|Anyone who's read all or even one of Grace Burrowes previous novels has a soft spot for Lord Valentine Wyndham, though perhaps not the hots for him. The Virtuoso gives him his long-awaited place in Grace Burrowes' world, since Val's spent the other three novels amusing his siblings.
A somewhat delicate soul, the baby of the Duke of Moreland's family has spent most of his existence playing the piano, either for himself or to comfort others. When one of his beloved hands develops an inflammation, Val is told he can lay off the laudanum and quit playing, or lose all function to said appendage. Hoping not to make the best of a bad situation, but to exhaust himself to the point where the music in his head goes silent, Val adopts a project: a forlorn estate won from the Baron of Roxbury during a card game.
A year prior, on a visit to the area, Valentine had met the widow who lived in the nearby woods and developed a flirtation with her, not knowing that Mrs. FitzEngle is the widowed Baroness Roxbury. As his work proceeds on his new property, the lord and the gardener grow their flirtation into a full-fledged love affair, but both are keeping secrets —and Ellen's secrets could very well be the source of all the near-deadly mischief happening around the estate. Can the two come clean with one another before a serious ill befalls someone? Or will Val protect his identity as Ellen clings to her past and let everything they've built come to naught?
Okay, so there's clearly a pattern to Burrowes' writing: well-off but tormented hero with a dangerously secretive heroine. Perhaps I would find this form irritating if not for the fact that Burrowes' characters are absolutely astounding. The novel does not entirely revolve around Val's and Ellen's relationship, but is largely consumed by their interactions with various friends and relatives, strongly built up by dialogue that is both moving and believable.
As I have said before, Grace Burrowes is a must-read for fans of historicals; with a plot that involves the nobility but removes them from their stuffy social circles, her writing is a fresh twist to the genre. That said, The Virtuoso is required reading for fans of Grace Burrowes' tales about the sons and daughters of the Duke of Moreland.