A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall (he/him)
After Viola was injured and presumed dead at the Battle of Waterloo, she seizes the opportunity to live her life as she was always meant to. But her choice required major sacrifices, not the least of which was her friendship with her closest friend, the Duke of Gracewood. A couple years later, word reaches Viola that Gracewood is unwell, still suffering from his time at war. So she decides to travel to his family home, along with her sister-in-law, to check on him, both longing to see her dearest friend and desperate to keep her secret. Their reconnection is painful and slow as they figure out how to build a relationship in a world that doesn’t accept them as they are.
This was my first novel by Hall, and it will most certainly not be my last. Hall set out to write a historical romance with a transgender heroine and have her gender not be the key point of conflict in the novel. Instead, after Gracewood learns of who Viola is about a third into the book, we have the immense pleasure of reading about the two learning to live and love in a world that wasn’t shaped for them and doesn’t accept either of them as they are. There is one explicit sex scene, but don’t let that deter you if spice isn’t your thing. It’s the epitome of sex as relationship development, and I will rave about how well Hall wrote the pair’s first time engaging in physical intimacy and the excellent choices he made in doing so to anyone who will listen. Hall gives us a high-angst novel dealing meaningfully with heavy issues (including PTSD, addiction, disability, strict gender norms) while also skillfully using well-developed side characters to inject levity, resulting in some truly laugh-out-loud moments in an otherwise tender and deeply emotional book.
Goes well with:
This is an excellent book for readers who are interested in historical romance but are worried about the strict gender norms, heteronormativity, misogyny, and oppressive social structures of the time periods that feature in the subgenre. Readers will also enjoy Cat Sebastian’s historical romances; The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, for example, is also about bucking social norms of the time with social commentary and disability rep.