One of very few books whose release date I marked in the calendar! Couldn’t wait to read Victor’s story (the most interesting character of the series), plus the explanation for how the duke died in the duel. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely! I loved Victor, as I suspected I would, and although the revelation of what happened at the duel wasn’t particularly surprising, there was enough real tension to drive the plot along very nicely. One word of warning: because of the nature of the plot, which culminates in all the principal characters in Brussels at the time of the Battle of Waterloo, it makes far more sense to have read the preceding books first.
Here’s the premise: Victor, the new Duke of Cuttyngham, has been left behind at Cuttyngs, alone but for the servants. He sent away everyone but his stepmother and sister, but even they have jumped ship and gone off to Brussels. But into his quiet, studious life comes Olivia, the natural daughter of Victor’s cousin and heir, to warn him that his life may be in danger. Which is lovely and all, but she’s the daughter of Victor’s cousin and heir presumptive, Anthony Severne, who is no friend to Victor, so how can he possibly trust her? And she, of course, has her own concerns about putting herself forward. But she knows something about the duel and so she feels she has to speak out.
I’m not going to say much about the duel, except that the secrets behind it come nicely to the boil in Brussels. Let’s talk about the romance, instead. As with the entire series, everything happens fairly quickly – far too quickly for credibility, perhaps. But it’s all very nicely done, and it was lovely seeing the curmudgeonly and reclusive Victor, thoroughly abused by his father because of a malformed leg, but with a very good brain and far more heart than his father, stepping forward and becoming a true hero. And he likes being the duke at last, and making things happen, instead of being nothing but an irritant to his father. I liked how decisive he was when he set out for Brussels, making careful plans and protecting Olivia and the servants, as well as himself.
Olivia was not quite such a striking character for me, not because there was anything lacking but purely because she was overshadowed by the towering personality of Victor. If you’re the sort of reader who loves to meet up with characters from earlier books, then you’ll adore the second half of this one, where everyone from the entire series is gathered in Brussels. I got muddled over who was whom, but that’s just me. The villain was suitably villainous, and if the identity was obvious from the start, that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the ending one iota.
The author does a terrific job of showing the atmosphere in the build-up to the Battle of Waterloo — the British insouciance and determination to carry on as normal and not be frightened by the French, and yet the growing tension. We see some of the aftereffects of the battle, and the scale of the carnage is not hidden, but it’s not graphic (I’m allergic to war stories, so I’d have bailed if there had been anything gruesome).
This was a wonderful conclusion to the series. No, it’s not particularly plausible, but it’s a hugely entertaining romp from dramatic start to equally dramatic finish. I loved it. There is some mildly graphic sexual content, for those who like to know about such things, but for me this was a wonderful five stars.