Desert Isle Keeper
The Wicked Duke
I fell in love with Madeline Hunter’s prose in her first book, By Possession and I have been faithfully following her ever since. That lyrical and persuasive style is in evidence in the latest by this author and once again she does not disappoint. Her plotting is also excellent as is her development of very complex characters. The Wicked Duke is the third and final book in the author’s Wicked Trilogy and is, in my opinion, the best of the three. Everything in this series has been building up to Lance’s story and Madeline Hunter does a bang up job of bringing the storyline to a satisfactory conclusion without losing steam.
For those readers who have been following the trilogy, the series hinges upon the mystery surrounding the death of the previous Duke of Aylesbury, Percy Hemmingford. His younger brother and heir, Lance (who is the hero of this book), was present at his brother’s death and is suspected of having had a hand in his demise. His younger brothers, Gareth Fitzallen, (His Wicked Reputation) and Ives Hemmingford (Tall, Dark and Wicked) have attempted to rehabilitate Lance so that any question surrounding Percy’s death might be put to rest. When the current book opens, that has still not happened and Lance is rusticating at the ducal seat, Merrywood Manor. Lance is a rake and he is having a hard time not being allowed to follow his natural inclinations. Then he happens upon Marianne Radley in the family cemetery looking at his brother’s gravestone.
Marianne and her mother used to live at Trenfield Park in Glouchester with her father, the previous Baron. When he died, his brother Horace inherited and Marianne and her mother moved away. Sir Horace’s daughter Nora was harmed one night in a storm and has not been the same since. Marianne has been taking care of Nora for the past few years, but now her Uncle Horace has called all of them back to Trenfield. While Marianne has not discovered the truth about everything that happened the fateful night of the storm, she does learn that Nora’s incapacity has something to do with the Duke of Aylesbury. When she discovers that her uncle – who just so happens to be the county magistrate – has plans to blackmail Aylesbury into marrying Nora, Marianne is aghast. When Nora makes it known in no uncertain terms that she will not comply, Horace sets his sights on Marianne marrying the duke instead.
Lance Hemmingford is a very believable duke. Too many peers in historical romance novels are stereotyped at the extreme ends of the spectrum: a stick in the mud, a morally unassailable person or a totally dissolute man with few if any scruples. Lance seems more human to me and therefore more approachable. He has privilege and it shows. He is used to a life of leisure and chafes when his freedom is restricted to the point that he treads very near being whiny at times.
He has been living under the cloud of Percy’s death for nearly a year and he is tired of it. The strategy devised by him and his brothers has been for Lance to keep a low profile and wait for a decision from the magistrate. When Sir Horace Radley approaches Lance with a deal (extortion of a sort), he doesn’t immediately jump on it, but it is a close thing. But Lance just wants his life back, so he eventually accepts Radley’s offer. However, he learns there are other political plots afoot and for the first time, Lance begins to take an active role in proving his innocence.
Marianne and Lance are very complex and well-drawn characters with have flaws that make them seem more human. Marianne is a very strong and determined character without being a caricature. She is a good influence on Lance though, and he needs her influence if he is to become the man he is meant to be. I loved their story and am a little sorry to see the Wicked Trilogy come to an end. If I have one criticism about the novel, it is to do with the political angle concerning Percy’s death. The only purpose it seemed to serve was to light a little bit of a fire under Lance to get him involved in his own circumstances rather than foisting it off on his brothers. For some reason, it just does not fit and seems like a throwaway storyline. Overall though, that is a minor thing and I highly recommend The Wicked Duke to all of those who appreciate a well told historical romance.