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How many times can a heroine be kidnapped in one book? In Lady Phoebe Batten's case, it's one time too many -- as a sister of the Duke of Wakefield, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in London, Phoebe is already prime target for many fortune hunters and ne'er-do-wells -- and, with her blindness, the world seems to think Phoebe is the most vulnerable target in her family. Maximus has hired Captain James Trevillion to protect Phoebe. Neither party is initially happy with this new arrangement: James sees his new position as a waste of his time and skills, and Phoebe bristles at the constriction to her freedom.
Phoebe is an interesting heroine: her blindness isn't even the problem, but her family's perception of her blindness is. Maximus is overly protective of his youngest sister and reacts to everything that happens to Phoebe, without pausing to think about how his actions and decisions are affecting her life. Phoebe initially saw James Trevillion as a proxy for Maximus, and hated what he represented in her life: oppressiveness and rules.
"Sometimes I rather dislike you, Captain Trevillion."
"I am most gratified that it's only sometimes, my lady," he replied, and he brought the horse to a halt with a murmur of approval for the animal.
- Chapter 1
But James also becomes the key to Phoebe discovering freedom -- when Phoebe's life is endangered once again, James decides to take Phoebe out of London and brings her to the safest place he could think of: his childhood home in Cornwall. Except Cornwall is not a safe place for James: there's a reason why he left and hadn't come back all this time.
Elizabeth Hoyt continues to explore binary oppositions in Dearest Rogue: safe/unsafe, free/not free -- but she blurs the lines by "mixing up" the binaries: Phoebe is safe, but not free. James is free, but not safe. I love how Hoyt avoids setting up ideal situations, but, instead, explores the imperfections and inconsistencies of life in this world. As the daughter and sister of a duke, Phoebe should be in an enviable position -- but people do not envy her lack of sight. (I think Phoebe would give up anything to gain the freedom that comes with being able to see.) And, in a sense, that's what happens when she arrives at James's home -- she's no longer Lady Phoebe, sister of the Duke of Wakefield. She doesn't have the comfort (or cleanliness) of her home. She's simply Phoebe, and she discovers all that had been missing in her life: that sense of normalcy and acceptance, the recognition of her abilities (as opposed to her inabilities), etc.
This love story has been developing several books back (when he got injured facing The Ghost), so I can't really talk about how their love developed -- rather, Dearest Rogue is the culmination of all that bottled-up emotions. I'm approaching this from James's point of view and I wonder if it is a blessing or curse that Phoebe could not see how much he desired and wanted her all this time. I wonder about his struggle to maintain a professional distance, while being personally (and emotionally) involved with Phoebe.
Her light brown hair was coming down around her slender shoulders, her round cheeks pink from the wind of their ride, her mouth a reddened rosebud. She looked young and a little bit lost, though she stood in her own ancestral home. He wanted rather badly to go to her and take her in his arms again. Something in his chest ached -- just once, briefly -- before he shoved it down and covered it with all the reasons his instinctive reactions were impossible -- and foolish to boot.
- Chapter 1
Phoebe, on the other hand, is only gradually learning about herself, and, perhaps, the idea of attraction is part of the process. She's only ever seen James Trevillion as an inconvenience, and it is only now that she wonders about him as a person and as a man.
Theirs is not the most explosive or the steamiest of romances, but I appreciated how they seemed to view each other (and their relationship) with reverence and intensity. I also appreciated the journey that Phoebe took as their relationship bloomed: she grew from being dependent (not by choice) to being independent (her choice). At the end, when Phoebe confronted her brother, Maximus, and gave voice to her frustration, there is no doubt that Phoebe is an equal partner to James.
Right now, here on this lonely beach, she was no longer the sister of the most powerful man in England. And perhaps he was no longer a man scarred by faulty decisions.
They were simply Phoebe and James, lovers.
Would that they could always be thus.
- Chapter 14
I had intended to discuss how this series has been moving away from Maiden Lane (and The Ghost) on to Harte's Folly (and the rest of London). I miss reading about St. Giles and I miss The Ghost, but I love how this series is growing and, literally, breaking out of its own shell. The next story, Sweetest Scoundrel, features Asa Makepeace and Eve Dinwoody, which is a curious blend of the old (Asa is brother to Winter, Silence and Temperance, the "original" Maiden Lane series) and the new (Eve is connected to Valentine Napier, a character introduced in the first Harte's Folly book, Darling Beast.)
A final word about Valentine Napier. He's a curious one. The ambiguity of his moral character intrigues me, and I like (with reservation*) how he seems to be a blur of hero/villain. (*I will withhold final judgment after I read his book.)
Dearest Rogue is Book 8 of the Maiden Lane series. To find out more about Elizabeth Hoyt and her books, click below: