Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt



Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day, he is the serious, somber, no-nonsense manager of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children. By night, he patrols the streets of St. Giles as The Ghost of St. Giles.

Isabella Beckinhall also lives a double life. Around her friends, she's a bored socialite who delights in little cakes and gossip but Isabella hides her stronger convictions (and that she reads political pamphlets) and longs to share her true self with someone.

Then she happens to rescue The Ghost of St. Giles and, during the brief conversation she had with him, a tentative connection and a lasting impression is made on Isabella.

But Isabella is kept busy by the Ladies' Syndicate. She's officially in-charge of "making over" Winter Makepeace as he is about to formally step out and be introduced to society as the manager of the Foundling House.

Winter initially resists Isabella's instructions (and appeal) but, when his work at the Foundling House is imperiled by Lady Penelope and the other members of the Ladies' Syndicate for the Benefit of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, Winter knows he must work with Isabella for the sake of the children.

I'm having a hard time writing a review for this book that will avoid the words: riveting, fast-paced, and page-turner -- because this book is all of that -- and more.

I didn't think I would love Winter Makepeace. When he was first introduced in Wicked Intentions, he didn't come across as likable -- he was too rigid, and too ascetic to have any sort of dimension -- but, as the series progressed and the story of The Ghost of St. Giles was developed further, I grew to appreciate his character.

Winter Makepeace is a dark knight, like Batman -- he does not have any special/superhuman abilities, but what he has is the desire to protect and defend the defenseless. Unlike knights in shining armor, he stands alone in the shadows -- his intentions and actions misunderstood. He is feared by both the people he seeks to protect and by the criminals he brings to justice.

Hoyt plays with binary oppositions in this story:

Light and shadow -- Winter sees a bright world in Isabella -- a world he can never live in or belong to.

"...You blaze like a torch, lighting the darkest corners, brightening even those who thought they were already well lit. You bring joy and mirth and leave behind a glow that gives hope to those you've left."
- p. 97

And Winter sees himself as unfathomable darkness.

"I am as dark as a pit. ... Even your torch will have difficulty lighting my depths."
- p. 97

Perfect and imperfect -- Isabella knows she is not perfect or as gilded as Winter makes her out to be. For one, the fact that she's barren means that she is literally empty and "damaged beyond repair" (p. 266) inside. And she sees something more in Winter and in the Ghost of St. Giles. She sees the heroism in Winter's work with the children and in St. Giles and she's the one who feels unworthy of him.

"You're perfect the way you are."
- Isabella to Winter, p. 315

The heroic and the monstrous -- each chapter of the novel begins with an excerpt from The Legend of the Harlequin Ghost of St. Giles. In Chapter Six, the Ghost lays dying and a mysterious man approaches him:

The man wore a cape that hid most of his form, but still one could see that he walked on a goat's cloven hooves. The man sat down beside the dying Harlequin and took a white clay pipe from his pocket. He lit the pipe and looked at the Harlequin, "Now, Harlequin," said he, "would you like to revenge yourself on your enemies...?"
- p. 102

According to legend, the Ghost made a Faustian bargain so that he could carry out his revenge. It is interesting to juxtapose this story with the work that Winter does -- the Ghost never kills. It is a heroic vow that he has made. And Winter has made another vow: he has remained celibate and has vowed never to marry because his duty to St. Giles comes first.

But the heroic and the monstrous both live within Winter. Many times in the novel, we see him trying to contain the animal within. It is a struggle for Winter -- an epic one that will alter the course of Winter's life, depending on what wins.

One hard thrust. That was all it would take to send the other man down those stairs and to oblivion. Winter's breath was tearing at his throat, his pulse beating like a war drum.

He wasn't an animal.

Winter stepped away, back toward a door behind him ...
- p. 159

It seems an impossible situation and one that cannot have a clear answer -- but there is. Winter realizes that it was never either/or -- but an "and" -- when he finally makes peace with himself, he realizes that his dreams for St. Giles can exist together with his dreams for himself and Isabella. (See p. 350)

Elizabeth Hoyt has a very distinct voice in historical romance and I found myself marveling at how well she uses words to convey a world of emotion, anger, desire and longing.

I would do violence for one glimpse of your naked breasts. Bleed for one taste of your nipple on my tongue.
- p. 78

Leaves you breathless, doesn't it? ^_^

This is the fourth book in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. The next book in the series, Lord of Darkness will be released February 2013. To find out more about the author and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

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