Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle, is introduced to us just before he's set upon in St. Giles. Tall, muscular and well-able to hold his own, he is still outnumbered, but luckily the friendly resident Ghost of St. Giles, who we met in previous books and is decked in harlequin, weaponized glory, pops down from the rooftops to help him out. He quickly learns the Ghost is not just deadly and efficient, but female to boot. She kisses him and disappears, and the story begins.
The Ghost, as it turns out, is Alf, whom we met in previous books. Raised in St. Giles, she's lived her life dressed as a boy for survival, first as a member of a gang and then later as an informant for hire. She's tough as nails, thoroughly convincing and as it turns out, has a crush on Kyle. Like recognizes like for both of them and events soon conspire to bring them together for work and pleasure.
Kyle himself is a spymaster of sorts, working for the King to rid the world, deservedly, of the Lords of Chaos, a group of high ranking gentlemen with utterly vile habits and traditions. The Duke of Montgomery (the protag of the last book and probably the closest thing I've seen to an antihero in historical romance) has provided him with a list of four names, but there's no proof of either the misdeeds of the group or who the members themselves are, making Kyle's job especially difficult. He suspects the attack in St. Giles is related and ultimately seeks out Alf for help in discovering his assailants and more importantly, who hired them, as he believes this could be what helps him tie together the pieces of his information and take down the Lords of Chaos.
This is the arc of the story, and where I struggled the most. I felt a lot of deus ex machina type events occurred to tie everything together and the pacing of these events seemed to happen extraordinarily quickly as compared to the relationship building between Hugh and Alf. Key secondary characters appeared in very eyebrow-raising coincidental situations, though I suppose there's an argument to be made for an underlying social commentary happening regarding the arrogance of the persons involved, both through the power of being in the Lords of Chaos and the ton.
In addition, a huge component of Hugh's character is the way he responded to his previous wife and how that informs his relationship with Alf, but what exactly happens with his first wife is never explained. I appreciate room for inference, but I really wanted more from this to help me understand why he reacted so strongly and why a thoughtful, reasonable person would struggle with what was otherwise clear. The author did a terrific job, however, with Alf, providing a little background (though I still want to know more - these whys are killing me!) that appropriately set up her reasoning and her recklessness.
The push and pull and changing power dynamics between Alf and Kyle were what really made the book for me. Scrappy heroines are always riding a fine line between needlessly argumentative and flat out stupidity for the sake of appearing tough, which means the hero is put in a position to rescue her -- decidedly counterproductive. Alf's written in such a way that her strengths are never diminished as a plot device, and Hugh's acknowledgment and respect of that allows them to help each other, instead of needing to rescue her. The second part of the balance comes from the era and class, which pushed women into a submissive and frequently powerless role by virtue of gender, and I thought Ms. Hoyt handled that aspect brilliantly, though admittedly Alf's background and Hugh's history made it a little easier on her. Also worth noting is in some of the previous books, the sex scenes often felt heavy-handed and unnecessary, and here they were a continuation of that wonderful push-pull dynamic. They are explicit, however, so if you're shy or unappreciative of such things, this is not the author for you. Inspirational romance it is not, at least not in the marketing sense. ;)
Georgian-era London, though not something I'm especially familiar with, feels natural and the language appropriate, so you stay immersed. St. Giles comes across as a threat and not a caricature, something that happens less often than I would like. The secondary characters are quickly drawn but fleshed out enough to feel genuinely supportive and not afterthoughts, and there's a brief but important nod to the orphanage that started off as a main character in the first book and several thereafter. There's also an interesting setup for the next novel in the series, so if you've liked the Maiden Lane series thus far, stay tuned!