What sets Elizabeth Hoyt’s “Maiden Lane” series apart from other romances? First, there’s the setting. In a genre often focused on polite Regency drawing rooms, the slums of St. Giles in 1740s London is an entirely different feel: gritty, dirty, desperate, and dangerous. Then there are the love scenes, which are unusually explicit, earthy, and carnal. What I enjoy most, though, is the way Ms. Hoyt forms her couples. She takes two completely disparate people who in no way should be together and makes it obvious that they not only do belong together, they are also the only right match for the other.
THE PLOT: Lily Stump is an out-of-work actress and single mother with a seven-year-old son. They’re living in the damaged theater of a pleasure garden that had been destroyed by a fire. Lily’s son tells her that there is a monster living out in the gardens. The “monster” turns out to be a hulking brute of a man who cannot speak. At first Lily believes the man, whom they nickname “Caliban,” has intellectual disabilities, but then she begins to realize it’s all an act.
Apollo Greaves (first introduced in Book #6, Duke of Midnight) is a viscount who escaped from Bedlam after being incarcerated for four years. And if you know anything about Bedlam in the 1700s, you can imagine it was no picnic. He was imprisoned for murdering three of his friends…a crime which, of course, he didn’t commit. He’s in hiding, restoring the pleasure garden for his friend Asa Makepeace (brother to several other Maiden Lane characters). Apollo is mute thanks to a severe beating received from Bedlam guards and its resulting psychological damage.
How will Lily react when she finds out she and her son have befriended a convicted murderer? How do these two misfits come together? Will Apollo ever be able to prove his innocence? And even if everything else works out, how can a future earl lower himself to marry an actress?
MY TWO CENTS: Nothing makes a better romance than two damaged individuals who heal each other. (Might this be a recurring theme throughout the third trio of Maiden Lane books?) Apollo is vulnerable, yet his strength becomes apparent as he interacts with other characters: friends, foes, and sometimes foes who become friends. Lily is spunky, smart, and talented, but she also has reasons to be cautious of strong men. I loved her unconditional love for her son and her need to protect him no matter what the cost. I adored the way various characters eventually ended up fighting for Apollo. I was so engrossed in this book that when I realized I was 3/4 of the way through it, I was unhappy that I was almost finished.
I will say that I missed the Ghost of St. Giles. Without giving away spoilers for the previous books, the Ghost has been such a bedrock of the series that it’s hard not to feel his loss. Other established characters do appear, most notably Apollo’s twin and her husband (Duke of Midnight), Lady Hero (Notorious Pleasures), Lady Phoebe Batten, and Captain James Trevillion.
I’m intrigued by several new characters introduced in this book, especially one in particular. I know the next book, Dearest Rogue, is about Phoebe and Trevillion, and I’m assuming that Book 9 is Asa’s book, but I’m seeing potential for at least two more books after that. One character especially has my fingers crossed, but I don’t want to elaborate because of spoilers. Let’s just say this character is definitely not standard hero material and is vastly entertaining.
Side note: The many scenes involving the reconstruction of the garden remind me of an Ewan McGregor movie called The Serpent’s Kiss. The movie takes place during the Restoration period, and it’s about a private estate’s garden and not a pleasure garden, but I get a similar feel from it. If you’ve never seen it, check it out.
Finally, for Elizabeth’s Facebook followers: perhaps Daffodil will remind others of a certain Miss Puppy Pie.
BOTTOM LINE: I continue to love this world Elizabeth Hoyt has created and thoroughly enjoyed this strong new entry in the series. Established Maiden Lane fans will devour it with great satisfaction. If you haven’t read the previous books and want to jump in, I strongly suggest you at least check out Duke of Midnight to really get all of Apollo’s story. If you prefer tasteful, formulaic romance offerings with little violence and more genteel sex scenes, then Darling Beast (and the rest of this series) may not be for you.
TEACUP RATING: Darling Beast gets 5 out of 5 teacups from me. (I still enjoyed my favorite Maiden Lane, Thief of Shadows, a teensy bit more; I’d give that one 5+ teacups.)
ON SALE DATE: Darling Beast will be available in mass market paperback and e-formats on October 14, 2014.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.