Historical romance is not one of my favourite genres to read. I like a good historical fiction from time to time, sure (generally centered around the world wars) but I don’t read a lot of mass-market romances because they aren’t usually my thing. Despite this, when I read what Alexis Hall, writer of one of my favourite reads of 2020, was doing with A Lady for a Duke (available everywhere May 24) I wanted to drive right in. How could a romance novel about a transgender woman in the nineteenth century possibly work? If anyone could pull it off, it would be Hall.
When Viola Carroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.
Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognizes her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.
As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.
I think this story just wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fact that the main character was a transgender woman and that wasn’t the main source of the conflict at any point of the story (especially in a historical romance—more of that, please!), but I think I went into this expecting more Boyfriend Material than Victorian romance novel, and I shouldn’t have. And though Alexis Hall is really a talented writer, it was that writing, and the last few chapters of this book that redeemed it for me. I’m glad I stuck with it, but this was a *long* read and started out very, very slow—for me, anyway, but again, this really isn’t my kind of romance story…I’m much more of a contemporary girl.
I don’t really want to spoil anything or say much more because I think people are going to love this and I don’t want to help shape anyone’s opinion on this one, but I will say that I’m so happy writers like Hall exist because they take chances and write what they want to write and have a vast, exciting body of work, and as a person who loves literature, that is what I hope every author can be.
“He lifted his eyes to her again—and there was something different there this time, a searching, a confusion, an increasing incredulity. And, then, worse than her worst imaginings: recognition.” —Alexis Hall, A Lady for a Duke
Thank you to NetGalley and Forever for the advanced copy, and to K Mitch Hodge on Unsplash for the featured photo.