Saying goodbye to this series wasn’t easy. But as we return one last time to the dark, criminal underworld of Sarah MacLean’s nineteenth-century London with what is nothing short of a subversive feminist masterpiece that gloriously demolishes sexist tropes and stereotypes, we are reminded once more what a rare gem in the Historical Romance genre this author truly is. A rapturous tale of redemption, forgiveness, and second chances, this is the book that we’ve been waiting for from the very start of the series—the story of the villainous third bastard son of the late Duke of Marwick, and the woman he’s spent half a lifetime searching for—and it was everything I never even knew it could be.
She’d been forgotten the moment she’d been born—a girl, the bastard daughter of another man, unworthy of attention, or even a name of her own, valuable only in that she’d been born at all, a placeholder for a son. A placeholder for him.
To most, she is known as Dahlia, the enigmatic queen of Covent Garden—proprietress of a women’s pleasure club and the leader of one of the most coveted intelligence networks in London—but to those closest to her, she is still Grace Condry, a girl born with no name of her own, and whose very existence threatens the life of another. From bastard daughter of a madman to one of the best child fighters the Garden has ever known, Grace has built an empire from sheer grit and determination, her name alone striking both fear and awe wherever she goes. But there hasn’t been a day in the past twenty years that Grace hasn’t looked over her shoulder, knowing there was a man who would never stop chasing her and threatening to bring her whole world crumbling down.
All else—her home, her business, her brothers, the people of the Rookery, they were all shared. But vengeance was hers alone.
The only thing that Ewan, the Duke of Marwick, has every wanted was to keep the only woman he’s ever loved safe and alive, the mere idea of her being gone nearly driving him to madness. But when he finally finds her, she is no longer the girl he used to know, in her stead standing a woman ready to mete out revenge for a long-ago night that changed all their lives forever.
“You chose it over me. And you killed me then. The girl I was. Everything I dreamed. You did that. And you can never have it back.” She paused, refusing to let him look away. Wanting him to hear it. Needing to hear it herself. “You can never have her back. Because she is dead.”
To earn her forgiveness, Ewan is willing to suffer any indignity, to do any labour, and to go any distance that would make him worthy of the woman he never stopped loving. Even if it means becoming someone different, someone stronger, someone better than the man he’d allowed himself to turn into. But Grace has spent the past two decades believing that her first love chose a dukedom over a life with her, and trusting her heart with him again might prove to be impossible. Even as her body seems to be saying quite the opposite.
“I loved you,” he said, knowing it wasn’t enough.
“I know,” she said. “And I loved you. But it was a springtime love. A summer one. Left alone to flourish until the cold came. Until the wind threatened to rip it apart and the frost killed it off.”
Sarah MacLean’s writing hums with yearning and desire, but it is the innate strength of her leading female character—a woman in full control of her destiny—and the willingness of the hero to redeem himself at all costs that sets this story apart. These characters kept surprising me in the best ways, knocking down all my preconceptions of them. But the best part for me was that their happily-ever-after is not the result of a quick fix or some magical ‘Band-Aid’ solution to their problems—they ultimately move forward together by acknowledging and honouring the pain of their past. Part tale of second chances, part holy grail of grovel romance novels, and one hundred percent the most satisfying, angst-filled ending to a much-beloved series—when it comes to Historical Romances, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.
“Why did you come back?”
“For the same reason I have done everything, from the start. For you.”