“Damn the world. The world told you that you had to live the life it shaped for you, and you defied it. The world told me that I had to be as my father was, and I defied it, or am trying to. We can make our own world, Viola, with our own rules.”
Viola Caroll had the misfortune of being born in the wrong body and was forced to live a lie until she was presumed dead at Waterloo and took that as an opportunity to finally live the life she was meant to. However, in gaining her freedom, she lost pretty much everything – her wealth, title, and closest friend. Even though she would not have changed anything, leaving her best friend, the Duke of Gracewood, behind was her only regret. A few years after the battle, their families reconnect and she finally comes face to face with Gracewood again. Only he looks nothing like the man she remembered. Lost to grief from losing his closest companion and dealing with chronic pain from injuries sustained in the war, Gracewood is a shell of his former self. He may not know her anymore but Viola is set on bringing Gracewood back to the man she knows he can be. Gracewood finds something familiar and comforting in Viola and can’t help his growing feelings the more time they spend together. A relationship between them was certainly impossible before the war but, in the eyes of society, may still be impossible given that he’s a Duke and Viola is a woman with no social standing. Can they find a way to make their own rules and live the life they’ve probably always been meant to?
I’ve read a few queer historical romances, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but never one with a trans character. That fact coupled with the fact that it was written by Alexis Hall, who I became a big fan of after reading Boyfriend Material, made this a no-brainer to pick up and read. I’m really glad I did because this was such a beautiful book! A quote on the front cover of the book says “Alexis Hall is a dizzyingly talented writer” and I couldn’t agree more. I think there’s something inherently romantic about love stories set in this time period, the courtships and the pageantry of it all, it sort of just sweeps you up in it. But Alexis Hall takes it to the next level with his fantastic writing.
With so many societal rules back then, the stakes are already pretty high when it comes to who you fall in love with but I don’t think the stakes could have been any higher for Viola and Gracewood. He’s a Duke and she’s basically a no-one in the eyes of society, it would be a highly frowned upon pairing. Not to mention the fact that Viola would be unable to give him an heir, all but assuring his lineage dies with him. I love how this story dealt with perceived societal gender norms, both characters have a journey of breaking the mold, so to speak, and realize that just because society says one thing, doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. They did this in their individual lives, particularly Gracewood who had to fight against his upbringing and what others expected from a Duke, but they also did this in their relationship with one another.
The one blessing about being born in the wrong body was that it afforded Viola the chance to develop the deep friendship that she and Gracewood shared when they were younger. It’s that same intense bond that’s reignited when she turns up on Gracewood’s doorstep years later. The yearning and the longing between them were so well written! I felt it with all my heart and desperately wanted things to work out for them. I think they had always loved one another, in one way or another, but seeing them develop a romantic relationship was truly beautiful to behold.
In addition to Viola and Gracewood, there were a handful of secondary characters who were also very memorable. Lady Marleigh was a real standout, always coming through with the comic relief. Gracewood’s sister, Miranda, was also great and served as a great way to further Gracewood’s character growth over the course of this book. There were others as well but I’ll let you discover them for yourself. I think any fan of historical romance will really love this book, I highly recommend grabbing yourself a copy! It’s a beautiful love story with characters you can’t help but love and the most wonderful epilogue to wrap the whole thing up!