When you were a child, did you ever experience that wonderful sense of
anticipation when something special was going to happen? Maybe it was a
birthday or Christmas or a trip or a special treat. And do you remember
how often the reality seemed disappointing? Not that Christmas wasn't
great or the trip a lot of fun or the special treat pretty special.
It's just that you had built up such hopes and expectations that
nothing could possibly measure up.
I deeply fear that for many devoted romance readers, The Last
Hellion, the long-awaited sequel to Loretta Chase's widely praised
Lord of Scoundrels will be just like those Christmases of yore –
an inevitable disappointment because the expectations have been so
So let me make one thing immediately clear: The Last Hellion is
not as good a book as Lord of Scoundrels.. Some of the
special chemistry that made LOS a classic is absent here. But this is
nevertheless a very good book, one that draws you in, touches you, makes
you care about the characters, makes you laugh, makes you think, makes
The hero of The Last Hellion is Vere Mallory, Duke of Ainswood,
one of the disreputable friends of the hero of LOS. Vere is Duke even
though he is a younger son of a younger son, for the Mallory family has
been cursed by one death after another in the preceding decade. The
most poignant death was that of Vere's nephew, Robin, the nine-year old
sixth duke, felled by diphtheria. Nowhere is Chase's writing talent more on
display than in the moving prologue when we feel Vere's pain as one
after another his loved family members die. And we come to understand
why he is such a hellion and why his behavior since becoming the seventh
duke has been so irresponsible. How can he accept a position bought at
the price of so many deaths?
The heroine is Lydia Grenville, the most popular writer for one of
London's weekly magazines. Although Lydia's mother was the descendant
of a marquess, her runaway marriage to an actor had led to her being
disowned by her family. Lydia's life had been harsh; her mother had
died young, her father was a wastrel and a gambler; her sister died when
the family was sent to Marshalsea prison when her father could not pay
her debts. After her father absconded to America, she had been raised
by her eccentric great aunt and uncle who traveled widely if not always
Lydia has become a 19th century investigative reporter, with a
particular interest in uncovering the perils that beset young women in
London. When one day she sees a noted procuress with a new victim in
tow, she rushes to the rescue. The Duke of Ainswood crosses Lydia's
path at this point, and interferes in her confrontation with the evil
madam. Lydia proceeds to deck him, treating him with the contempt his
behavior and reputation seem to warrant, but is inexplicably attracted
to this man who seems the epitome of all she despises.
For Vere, it is love at first punch (although he refuses to recognize
his feelings for what they are.) And so begins a series of
confrontations between this seemingly mismatched pair as they engage in
one adventure after another. Nobody does humorous repartee between hero
and heroine better than Chase. At times I was close to laughing out
loud (Remember me, the dour Scot.) And she likewise does a great job of
building and sustaining sexual tension. Her love scenes are elegantly
There is a lot more in this book: a charming secondary romance between
Bertie Trent and Lydia's protege; breaking and entering; a carriage
race; a rescue of Vere's wards from the the evil procuress; the
reappearance of Dain from LOS; the discovery of Lydia's true parentage.
But Chase never loses control over her story and all the parts come
together to provide an exciting tale that never lost my interest.
Central to the story are Vere and Lydia. Lydia is a marvelous heroine –
bright, strong-minded, ambitious, caring, daring as well strikingly
attractive. One can believe that Vere would come to love her and that
she can heal his wounds. Vere is a more familiar hero – the rake
extraordinaire, the care for nobody, who really cares too much but who
flees his pain until Lydia (or as he charmingly calls her, Grenville)
forces him to face it. An altogether satisfying romance.
I agonized (as I always do) about what rating to give The Last
Hellion. There is no question that I recommend it strongly to fans
of historical romance. But does it deserve the coveted five heart
rating? As is ever the case, the comparison factor came into play.
The Last Hellion is certainly better than the books I have been
recommending; indeed, it is the best historical romance I have read so
far this year. And thus the 5 heart rating. Because, I will be placing
this book on my keeper shelf right next to Lord of Scoundrels..
And I imagine other fans of Loretta Chase will be doing the same.