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Last night, I became a meme. Specifically, this one:
And it's all because of Elizabeth Hoyt's Darling Beast, which I ended up reading from cover to cover from 9pm to past midnight.
While the first six books of the Maiden Lane series feature a character who unleashes his inner beast, Apollo Greaves is a character who is trying to discover his inner humanity. After four years in Bedlam, Apollo has escaped and is hiding out at his friend Asa Makepeace's place while he figures out his next move. In the meantime, he pretends to be Sam Smith, a gardener, who is helping Asa rebuild Harte's Folly. (Asa is Mr. Harte. It seems his siblings do not approve of his "worldly" pursuits.)
Apollo lost his ability to speak while at Bedlam and communicates to Asa through his notebook. When Lily first encounters Apollo, she believed he was the monster her son, Indio, claimed to have seen. Lily also believed that Apollo was simple and had a hard time communicating with him.
Apollo is really a character one can empathise with -- his looks and size and his title (Viscount Kilbourne) don't fit with each other. He doesn't look like typical gentleman, but he isn't brutish or loutish either. I pictured Apollo as an outsider looking for his place in this world. His sister, Artemis, suggested that he leave England, and, one would think this would be Apollo's safest choice: the world had (mis)judged him, the system had failed him and resulted in his stay at Bedlam, and, as a mute, he can't really be Viscount Kilbourne -- but Apollo chose to stay, at the risk of his freedom, his sanity and his life.
If only this were another life -- one in which he might impress her with his title or his own verbal wit.
He blinked and looked down at the notebook in his hand. The page had wrinkled beneath the clench of his fingers. He was in hiding, his title of no consequences under the circumstances, and he couldn't speak.
- p. 61
What kept me reading through the wee hours of the morning were these questions:
1. Will Apollo Greaves regain his voice?
2. Can he prove his innocence? Will he be able to find out the real murderer?
While the central figure in this story is Apollo (the title also refers to him) and the story really focuses on his redemption, Lily Stump isn't merely a placeholder romantic interest. Lily is an actress, but, not just any actress, Lily is the leading comedic actress of her generation and is known throughout the theater world as Robin Goodfellow. She's currently out of work and lives at the theater of Harte's Folly (the part of it that didn't burn down) with her son, Indio, and her old nurse, Maude. I'm thinking about this right now, how a small detail like "comedy" is significant to Lily's character and to her relationship with Apollo -- and I've concluded that it's a very thoughtful detail. Comedy guarantees a happy ending. Comedy means the presence of laughter and lightness -- two things, which, I think are sorely missing from Apollo's life.
His mouth twisted wryly at himself. She was a lauded actress, vivacious, quick and pretty. Even when he'd been able to speak, most of his feminine company had been bought. He wasn't a comely man. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Yet she seemed happy that he'd returned, and that simple fact made his chest bloom with joy.
- p. 90
I wonder about Hoyt's allusion to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest and how Lily chose the name Robin Goodfellow. (I still can't figure out this point, but I'm certain it's important. ^_^) I did love how Hoyt subverted the idea of Caliban -- in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Caliban is a deformed human being and is seen as a monster. Caliban is a monster inside and out, but Apollo is not. While Indio initially thought Apollo was a monster, he soon discovered (by observing him) that Apollo is someone he can trust and befriend. Indio is actually instrumental in Lily and Apollo's love story.
This story expounds on the idea of appearances and how we judge people by their outward form and it's quite ironic how we are deceived by what we see. I was especially intrigued by how Hoyt portrayed Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery -- his character is a bit ambiguous and I didn't know (up to the last moment) if he was a good guy or a bad guy. It was fascinating reading how the Duke of Montgomery walked the fine line between honour and villainy and I hope to read more of him in future instalments of the series. ^_^
Apollo Greaves isn't the only character in Darling Beast to get a second chance. Captain James Trevillion has been a thorn in The Ghost's side since the early books of the Maiden Lane series, but we are given an opportunity to change our opinion of him. He was actually the one who arrested Apollo Greaves four years ago. But, now, injured and working as Lady Phoebe Batten's bodyguard, after some time and some distance from his former position, James Trevillion has doubts about what he witnessed that night and questions whether Apollo really committed the murders. I think there's something very noble and heroic about a man who is willing to admit his mistakes and is doing everything to rectify the situation. I think this is one of the benefits of a long series (especially one with an author who has a clear vision of her characters' growth) -- we are able to see characters develop and evolve. In the captain's case, from a flat character (antagonist vs The Ghost of St Giles), he has become a surprisingly interesting multi-faceted character. (I really enjoyed the short excerpt of Dearest Rogue at the end of the book. ^_^
Elizabeth Hoyt is known for weaving fairy tales into her stories, and the notion of the transformative power of love and acceptance is evident in Darling Beast, but, what I find interesting is how the author has taken this classic fairy tale ending and made it the beginning of her story.
Just yesterday she'd had tea with the most beautiful man she'd ever seen. The Duke of Montgomery had aristocratic cheekbones, sapphire-blue eyes, and shining, golden hair -- and he'd moved her not at all.
Yet this ... beast before her, this man with his wild muddy-brown hair, his animallike [sic] shoulders, his big, knobby nose, his wide, crooked mouth and heavy brow. Him she found attractive.
- pp. 44-45
It's truly amazing and mind-blowing how Elizabeth Hoyt writes her stories. ^_^
Darling Beast is an electrifying, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable addition to the Maiden Lane series. It is Book 7 in the series. To find out more about Elizabeth Hoyt and her books, click below: