Desert Isle Keeper
Dukes Are Forever
A compromising situation forced him into marriage. But has his wife been working for the enemy all along?
In a steam-fuelled world where vampires once ruled the aristocracy, a dangerous conspiracy threatens to topple the queen, and the Duke of Malloryn knows his nemesis has finally returned to enact his plans of revenge.
Malloryn can trust no one, and when incriminating photographs surface—of an enemy agent stealing a kiss from his wife—he is forced to question just why his wife, Adele, trapped him into marriage.
Is she an innocent pawn caught up in a madman’s games, or is she a double agent working against him?
Dabney and Caz INHALED this final instalment of the London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy series – here are some of their more coherent thoughts!
Dabney: When I turned the last page of Dukes Are Forever, I got teary. And that’s not just because the final story in this series is deeply romantic and satisfying. I sighed because, damnit, I am going to miss this world and its denizens terribly. I’M NOT READY TO SAY GOODBYE!
Caz: I KNOW!! I have the WORST book hangover right now. The London Steampunk and London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy series have become two of my all-time favourites and it’s going to take me a while to move on from this final book – which is all the things you say it is, and then some.
This final instalment is the culmination of everything that we’ve been building to in the previous four books. The Duke of Malloryn and his Company of Rogues uncovered a conspiracy to overthrow the queen orchestrated by Malloryn’s long-term enemy, Lord Balfour, who is out for revenge of the worst kind – wanting to destroy everything Malloryn cares about before finally killing him. So far, Balfour has tried and failed, although he’s come close a few times; one of the things I like so much about these books is that while we know our heroes will prevail, it’s never easy, and the author is terrific at casting just enough doubt in the reader’s mind as to make us worry just a little bit about the outcome!
Dabney: I know! I was tense with fear in the last quarter of this book. Not only were Malloryn (drools – he might be my favorite of all McMaster’s heroes) and Adele imperilled, but I worried, with good reason, that others of her London Steampunk world might not survive.
Caz: Yes! OMG, there were real moments of peril for almost everyone – and I was on the edge of my seat. I could wax lyrical about Malloryn for the entirety of this review – he’s sexy AF and I’ve been waiting for his book for ages. He’s one of those coolly controlled heroes who keeps himself tightly leashed, and over the course of the books so far, we’ve learned why that is – and that sort of hero is like catnip for yours truly, because you know when he finally lets go it’s going to be explosive 😉 And here he meets his match (finally!) in the form of the wife he didn’t want and (he thinks) he dislikes intensely because she trapped him into marriage. (See above – catnip for yours truly! Seriously, it’s like Ms. McMaster wrote this story just for me! :P)
Dabney: Is he your favorite of her heroes? Prior to this book, I think I liked Blade (from the first book Kiss of Steel) the best but I have fallen hard for Auvry.
Caz: I have a bit of a soft spot for Charlie (from To Catch a Rogue), but yes, I’ve always had my eye on Malloryn as the stand-out hero of the series. Not that it’s an easy choice, because Ms. McMaster really has the knack for writing strong, witty, attractive men with protective streaks a mile long who don’t suffocate their heroines and trust in them and their ability to get the job done.
Dabney: It’s a real gift when an author sets up a relationship over a whole series. When we first met Malloryn, he was involved with Isabella but engaged to marry Adele and, had you told me then that Adele and Malloryn were to be a perfect pair, I’d have doubted you. And yet, they are. Even better, Adele’s biggest flaw – she trapped Malloryn into marriage – is her greatest strength. She’s manipulative, devious, clever, and determined to thrive, all of which make her a match for Malloryn.
Caz: It’s really clever, actually. Because we don’t learn much about Adele, other than through Malloryn’s eyes – and he sees her as a beautiful, but cold and calculating witch – that’s how we think of her, too, for the most part. Until THAT scene in You Only Love Twice, when we start to see that there’s more to her than that, and that there is something – or the potential for something – more between them.
Another thing I thought was done really well – and which has been done well throughout the series, actually – is the involvement of all the characters from previous books. I never at any time felt as though they were there ‘just because’ – they all had specific skills and were necessary to the furtherance of the plot. And because of that, I never got tired of seeing them again (well, that, and because they’re all awesome characters!). The relationship the author builds up between the members of the COR is just wonderful – I love the way they all keep Malloryn grounded; you sense that he might become just a bit too arrogant were it not for their constant teasing!
Dabney: Yes. It hasn’t been since Pennyroyal Green that I’ve felt so immersed in a world of people, each unique and necessary to the story. There’s a scene in Dukes Are Forever where Adele and some of the COR get drunk and the way the drunken rogues behave AND the way the sober rogues respond is so on point. Again, I am going to miss this world.
Caz: I loved that scene and how they were so welcoming to Adele. Also – their penchant for betting on pretty much anything always made me laugh! It’s a wonderfully written – if unusual – family group – and I had a lump in my throat when Malloryn finally realised that, and that he wasn’t on his own, that they genuinely valued and loved him for himself and weren’t going to give up the fight at his side.
Dabney: In the endless discussions about why smart people read romance, the answer that always works for me is this: Who wouldn’t want to read stories about how, even when it’s hard, even when it’s heartbreaking, even when loving might mean losing everything, love is the answer.
In this series, and especially in this final book, McMaster’s men and women earn the love they (and we) deserve. Prior to this book, Malloryn has let the enemy, his arch nemesis Balfour, win by making him, this brilliant cold Duke, afraid to care deeply for anyone, be it Adele or his loyal Rogues. But now, after being broken in Russia and with Adele determined to make him open his heart, Malloryn becomes deliberately vulnerable. It is a thing of beauty to watch.
Caz: That moment of realisation really was like a punch to the gut – a brilliantly delivered punch, but a punch nonetheless. It takes a big man – person – to admit that you’ve been … if not wrong, then maybe following the wrong path?… for so many years, but Malloryn does it. He’s got something – someone – to fight for and to live for again and this time he’s determined to get it right and is prepared to do whatever it will take to do it. I really felt as though he’d been – gah, to say reborn sounds really cheesy – but as though he’d come out the other side a different man prepared to take a different path. It’s powerful stuff.
Dabney: We’ve raved about Auvry but let’s take a moment to talk about the wonder that is Adele. Like all of McMaster’s heroines she is KICK ASS. There is a scene where Adele schools Malloryn (with love) on all the ways the world they live in has limited the women in it. It is a stellar smackdown of that world’s sexism and it has even more power because we the readers have watched ten – eleven really if you include the queen who deserves at the very least her own novella – women overcome obstacles put in their way with methods varied and believable.
Adele is gorgeous and she, like Gemma, uses that to her advantage. She’s devious like Rosalind and wounded like Mina. And like them and all the other heroines in this series, she remains true to herself while literally overthrowing the patriarchy.
Caz: Yes to all of that. The ‘unseen’ heroine is a fairly common trait in historical romances – the one who yearns to be appreciated for more than their beauty – but here, that’s dialled up several notches when we realise how precarious Adele’s existence really has been, and how so many other young women of her status haven’t been able to avoid the fate from which her quick-thinking has preserved her. And you know, one of the other things I really liked was that she was kick-ass but ‘ordinary’. By which I mean, she isn’t a blue-blood or verwulfen, and she’s not a trained assassin or acrobatic thief – and she knows it. And yet she manages to dispose of one of the most dangerous creatures that exists in this world – with a little help, it’s true, but it’s mostly all her.
Dabney: That does bring up one thing I worry about. (I blame this on being waaaay too serious about the Buffyverse.) Adele and Ava are human with nonhuman partners – is anyone else worried about this? I kinda want them to become less mortal too just so they can grow old with their loved ones. Does that concern you?
Caz: I admit it did occur to me to wonder – but not until after I’d finished the book! But yes, I agree I’d like to be able to think of Malloryn and Adele heading off into the sunset (or sunrise, in this case) with an equal amount of ‘forever’ on the cards – I’m going to assume that somewhere along the line, Something Happens to make that possible!
Dabney: That is really the only thing I’m left unsatisfied about. Well, that and knowing what happened between Alexandra (the queen) and Sir Gideon Scott.
I know that Em is a fan of another of McMaster’s series, The Dark Arts, and, at the end of this book, McMaster says she’s a new series coming out this fall and the first book…. wait for it… is based on Persephone and Hades. “Swoons”.
Caz: *insert gif of a wildly clapping child here*
Dabney: At least there’s something to look forward to. So, to sum up, I’m oh, so sorry to leave the London Steampunk world. But, damn, what a way to end it. Dukes Are Forever is a solid A for me.
Caz: Yep. I’m sorry to see it end, but we’ve got ten wonderful, exciting, funny, sexy novels to return to and the amazing thing is, I think, that they just get better and better as the series progresses. No question, this is an A for me as well.
Dabney: Just for fun, what are your favorite three? For me, in no particular order, they’re the first of the ten, Kiss of Steel (Blade stole my heart), Heart of Iron (Will and Lena–whew, don’t read without a fan), You Only Live Twice (I <3 Gemma), and this one. Shoot, that’s four. And now I’m even questioning that. People, just read this series. It’s the bomb.
Caz: DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE!! But… the last three in this set have all been DIKs for me – although like you, I love Blade, and I really liked Of Silk and Steam – which, for some reason was the first one I read! Charlie and Lark were so totally adorable in To Catch a Rogue and Malloryn is my first book boyfriend of 2019. Yeah, choosing a favourite book is difficult – they’re all good, but some are really good and some are really, REALLY good! The bar is set high right from the outset and it only gets better.