Following the Battle of Waterloo, Viola Carroll abandoned her previous identity, as well as her aristocratic title, to finally embrace life as a trans woman. Allowing the world to believe she had been killed in action, Viola took on the role of companion to her sister-in-law, Lady Louise Marleigh.
But Viola’s dearest friend, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood, is not coping so well. He drowns himself in alcohol and opium to cope with his despair over Viola’s death, the lingering pain of a war injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Louise determines that she and Viola must intervene, and so they travel to Gracewood’s ancestral home, Castle Morgencald.
The term “slow burn” doesn’t begin to capture the agonized pining of this romance, which is absolutely suffused with yearning. Hall poignantly depicts Viola’s tangled mix of relief and sadness upon being reunited with Gracewood. Viola has nurtured a quiet hope that their connection to each other would be undeniable—that Gracewood would know and accept her without a second’s thought. But if he doesn’t, she agonizes over telling him that she’s the friend he’s long thought dead, knowing that revealing her identity could ruin the new life she’s built for herself. Some of the most emotionally fraught scenes in the novel are when Hall focuses on Gracewood’s inner turmoil, empathetically portraying a once powerful, nearly untouchable man who is overwhelmed by trauma.
Hall adds some levity with flirtatious banter between his main couple, moments when readers can see the dark cloud hovering over Gracewood become a little lighter. There’s also a robust and interesting cast of side characters, which could mean (fingers crossed) A Lady for a Duke is but the first book in a series.
Hall first hit the bestseller list in 2020 with Boyfriend Material, a contemporary rom-com, and his fanbase has been growing ever since. Now that the British writer has hit it out of the park with this emotionally resonant, character-driven Regency romance, readers’ biggest question (besides “Is there anything Alexis Hall can’t do?”) will be “What will Alexis Hall think of next?” No matter what it is, it’ll be nuanced, swoony and a stellar example of what romance can do—just like A Lady for a Duke.