Kerrigan Byrne’s historicals are a heady mixture of angst, passion, and redemption that really works for me, despite the fact that usually if I hear the word “angst” I’m like seeyoulaterbye and move on to the next book in my TBR pile. But Byrne has mastered the delicate balance of heavy emotion and Happily Ever After: her characters feel so much, and though there is so much stacked against them and so much that they’ve done wrong—specifically talking here about her male leads in her Victorian Rebels series—they yearn deeply. You see them living in the dark and thinking that’s all they deserve, but throughout her books they move into the light, and it’s a beautiful and hopeful thing.
Her latest release, The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo, continues in this marvelous tradition. Lorelai Weatherstoke, who has a limp from a broken foot that didn’t heal properly, is drawn toward helping the wounded. She nurses a young man who has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything of his past, and she names him Ash. We know that he was a prison inmate—one of the Blackheart Brothers—who was mistakenly attacked in his prison cell, burned with lye, and then left for dead.
Ash thinks that Lorelai is angelic, and Lorelai is drawn to Ash in a way that she’s never been drawn to anyone before. They’re both young when we first meet them—Lorelai is only fourteen—and the beginning of their love story is sweet and tender, full of promise. But then Ash leaves for a short trip with her brother, Mortimer, and never returns.
Flash forward twenty years to Lorelai’s wedding day, when the infamous and terrifying pirate the Rook comes to steal Lorelai and take her and her sister-in-law aboard his ship. To her great shock, Lorelai realizes that The Rook is Ash…but not. The Rook tells her that the man she knew as Ash is dead.
What happened to Ash and can she bring him back? Can she make the Rook feel again?
Throughout The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo the Rook/Ash is very resistant to the notion of any kind of redemption. In fact, he spends a great deal of the book insisting that he is just as terrible as everyone says. In the immediate aftermath of her kidnapping, he succeeds in proving this. In one cringe-worthy moment, the Rook/Ash says that it’s not possible for married women to be raped. Though this claim made me wonder if he really was too far gone, he fairly quickly does an about-face, listing what he could bring to a marriage to Lorelai and offering her the opportunity to “use” his “body.” This is an offering which is more meaningful than it might initially seem given that his body has repeatedly been used by the people who held him physically captive over the years.
Though the Rook/Ash's verbal assertions of possession of Lorelai are by turns frustrating and thrilling, to his credit, Lorelai also feels ownership over Ash and who they were together. But will memories of the past be enough to overcome the years he has spent doing unspeakable things to get back to her? Is a present with Ash possible?
Rich and bold, The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo is another sumptuous entry into the Victorian Rebels series. Byrne writes beautifully and she takes the reader on an inimitable journey that’s surprisingly full of hope, even though there’s so much pain along the way.
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions included are my own.
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Give me that HEA, please.
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