I love reformed villain romances in theory, but in practice find that too often the villains get watered down in their own books. Duke of Sin did not disappoint. Val, Duke of Montgomery, might not be a textbook sociopath (he seems to embody aspects of both sociopathy and psychopathy) but he’s pretty damn close. He’s made more palatable with a ghastly backstory, love of his illegitimate sister, and a fastidious dislike of rape, but his lack of a moral compass is genuine.
What makes him stand out amongst historical romance’s other so-called blackhearted rogues, rakes, and scoundrels is not just how genuinely wicked he is — blackmail, abductions, premeditated murder — but his enjoyment of his own wickedness. Although he does have have some moments of tortured brooding, most of the time he’s either amused or bemused by himself, having been so thoroughly twisted that he embraces his own amorality. His gleeful self-satisfaction and mercurial temperament make him a lot of fun to read, even if you’d never want to actually meet him. (Oh good grief, is he a handsome, historical Donald Trump? Sorry! Forget I said that!)
So how does he get reformed? He’s matched with a woman with the courage and ability to tell him what’s what. A housekeeper in the old-fashioned sense — one who supervises a household — Bridget, nicknamed Seraphine by Val, is exceptionally competent and mature (although implausibly young.) She’s also self-contained and courageous, and though unable to resist Valentine’s golden charms, always sees him with a clear eye. And she’s the perfect person to provide him with moral guidance, though perhaps it might be confusing at times:
“‘But I don’t understand. You’re saying that at times it’s perfectly all right for me to kill a man.’
‘Well…’ She bit her lip and he could tell she was trying not to say it, but in the end she had to. ‘Yes.’
He smiled very slowly at her. ‘Seraphine, are you making these rules up?'”
I just had to quote that, it made me laugh so much.
There are some parts of the story I thought could have been fleshed out more, generally reactions or decisions by Val that we didn’t get to see. But overall, I’d put this in the top ten list of historical romances titled Duke of Sin.