realize how deep the loss truly was. Without his best friend, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognizes her old friend as the lonely, brooding man he has become. As she strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings, feelings Viola cannot deny even if they cost her everything again.
Where this book shines is the romance between Viola and Gracewood. Their relationship is not an easy one, but it is filled with so much emotion, love and affection. The emotions are so earnest and raw that it packs a major punch to your feelings. Both Viola and Gracewood are so broken and damaged at the beginning of the book – finding each other again is exactly what they need to heal. Together, they bring out the best in each other – one of my favorite things to see in a romance. And while their path to getting their happily ever after is not easy – they both have a lot to work through individually to heal as well as have to deal with societal roles – it is so fulfilling to watch them get it.
Both Viola and Gracewood are emotionally complex characters that they jump fully-fledged off the page. Both are hurt and broken in different ways and need the other to be restored. I loved seeing Viola try to pave a new role for herself while navigating her feelings for Gracewood, complicating the plan she had laid out for her future. And Gracewood – I just wanted to reach through the pages, hug this man, and not let go for a while. He’s filled with so much grief and pain at the beginning that my heart hurt for him. When Viola comes into his life, he begins to resemble the man he was before the war. I also love how he lets Viola just be Viola. He could easily judge her, but he handles her truth beautifully and is angrier that she let him think she was dead for two years than anything else.
I think Alexis Hall’s writing was beautiful in this. There were so many romantic lines that had my heart squeezing. He does a great job with the romance and capturing all the characters’ emotions.
Now, where the book lost a few points for me was the plot. This book is LONG as it is nearly 500 pages in paperback long. And the whole third act felt like a hard pivot and unnecessary to the central romance and themes of the book. This book was doing fine as a romance focused solely on Gracewood and Viola dealing with their pain, their emotions, their feelings towards each other and some of the obstacles in their way to being together. We didn’t really need a very dramatic subplot involving Gracewood’s sister in there at all. If anything, it distracted me from the main romance and had me scratching my head.
I don’t think the plotting and length should deter you from picking up this story. It’s a beautiful love story that made me cry multiple times because the love Viola and Gracewood have for each other is on a whole other level. I think historical romance fans will really enjoy this one, especially if you’re looking for more LGBTQIA+ characters in the genre.