Thief of Shadows – Elizabeth Hoyt

What a charming surprise from my Netgalley list. It sounded like a classic wish-fulfillment adventure-tinged romance: lady rescues famous masked thief, whom she actually knows in his alternate (secret) identity, as the rather colorless administrator of an orphanage. And adventure-tinged romance was exactly what it was. I’m a little surprised to have given this four stars – but I had a lot of fun.

It is enjoyable to see a woman rescuing a man. And it’s always, always fun to have secret identities and avenging crime-fighters added to the mix – particularly in a Victorian setting. The setup for the latter is actually rather nice – it’s at least as good as some of the superhero origins I’ve seen.

Winter Makepeace is the head of an orphanage in St. Giles, one of the seamiest and most dangerous areas of London. He is utterly devoted to the home and to his charges – during the day. At night he forgoes sleep to roam the streets of the district in a mask and cape, carrying an illegal sword and looking to protect and avenge those who need it so badly. It’s a charge that was laid on him by the one who taught him the sword, and he takes it seriously. Very seriously. I think to state how seriously would be a bit of a spoiler for the romance, so I’ll leave it at very.

However, his legend is muddled. Some hail the Ghost of St. Giles as a savior and avenger of the downtrodden – and others whisper that he is a ravager of women, a thief, an assassin. One night a mob who subscribes to the latter view almost manages to catch him, and he is wounded in escaping – to be found in the middle of the road by Lady Isabel Beckinhall and her servants. Isabel – finding this all very exciting and intriguing – has him tucked into her carriage and gets all of them to safety through sheer aristocratic will.

In being treated for his injuries, the man recovers enough to demand that his mask be left on – and Isabel sees to it that his wish is respected, which may be partly because she enjoys the mystery. This sets the stage for all sorts of suspense and, of course, Clark Kent moments as Isabel becomes involved in the orphanage and is thrown together with Winter. The poor man is put through the wringer in this, in more ways than one.

To paraphrase another review of another book, this isn’t Literature, and makes no pretenses: it is an entertaining and fast-moving read with a vein of smut, and as such is very nicely written and very enjoyable.

As I read, and as the supporting characters moved about the stage, I kept thinking that quite a few of those characters had stories of their own to tell. It wasn’t obtrusive, just enough information here and there that intrigued me. And, of course, as it turns out, this is part of a series, and other books in the series do in fact feature those other characters. And I have to say: well done. My interest was very much piqued without my ever getting the feeling that the current story was being interrupted by ads for other books. Very nicely done. I’ll be reading the others.

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