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Book Review: Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

Cover blurb (warning: according to Hoyt’s website, this could contain spoilers for the other books in the series):


Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he’s the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles-protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.


Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she’s asked to tutor the Home’s dour manager in the ways of society-flirtation, double-entendres, and scandalous liaisons-Isabel can’t help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar-and his lips so tempting.


During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed . . . But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything-the Home, Isabel . . . and his life.

Thief of Shadows is the type of book that frustrates me to no end: beautiful prose, an engaging storyline, likeable, believable characters, and yet… something is missing. Sometimes I can’t even identify what’s missing, and it nags me for days after I’ve finished the book (or, more often, declined to finish the book). In the case of Thief of Shadows, I know exactly what’s missing: a satisfying ending. Why? I have a theory, but first, here’s what I can say about the book without giving salient parts of the plot away:

  • Winter Makepeace is as delectable a romance hero as I have ever read. Brave, yet surprisingly innocent, tough yet tender, Winter Makepeace is what makes this book work, and it gives nothing about the plot away to say that it’s almost gilding the lily to force the character of the Ghost of St. Giles onto Winter. A much better book would have had Winter openly owning the exploits of the Ghost of St. Giles, as hiding seems out of character for him. More on this later.
  • Romances with children often fall prey to plot moppet syndrome — i.e. the children only exist to further plot along, and add nothing whatever to the rest of the story. It’s a fine line, to write a romance that relies on child characters as heavily as Thief of Shadows does, without resorting to plot moppetry, and while Hoyt pulls it off most of the time, there are instances when the children are nothing more than plot devices.
  • The villain(s) are one of Thief of Shadows’ biggest problems. If your book hinges on the actions of a villain, then the motivation of the villain should be clear. While Hoyt does a fairly good job of filling that in for one villain, another’s actions are never fully explained, and I believe that could be because that character is being reserved for use in another book (again, more on that later).
  • Lady Isabel Beckinhall… sigh. I’ve rarely been more conflicted about a heroine in a romance novel than I am about Lady Isabel. To say much more would be to unwittingly give away plot points, but two things I can discuss really bothered me. First, Lady Isabel’s attachment to the children’s home is never fully explained, and seems at odds with other aspects of her character, and two although Hoyt would have us believe, as the blurb states, that Lady Isabel is always up for a challenge, she does the exact opposite on more than one occasion.

Almost everything that is wrong with Thief of Shadows is a direct result of series-itis. As book four of the Maiden Lane series, so much of the book is concerned with setting up plot points for the next book in the series that the plot of the book itself suffers. Winter’s story is circumscribed because his story is part of a larger whole, and in the end, he’s disappointing because he has to sacrifice a large part of his identity so that a character in a book to come can benefit from this.  One of the books villains is more or less defanged, and I suspect its because he can’t be too bad, else he won’t be a believable hero in a later book. A subplot that is only tangentially related to Winter and Isabel’s story is inserted into the book in order to set up the next book, and, as such, serves only as a puzzling distraction from the story at hand.

For people who enjoy reading books that are part of a larger series, maybe these problems won’t matter as much. And I don’t even mind interrelated books; Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series/interrelated books are among the best romances I’ve ever read. But what sets those books apart from Thief of Shadows is the fact that none of those books suffer for being part of a series. You can read them separately without ever feeling that you’re missing anything, or without the feeling that characters from the other books are intruding upon the main characters’ story. Thief of Shadows, however, feels constricted for being part of a series. Winter and Isabel (but Winter, especially) deserved better.

I can’t give Thief of Shadows more than 3 harrowing carriage rides.

UPDATE: Looks like I’m not the only one who felt let down by this book. Musing Sally over at Ravishing Romances was also underwhelmed. Check out her review.

Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 26, 2012)

Did you like this book, baby doll? Here are two more books that are similar to Thief of Shadows (and actually better, in my opinion):

Untie My Heart by Judith Ivory

All Through the Night by Connie Brockway