Heat Factor: Above-average historical romance heat
Character Chemistry: Always solid—even if I hated the characters, they always seemed to like each other.
Plot: Something bonkers is definitely going down.
Overall: I binge-read this whole series over the course of about a month in the fall of 2021, and I have no regrets. These books are the perfect mix of romantic and bonkers.
The Maiden Lane books take place in early Georgian England (1737–1742), mostly in London. Hoyt slowly builds a whole world, and skillfully sets up each book by hinting at the conflict and introducing the characters in previous books; in some cases, secondary characters appear in multiple books before starring in their own stories. I would subdivide them into four distinct three-book arcs, which I’ll discuss in more detail later when I recap the individual books. For now, let’s talk about some overarching characteristics of this series.
Tropes: Evil Men and Cross-Class Marriages
The morality chain trope is strong in this series. I would say that Wicked Intentions (Book 1), Scandalous Desires (Book 3), Duke of Sin (Book 10), and Duke of Desire (Book 12) are pure morality chain books, but pretty much every single one of the heroes has Darkness in them that needs to be countered by the Light brought by the heroine. Even the hero of Thief of Shadows (Book 4), who runs an orphanage and is a literal superhero by night who never kills people and has turned to vigilantism because he cares for the poor down-trodden souls of the slums, talks about fighting his internal darkness.
Another central theme in these books is cross-class interaction. The series is interested not only in aristocrats but also in the regular people of London, so we’ve got books featuring criminals, street kids, theater people, soldiers (non-commissioned), servants, and middle-class workers. Because there are all kinds of people interacting with each other, it allows Hoyt to, for example, write different kinds of ballroom scenes in each book. A housekeeper would experience a ball differently than a companion or a debutante or a cutpurse passing for a lady. This wide range of social backgrounds allows Hoyt to create an interconnected world where the stories don’t feel repetitive.
Fairy Tale Vibes
While the Maiden Lane books are historical fiction—and include references to real social issues of the early 18th century, particularly in the first half of the series—I would not call them realistic fiction. Rather, they have distinct fairy tale vibes. Not in that there’s any magic in these books, but in the feeling of escapism that they evoke. There are heroic heroes and dastardly villains, and true love conquers all. Hoyt plays into this by including an original fairy tale that mirrors a central theme or characteristic of each book, told in snippets at the beginning of each chapter.
(The fairy tales in the novellas are not purely original stories, but rather fun retellings of “The Princess and Pea,” “The Frog Prince,” and “The Little Mermaid.”)
A Bit with a Dog
This may not be true for Book 1, but other than that, all the books feature a twee dog. Some of the twee dogs are little purse dogs, and some are mangy terriers, and some are giant dog-beasts, but there is always a bit with a dog. (And the occasional cat.) In the Acknowledgments for each book, Hoyt thanks the friend or fan who helped name the dog-character who appears.
Have I mentioned the bonkers?
The plot in every single one of these books is absolutely bonkers. There is always some kind of suspense or adventure plot: prepare yourself for kidnappings, murders, and explosions. These books are not for the faint of heart—there are some exceedingly grim scenes, and some of the worst Bad Dads of Romance. Things get more bonkers as the series progresses; one might argue that it jumps the shark around Duke of Midnight (Book 6), but the character work remains solid amidst the increasingly ridiculous plots.
Now that we’ve covered some overarching themes, let’s talk about the individual books.
Arc 1: Gin and Orphans
The first three books in the series take place predominantly in the slum of St. Giles, and heavily feature conflicts (both political and criminal) about the sale of gin. At least one character in each of these books is intimately involved with the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children.
An excellent series opener, this book features the wicked Lord Caire (aka Lucious Malfoy, and I’m gonna keep that typo) and Temperance, who runs said Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children with her brother. This is a morality chain, depraved man makes a wager with a nice woman who has secret desires, cross-class, hunt for a killer romance. (Full review here.)
This might be the best seducing-the-fiancée book I’ve ever read. The angst and the emotional beats are perfect (especially since it’s his brother’s fiancée being stolen). Bonus points for family conflict about the gin trade.
I admit that I struggled with the hero in this one. Charming Mickey is a rogue and a river pirate (albeit a very very wealthy one) who knowingly ruined Silence’s life because he felt like it back in Book 1. Silence’s attraction to Mickey now that she finds herself back in his lair for *reasons* didn’t quite feel earned to me, but superfans of morally questionable characters will probably like this one.
Arc 2: The Ghost
So in the first three books, the Ghost of St. Giles is a recurring background character. He runs around the slums at night in a harlequin’s motley and mask, protecting people from sundry thugs and assorted villains. Now it’s time to meet the man behind the mask. Spoiler alert: there’s more than one Ghost running around.
Schoolmaster by day, vigilante by night: Winter Makepeace is a fascinating hero. Isabel, the widow who rescues him from the watch (when he’s in vigilante mode) and then gives him etiquette lessons (when he’s in schoolmaster mode) is an uptown girl heroine who takes no shit. Together? A great read. Bonus points for an infertility plot that’s not solved by a magic penis.
A seducing my spouse book! I love those. Godric and Megs got convenience-married after her One True Love was killed and her brother employed some light blackmail to make sure her reputation wasn’t sullied. Now it’s two years later, and Megs is determined to get her marriage consummated so she can have some babies. Oh, and did I mention that Megs is convinced that the Ghost killed her first love—and that Godric is the Ghost?
Technically, this novella takes place chronologically between Books 10 and 11, BUT the plot is completely standalone AND it features two secondary characters who meet for the first time in Book 5, and then never appear on-page again. I should mention that Sarah hates rakes, and Adam loves raking it up just to make her angry. A cute-enough Christmas story, though probably the weakest of the three novellas.
The Duke of Wayne (not his actual name) puts on a mask and takes to the slums to try and solve the mystery of his long-murdered parents. His only clue comes from collecting the pieces of his mother’s necklace that broke when she was killed in a mugging gone wrong. He has a literal batcave in his basement. There’s some other plot involving Artemis blackmailing him to get him to save her brother but I was very distracted by the Batman stuff. Also, the Duke is insufferable, and I thought Artemis deserved better. On the plus side, I had a blast retelling every plot point to my husband, who was less annoyed than usual because he got to try and figure out all of the comic book analogs.
Arc 3: The Villainy of the Duke of Montgomery
In the first half of the series, the characters go to this awesome-sounding pleasure garden slash theater called Harte’s Folly a lot. However, Harte’s Folly is burned down at the end of Book 6…and the very beautiful and very dangerous Duke of Montgomery wants to help Mr. Harte finance the rebuilding for reasons of his own.
We’ve got a mystery! Who framed Apollo Greaves for murder all those years ago? Plus there are shenanigans going down at the burned-down theater where he’s hiding out. Our heroine, Lily, is the preeminent breeches actress of the day…and also happens to be living in the same burned-down theater. Apollo spent several years in Bedlam before the Duke of Wayne broke him out in Book 6, so he’s processing a lot of shit in this book.
Lady Phoebe has been kidnapped! Oh shit, and then she has been kidnapped again! That darn Duke of Montgomery and his plots! While it is a shame her bodyguard is not very good at preventing kidnappings, James is excellent at rescuing her. He’s also excellent at pining.
On the one hand, this is a “I will help you recover from your deep-seated sexual trauma by sexing you” book. On the other hand, that scene in the carriage is very, very, very hot. Also, Asa needs to get over himself already. Oh, AND every single other couple appears, and some of the scenes feel very very forced. More cons than pros—a definite weak link in the series. Except for the sex.
Arc 4: The Lords of Chaos
Of the four arcs, this one is by far the more irritating. See, there’s this secret society called the Lords of Chaos, and they are very powerful and very perverse. They have “revels” where they all have naked non-consensual orgies that sometimes also involve setting hunting dogs on small children and engaging in blood sacrifice. Fun stuff!
Also known as “The Duke of Montgomery gets a redemption story…kinda.” This was my introduction to the Maiden Lane series, and despite the stupid Lord of Chaos sub-plot (which luckily doesn’t really come into play until the second half of the book), this book is absolutely delightful, mainly because Val is utterly without morals and utterly entertaining, and Bridget has just what it takes to stand up to him. (Full review here.)
I guess the Duke of Montgomery can’t help kidnapping people, because in Book 10 he kidnaps Hippolyta Royle, the richest heiress in London (after he fails at blackmailing her into marrying him). She escapes by the skin of her teeth—and of course, needs her own happily ever after.
There’s a new Ghost in St. Giles! Alf, a street urchin who deals in information (and who has been popping up in the margins of these stories since Book 5), is now moonlighting as the Ghost. While Alf wears men’s clothes—and has since childhood—she is female, but has complicated feelings about her gender. She’s not exactly a gender-fluid character, but she pushes the boundaries of gender-fluidity, especially once she finds herself in the Duke of Kyle’s household.
The weakest book in the series, in my opinion. Perhaps because the characters are only barely introduced in Book 11, rather than teased for several books, so their connection to the world feels less organic? Perhaps because the plot is very very centered on the terrible Lords of Chaos and I just don’t care about them? (We get POV scenes from the villain—the only other book where this happens is Book 3, and I didn’t like it then either.) Perhaps because Iris is determined to have children such that she repeatedly attempts to coerce sex from Raphael, even after he makes it clear that he definitely definitely does not want kids?
Luckily there’s one more story…
This capstone novella takes place in 1747, and ties the series together in a really lovely way. The heroine was an orphan at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, and was a minor character in the very first book. While we haven’t touched base with her since then, she is organically connected to most of the couples in the other books, so the various cameos don’t feel forced. Anyways, this is a long-lost heir book that does something interesting with the trope and delivers a sweet and satisfying HEA. If you read the series, you can skip the other two novellas, but don’t skip this one.
Buy Now: Amazon
Looking for something similar? Honestly, this series stands in a league of its own, but if you insist…