First in a new Victorian series about three self-made London men, focusing on a beastly casino owner-cum-duke, the castle he inherited, and the shrewd, stubborn steward who doesn't want him to abandon it.
Nicholas Lyon is the ruthless and powerful owner of the most popular casino in London. Only some know he is also the second son of the late Duke of Tremayne, because he fled from violent abuse at the hands of his deranged father, spending his teen years on the streets. Everything Nicholas has, he earned, but a gnawing hunger for more persists. When his wastrel older brother dies, Nicholas inherits the title and returns reluctantly to Enderley Castle in Sussex. He plans to sell off the contents of the castle and lease the estate, never to return to the place that gave him his ghastly facial scar and still gives him night terrors. But the duke’s plans are imperiled when he meets his unexpectedly female—and attractive—steward, Mina Thorne. Nick is shocked "[to find] beauty in this blighted place.” For Mina, Enderley Castle is not only her livelihood, but her home and all she has ever known. She wants Nicholas to "see it differently, not as a burden but as an opportunity.” Their mutual attraction grows as they come to know each other. Carlyle (How to Woo a Wallflower, 2017) is less reliant than many of her peers on repressed desire and sexual situations to move the plot forward, instead focusing on friendship and romance, to good effect. Nicholas’ emotional confrontation with his buried past dominates the narrative, but Carlyle wisely makes room for Mina’s own arc, one in which she comes to question whether her devotion to Enderley is rooted not just in virtue, but also in fear of change. While the book is enjoyable, the author relies on too many popular tropes (the self-made aristocrat is especially overdone) without introducing fresh elements to compensate.
A solid Victorian romance with appealing characters that suffers somewhat from a lack of original beats.