I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
First in the new Greycourt series, Hoyt starts us off with a spot of danger as our heroine, Freya, is on the run from some men and finds herself face to face with her childhood crush, Christopher, but who she also blames for her brother's downfall. There's some background foundation to the hows and whys of where are characters are at in life. The main thread is Freya's brother, Ran, tried to elope with Julian Greycourt's sister, she ended up dying (we aren't given specifics), and Christopher just stood by while Ran was beaten bad enough he ended up losing his right hand. Ran, Julian, and Christopher were bestfriends but this fractured their bond and they all separated, the other members of the family cut ties all with each other also.
The Wise Women had long been hunted by Dunkelders— nasty, superstitious fanatics who knew about the Wise Women and believed they were witches who should be burned.
While the ill fated elopement gave us the underlining emotional tones, the Wise Women that Freya is the Macha (spy) for, gives us the suspense as she is trying to stop a law in the House of Lords that gives free reign to declaring women witches along with her trying to hide from members of the Dunkelders, men who hunt “witches”. These are the two main plot threads but there are numerous other ones, some slight and others weighty, that at times only clog an already full story. Christopher has PTSD induced anxiety from his time in India, we get povs from an old friend of Freya's, Messalina Greycourt, who's storyline looks to be set-up for the next in the series, an imprisoned wife, and a whole slew of secondary characters that get little mini-plots of their own. I like full stories but none of these threads or plots were fully fleshed out and it left a lot feeling shallow and dull.
This, this was what he’d been missing without even realizing it: genuine conversation. Genuine feeling.
The romance and chemistry between Christopher and Freya was severely lacking for me; I had more fond feelings for the relationship between him and his dog. Hoyt has been a favorite with word play, sexual and taunting, but these two never sparked; it felt like he just found her attractive out of nowhere, while she relied on childhood feelings and the color of his pretty blue eyes. While their bedroom scenes didn't start ridiculously early, besides kissing once or twice, when they do start to get hot and heavy, Freya's first move is to give him a blowjob, because of course. The latter second half brought more sexual scenes but I almost found myself skimming them as their emotional connection wasn't there.
He might be a duke now, but she was a de Moray woman , small, swift, and above all ruthless.
My biggest disappoint and what frustrated me the most was that Hoyt introduced these interesting ideas, plots, or instances but they all happen off script. The intense ill fated elopement? Happens before this story takes place, no prologue to introduce, show, and explain the basis for the whole the series. Christopher's time in India? No flash back scenes to help immerse the reader into the emotional turmoil of his PTSD or his relationship with is first wife. Freya spending time with the Wise Women? It takes an absurd amount of time for the reader to even get a full explanation of who and what the Wise Women are, let alone the author writing and showing scenes of Freya interacting with the women. This could have been a great emotional fulfillment moment of showing women taking care of one another, bucking the system in a way they could, and female bonding while providing a solid and understandable reason for why this group was so important to Freya and why she might shy away from marrying Christopher.
I missed Hoyt's normally atmospheric writing, I did not feel the time period at all, and the sexual heat between the leads that she has a knack for expressing. This honestly felt kind of generic and with dukes popping up everywhere, I'm not sure I could pick this book out of a lineup. The second book is set-up here and with two leads that at least seem like they have some spark, I will give it a try but am hoping for more showing than telling and emotion.