A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall (A Lady for a Duke #1)

When Viola Carroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.

Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.

As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Kay Eluvian (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Hachette Audio
YEAR: 2022
LENGTH: 460 pages (15 hours 26 minutes)
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Historical, Romance

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Minor Character(s), Trans Main Character(s).

In the two years since Normandy, Viola's best friend, Gracewood, has thought she was dead. In reality, Viola was figuring out how to be herself rather than the boy she was raised to be, and assumed that her best friend would move on with his life when she was no longer in it. Instead, she discovered that in his grief he has turned to drink and laudanum, terrifying his sister and staff with the depths of his despair. 

When Gracewood finally learns that Viola and his best friend are the same being, a new set of complications arise, as the social pressures on the lives of a duke and a lady's companion are deeply felt, and seem inescapable. As a trans person, it's tough to read what seems like transphobia coming from the love interest, even briefly, but the way it's handled and how both characters react to that moment serves to make the story stronger overall. 

I like the care paid to developing Gracewood's relationship with his sister, dealing with the trouble has in relating to a teenage girl when he is a man who was raised to give orders rather than to listen. Viola and Gracewood were both changed by the war, but Gracewood's experiences left him visibly scarred and mentally shaken in ways that affect him on a daily basis. This is handled variously throughout, as Gracewood gradually becomes confident to not accept casual ableism from others, but it takes a while.

I love how Gracewood slowly notices more and more of Viola's wardrobe, appreciate that she designs and sews/embroiders it herself. It's made clear that Viola hasn't had previous sexual experiences because she would have either had to have them as a man (which she was uncomfortable doing, even before figuring out her gender), or would need a partner who was not scared off by her body after meeting her as a woman. The eventual sex scenes with Gracewood are careful and intimate, treading the line between being specific about the logistics involved involved and giving Viola space to be feminine and sexual without triggering dysphoria. More than that, with Gracewood's support as a partner she gets to feel good about her body in a sexual context, that it is a woman's body because it is hers, and not based on whether it aligns with some standard of gender presentation. 

Things I love, in no particular order: Viola's sister-in-law, and her interactions with her nephew; the audiobook narrator's excellent performance; the way the b-plot gradually becomes more important as the initial tension from the social difficulties of Viola and Gracewood's relationship fade in the face of their care for each other.

A LADY FOR A DUKE is self-contained and ends very satisfactorily, but it does appear that a sequel is planned (which I will eagerly await). Everything I could want handled is covered either in detail, or implicitly by the epilogue, which is set several years after the events of the main story. It seems that future books would be unlikely to feature Viola and Gracewood as main characters, but, based on the title of the sequel I think it will involve one of their relatives (which would be great, I'd love to have them play a role again after they were so wonderful here).

Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, sexual content.

Moderate CW for classism, cursing, ableism, alcohol, alcoholism, panic attacks, kidnapping, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, vomit, bullying, violence, gun violence, war, death.

Minor CW for deadnaming, misgendering, sexual harassment, adult/minor relationship, child abuse, suicidal thoughts, parental death.

Bookshop Affiliate Buy Link

Add this on TheStoryGraph

A woman in a yellow dress, white elbow-length gloves, and a red choker is standing with her forehead pressed against that of a man in a blue suit, his hands are resting on her hips. The scene is tender, as they gaze into each other's eyes.


Popular Posts