In previous books of the Georgian-set "Maiden Lane" series, we've seen Winter Makepeace as the heavily-burdened, hard-working schoolmaster and manager of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, and stalwart support of his sisters. He is an excessively good man who can be a bit of a stick. Well, in Thief of Shadows, we learn that Winter has hidden depths and some surprising secrets.
The book opens with The Ghost of St. Giles, anonymous do-gooder disguised in a Harlequin's costume and mask, being chased by an angry mob because he freed a man from the gallows, thereby depriving the crowd of their entertainment. He is injured and about to be set upon when he is whisked into Lady Beckinall's carriage and taken to her home. The Ghost convinces Isabel to leave his mask on, so she doesn't know for whom she is caring, only that he is a most unusual and intriguing man. We know that the Ghost is really Winter and that he and Isabel are already acquainted.
Isabel is one of the patronesses for the children's Home. Indeed, the Home has lately garnered the support of several important society ladies, some of whom now fear that Winter is not the best public face for the Home. Frankly, he lacks polish and now that he will have to appear in polite society more often, the ladies have decided that Isabel is just the person to tutor Winter and administer the necessary polish. This is tricky, for Isabel and Winter have always irritated each other. However, that is all about to change.
Winter has dedicated his life to the Home his father started, pinching pennies, caring for the children, eschewing frivolity, tamping down his passions. Winter is utterly self-contained, and it is this quality that drives Isabel crazy. She loves to poke at him, to taunt and prod. She knows that there is a raging volcano roiling beneath Winter's surface and she wants to be there when he explodes. Their etiquette lessons provide plenty of opportunity to tease, but she comes to like and appreciate Winter's plain speaking, his clear vision and dedication. She also finds that there is plenty of passion in Winter's soul, and is enthralled when he aims all the pent up passion of a 26 year old virgin, six years her junior, in her direction. And, day-um, is that sexual tension, both leashed and un-, a sight to behold.
Winter has channeled all his frustration, all his passion and his need for physical release into his nocturnal wanderings as the Ghost, affecting solutions and punishing those who prey on the weak in ways he cannot as the Home's manager. And now, a new menace has come to St. Giles - someone, dubbed "the lassies snatchers," is stealing orphaned girls off the streets before Winter can get them to the safety of the Home. The Ghost is desperate to find those responsible.
I really liked Winter and, while it took a bit longer for me to warm to Isabel, I did wind up rooting for her. They make an unlikely pair, and I finished the book wondering if they are truly suited for each other over the long haul, but this is fantasy, after all. I appreciated Winter's interactions with the children and his obvious love for them. There was a side plot that ran throughout the book that felt completely unconnected to the story, and was there solely to set up the next book in the series, that I found to be intrusive and annoying.
But, Thief of Shadows is Winter's story, and, in the end succeeds, for he is a fascinating and compelling character.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, July 12, 2012