Wednesday, February 5, 2014

ARC Review: When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath

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Click here to pre-order the paperback at The Book Depository

When the Duke Was Wicked features Henry Sidney Stanford, the Duke of Lovingdon, who lost the love of his life and decided to abandon virtue and goodness for oblivion and vice. Grace Mabry has watched her dearest friend wrestle with his grief but, after two years, she can no longer stand quietly by as he slips farther and farther into the darkness. She's finally on the Marriage Mart this season and Grace has a plan to bring her friend back to the land of the living and, at the same time, find herself a man worthy of her dowry, her heart and her trust.

I cannot begin to express how much I enjoyed this novel -- and it has taken me (more than) a week to process this enjoyment. Even now as I sit and write this, I remember the characters: familiar and, yet, excitingly new -- and I smile. This is this novel's greatest strength: Lovingdon. Mabry. Darling. Graves. These are names that we came to know and love when we read Lorraine Heath's Scoundrels of St. James series and now Heath is revisiting the series by presenting to us the stories of the next generation of scoundrel offspring. From the first pages, it was a thrill to read about Grace's parents who are, many, many years later, still as compelling and as in love -- and then we read Grace's story.

After reading about so many heroines named Grace, I have come to conclude that it is a beautiful name for a heroine (and for anyone's future daughter) -- there is the meaning of the name, which is so ... meaningful and rich. It is a story in itself. Then you have Grace Mabry who is beautiful and kind and plays a mean game of poker -- but, is so insecure about herself -- and we wonder why. This is Grace's puzzle and one that the author slowly explains throughout the story.

The Ideal vs The Real: It is a painful but necessary process that Grace and Lovingdon have to go through. Lovingdon had idealized his wife and their married life to the point that he could not imagine feeling anything remotely close to it ever again. He closed himself off to the possibility and, when Grace came along, he struggled with the reality, the truth, that Grace has shown him. That it is never the same. That it is always new. That it is okay to feel something.

Grace is not just the savior but she is also saved by her actions. Like Lovingdon, what happened to her in the past has caused her to fear for her future. She has long delayed it but not it is inevitable and she must step forward. Lovingdon gives her the courage the face her insecurities, even though he also doesn't know the specifics of her secret. In that, the love that Lovingdon feels for Grace is beyond doubt. He sees her as she is and has always known her to be an imperfect person -- but has always, always loved her for it.

When Grace finally reveals her deepest, darkest fear, it is heartbreaking -- but also, mold-breaking and an interesting reflection on what we see and what is really there. For all the world, Grace has the perfect life but we know that perfection is an illusion and every person has their own demons to conquer. She challenges the stereotype of the beautiful debutante, who has become (in recent years) a foil and, often villain, to the wallflower heroine. Grace shows us that debutantes are worth taking a second look at -- that they have an interesting story to tell as well. Grace is a mix of powerful and vulnerable, which she needs to be for Lovingdon's sake. Her quest to save her friend requires courage and steadiness and I admired her single-minded focus in getting her friend back.

My favorite scene is the poker game. One word: Dodger's. It happens in the third chapter and I loved it for two reasons:
1. From a writing/reading standpoint, I appreciated that Heath used the early chapters to layout the story of the main characters. In many first books of a series, the first chapter is usually a deluge of names and voices but Heath waits until the second half of the third chapter to reveal the rest of the characters of the series. It is a gradual easing-into and allowed me to get to know each individual at a slower pace.

2. From a fangirl standpoint, it's Dodger's! And these are the children of the original founders! (In case it isn't clear, I LOVED this book. A lot.) And Grace is, apparently, a great poker player.

"No! God, Grace, what are you doing here?" Drake Darling came up out of his chair at a large round table covered in green baize. It appeared he had repeatedly tunnelled his fingers through his dark hair, a sign that the evening was not going his way. He managed Dodger's; she suspected a day would come when he would own it.

Her eyes momentarily stung in the smoke-hazed room. Tables with more decanters lined the walls. Servants liveried in red stood at the ready. One tall fellow moved toward her. Drake held up a hand to stay him.

"I've come to play," she stated succinctly.

Viscount Langdon, son to the Earl of Claybourne, groaned while glaring at her. "I'm not in the mood to lose tonight."

"Then give up your chair and be off," she said. Knowing that Langdon would do neither, she signalled to the nearest footman, whom she recognised from earlier visits. Without hesitation he brought her a chair, apparently well aware which side his bread was buttered on.

Amidst grumbling, three of the gents at the table scooted their chairs over to make room for her. The fourth moved nary a muscle, merely focused his dark brown gaze on her as though he could see clear through to her soul. His perusal caused an uncomfortable knot to form behind her breastbone. His dark blond hair curled where next met broad shoulder. The darker bristle shadowing his jaw made him appear dangerous. She had an uneasy feeling that he knew exactly why she was there and the game she was about to play. "Lovingdon."


"How did you know we were here?" the Duke of Avendale asked.

She turned her attention to the dark-haired, dark-eyed man sitting beside her. Like Lovingdon, he'd inherited his title at a tender age. His connection to her family came through the man who had married his widowed mother, William Graves, one of London's finest physicians. "None of you were at Claybourne's ball. What else was I to think?"
- loc 512 to loc 536

Will this book work with new readers of Lorraine Heath? Definitely. Heath shares enough of the deep (and long) backstory that exists between the hero and heroine. I love the control that she wielded in the details of their past, so we understand what is at stake for Lovingdon and Grace. She displays the same control when she brought in the rest of the characters of the series: enough to tease and keep us interested, but not too much that it would take attention away from the main story.

Wistful and stirring. This is a must read from Lorraine Heath!

When the Duke Was Wicked is the first book in Lorraine Heath's new series, Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, and will be released on February 25, 2014. To find out more about Lorraine Heath and her books, click below:

Disclosure: I received this ARC via Edelweiss. Thank you to Lorraine Heath and to Avon Books for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.


  1. Super review! Lorraine Heath is what I term a "staple" author well-known for her terrific novels. I'm really looking forward to reading this one too.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi, Connie! Thank you! This was an awesome book and I hope you enjoy it as well!

    Agree on Heath being a staple author -- she's definitely, permanently, on my auto-buy list ^_^

  3. Man, this is a fantastic review, Tin. I'll totally pick this one up now. :)

  4. Fantastic review, Tin! I absolutely loved The Scoundrels of St. Giles series and I can't tell you how thrilled I was to discover that Lorraine Heath was writing a series about the next generation. I have this on my Kindle and will certainly have to move it up my TBR list!



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