Tag: historical fiction

Review – A Gentleman’s Position

Posted March 14, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Gentleman's Position by KJ CharlesA Gentleman’s Position, K.J. Charles

This is the final book in the Society of Gentlemen series, and it beautifully wraps things up — not just for Richard and Cyprian, but for the characters of the other two books as well. It’s all very cleverly done, with David Cyprian pulling the strings and manipulating things into place, and Richard stumbling towards happiness with large blundering feet. The plot is mostly: Richard fucks up, Richard needs Cyprian back, David Cyprian is too loyal for his own good, Richard puts his foot in it some more. I was at once longing for a happy ending and wanting David to realise Richard truly is an idiot and walk away.

Charles can always bring me round to enjoying a character or plotline I didn’t think I would; she had no problems here, as I was already eager to see what David could do and how things would work out. I actually read this all in one go.

It’s not just the characters and their relationship, though. I really liked the side characters, including the way Richard’s elder brother and his wife try to take care of Richard and are supported by him in turn. Knowing the world already from the other books, it’s interesting to see it from a new slant and discover the other sides of people one might have already disliked or dismissed.

As with the first book, I have very little I want to criticise here. It was a lot of fun. Just one point: Richard is portrayed as pretty much demisexual (and apparently word-of-God says he is), but there is a scene which puts the lie to that where he says he wanted David since he first saw him. Neither the inclusion nor that moment are a major part of the plot, but it’s a point worth being aware of if you’re hoping for demisexual representation.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – A Seditious Affair

Posted March 9, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Seditious Affair by KJ CharlesA Seditious Affair, K.J. Charles

This one feels rather darker than A Fashionable Indulgence, although some of the same themes of radicalism and struggle are in that book too. Here, they’re front and centre, because Harry’s radical mentor Silas is one of the main characters. And the other is his Wednesday liaison, Dominic Frey, who doesn’t even know his name as the book opens — just that his brute knows him and his needs, and challenges him in ways he’s never been challenged, while giving him the strength to face the rest of the world. The problem being that Dominic is a Tory, working for the Home Office, tracking down radicals just like Silas.

The whole book is a struggle between their ideals and their growing feelings for one another. Between them, they could work it out, if only they didn’t come from such different worlds at such a fraught point in time, just after the Peterloo massacre. The radical ideas that Harry mostly pushes away and hides in A Fashionable Indulgence are Silas’ everyday goals, and it sets him against Dominic, willing or not.

It takes a while for things to work out, but they do, and there is a happy ending — I promise! It’s a bittersweet ending, in many ways: they’ve balanced their need for each other with their ideals and found their ideals shaking, their dedication to them crumbling… but they do figure something out.

One thing I do enjoy that’s more in the background here is Richard and Dominic’s relationship. They were basically childhood sweethearts, but Richard couldn’t give Dominic what he needed — in fact, made him feel broken and wrong for wanting it, let alone needing it. So throughout the book they finally come to terms with that, and while it’s obvious they still love one another deeply and care very much about what the other does and what happens to them, they’re starting to let things go and make their peace with their long-ago rift.

As ever, this book does contain quite a few sex scenes, and if you’ve read A Fashionable Indulgence first, which I do suggest, you’ll be aware of Dominic’s tastes. I wasn’t always in love with the way this aspect of their relationship is portrayed: they do very little negotiating or checking in, and it takes a while for it to be fully clear how Dominic can give the equivalent of a safeword. There’s a lot of “no, don’t, stop” that can be quite discomforting, even with the context that the two of them have been doing this for a year and know each other well.

Overall, I don’t love the characters of Dominic or Silas as much as Harry and Julius, so that shaped my enjoyment of this book. I’m much more curious about Richard and David Cyprian, in the next book, and also hoping it gives us more glimpses of Harry and Ash, who are both adorable.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Perilous Undertaking

Posted February 28, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna RaybournA Perilous Undertaking, Deanna Raybourn

The second Veronica Speedwell book is much like the first, with Veronica being asked to work to investigate a crime more or less at the whim of her newly discovered family, who are of course highly placed and quite able to make themselves a nuisance if she doesn’t do as they ask. Naturally, Stoker won’t leave her to investigate alone, though he’s more than a bit miffed that she’s agreed to the whole proposal.

Their delightfully adversarial friendship continues, and I find myself torn between them continuing to be more-or-less platonic besties and actually getting together oh my goodness please. It’s obvious that’s where they’re heading, but I find myself impatient for them to get there so I can see how they fit together. Some mysteries continue — what happened to Stoker’s wife? — and there are some new ones introduced in just the last few pages, revealing some more of Veronica’s tumultuous travels but mostly just hinting at the things she’s faced down before.

The mystery itself was fairly obvious, and so was the meta-mystery from the last book (who is pulling Sir Hugo’s strings?), but it remains fast-paced and highly enjoyable. The bond between Stoker and Veronica is what drives things, for me — their needling of each other, and yet their growing reliance on each other too. I’ll be picking up the third book, and soon!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – One Corpse Too Many

Posted February 19, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Corpse Too Many by Ellis PetersOne Corpse Too Many, Ellis Peters

The second Brother Cadfael book is more deeply rooted in the historical period it’s set in, with everything in it being touched by the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. We see quite a bit of Stephen in this book, in fact, since he is actually in command of the forces that enter the town and kill the garrison. Cadfael gets himself involved first by sheltering a daughter of the local nobility (dressed as a boy and acting as a novice) and then by investigating the murder of the mysterious extra corpse hidden among the bodies of the garrison.

It’s an interesting and nuanced vision of the time; Cadfael is pretty non-partisan (which I believe was actually very difficult to maintain at the time, but he’s a fictional monk, so he can do as he likes) and ends up aiding both sides of the fight through his interest in individual people. I shouldn’t say too much about the characters, because it deliberately takes quite a while to figure out where everyone stands: I ended up feeling very affectionate toward one particular character, in a way that’s very cleverly done.

The idea of a monk solving mysteries sounds kind of gimmicky, perhaps, but the strong roots in the time help make it feel realistic and serious. Both mysteries so far have been uncontrived — a crime of passion in the first book, and this one in a historical framework where the death makes sense and the only wonder is that someone cares — and Cadfael getting involved feels natural. There are so many books in the series that of course it could get a bit Daisy Dalrymple-ish, but it helps that in Cadfael’s times everyone was closer to the fact of death.

(I don’t mean to pick on Daisy too much, because I genuinely enjoy Carola Dunn’s books, but by this point my only explanation for how many independent murders she manages to involve herself with is that some mastermind is tugging the strings to involve her “accidentally” in dozens of otherwise unconnected murders. I somehow doubt that Daisy has a Moriarty, though.)

Definitely enjoyable, and I do rather hope to see some of these characters again.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – That Could Be Enough

Posted February 15, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of That Could Be Enough by Alyssa ColeThat Could Be Enough, Alyssa Cole

That Could Be Enough is a novella set in the post-Civil War US, following the story of Mercy Alston, maid to Elizabeth Hamilton and aiding her in putting together the stories of the men of her late husband’s battalion as a legacy for him. Despite all her writing in that cause, Mercy’s own writing is stilted and all but out of reach, as a legacy of a disastrous love affair. Into Mercy’s life comes Andromeda Stiel, a seamstress who goes her own way, loving as she wishes, without censure from the people she lives amongst. Sparks fly, despite Mercy’s intentions, and Andromeda quickly draws her into a relationship and out of her shell.

It doesn’t go smoothly, and that’s partly due to Mercy’s character and past, and partly because of bloody lack of communication, my least favourite trope ever. Just. Communicate! “I accidentally read this piece of paper and it says you’re going to be married, can you explain?” There! It’s that simple.

I did see another review that talked about not being sure what Mercy brings to the relationship, and despite the character’s individual qualities — her writing, her charitable work, etc — I have to agree. Andromeda is sufficient unto herself, even if she wants Mercy, and nothing Mercy has is something Andromeda lacks… while at the same time, Andromeda is picking apart Mercy’s trauma, encouraging and supporting her, pushing her to do better. Mercy’s affection is grudging, and her trust non-existant. It’s hard to believe the two can get along happily for long with that kind of imbalance.

Cole’s end note with sources helps somewhat with my feeling that they can’t be this blatant as a couple in this time period, but I’m still not convinced. Speaking from experience, even now, people will tolerate you as long as you don’t “rub it in their face”. Say the words “my wife” in casual conversation while being female and you can watch someone’s attitude change in an instant, even if you know this person must have realised before. Andromeda and Mercy aren’t just quietly getting on with it — Andromeda is blatant. I question it, knowing it’s hard enough now sometimes.

Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I might have; Andromeda’s great, but Mercy just doesn’t come alive for me. She sounds great on paper, but… I can’t see what she brings to Andromeda, or really believe there’s a beating heart behind the words on the page. Because it’s so short, it’s still entertaining, but I don’t know if I could have stuck with a longer story.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Morbid Taste for Bones

Posted February 7, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis PetersA Morbid Taste for Bones, Ellis Peters

It’s been ages since I first read this book, but the series has always stuck in my mind — not least because it is the only series that both my parents have ever recommended to me. So after someone mentioned reading them on Pillowfort, I ended up grabbing the ebooks via the library (though none of the libraries I’m a member of has the full series, ugh) and settling down to a reread of the first one. I think I’ve read the second one too, but that might be where I stopped.

In any case, the Brother Cadfael books are mysterious whose main character is a Benedictine monk with a rather colourful past. Content now in the cloister, Cadfael nonetheless manages to get himself taken along to Wales on a small matter of stealing a local saint for the greater glory of the monastery. He’s Welsh, so he’s useful as an interpreter — and he understands the people and the passions stirred up by the Benedictine delegation. He has faith, but a cynical eye, and he doesn’t for a moment accept that gentle Saint Winifred is behind the dastardly murder of a local landowner.

It’s a fun little mystery; the characters are mostly more types than fully drawn people, but with a touch of Cadfael’s cynical view of them to enliven things. The genuinely pious but deeply ambitious Prior is well-done; we don’t see into his heart directly, but his actions and words lay him bare. Likewise, there’s something rather touching about Peredur and his thwarted passion for Sioned.

I do enjoy the setting in Wales, and the us-vs-them mentality that’s so quickly sketched out. It’s carefully dealt with, despite the temptation to put them at each others’ throats; there’s respect and a will to work together, alongside the misunderstandings and stiff-necked pride.

It all wraps up nicely — very nicely and conveniently, but in a way that’s enjoyable because it’s poetic justice — and Cadfael settles back into the status quo, napping through meetings and tending to his garden. Until the next mystery, that is.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Captain Ingram’s Inheritance

Posted January 20, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Captain Ingram's Inheritance by Carola DunnCaptain Ingram’s Inheritance, Carola Dunn

In Captain Ingram’s Inheritance, it’s Frank’s turn to find love. It begins with the move to Felix’s home, and part of it happens concurrently with the end of Lord Roworth’s Reward, as Felix and Fanny figure out their feelings and sort out their misunderstandings. Constantia, Felix’s sister, decides to nurse Frank and help him through his recovery from his injuries, and is overjoyed to be invited to help him set up home when he discovers that he is in fact heir to a substantial property. She’s reluctant to have a Season and go looking for a husband, and finds herself daydreaming about the (admittedly lower-class) soldier while nursing him.

Now, the main barrier for her and Frank is no longer class (as it was for Felix and Fanny) but a secret both are hiding… Constantia has a raised scar across her chest from a childhood accident, while Frank’s injuries have left him heavily scarred. Both feel they’re not desirable as a result, have nothing to offer a partner, might shock/frighten a partner, etc, etc. Now, I can understand having those feelings, but it makes it very much not a story I — scarred literally from head to food by my long history with skin excoriation disorder — thought I could really get into. But I enjoyed the previous two books, so I gave it time.

For the most part, it does not focus on the scarring. The two have fears about it and try to hide it, but the reveal doesn’t do anything too awful like “I’m damaged too” or such lines/ideas. They eventually each find out about the other’s scars, and are supportive of each other without focusing on it. I still don’t love this as a plotline, but I do enjoy Constantia and Frank, and the ending scene is very sweet.

There is also a non-romance plot involving Fanny and Frank’s inheritance; it’s almost something out of Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple novels, with a rather wicked uncle doing his best to cause havoc. I found it fairly obvious, and also surprisingly slapstick in terms of the humour. Not my favourite bit of the novel. Also, sadly, Miriam is only mentioned, so no cameo from her.

Overall, I did still enjoy it, but maybe a bit less than I enjoyed Miss Jacobson’s Journey or Lord Roworth’s Reward. I think I will be trying to get myself a copy of all three of these, though!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Pursuit of…

Posted December 26, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Pursuit of by Courtney MilanThe Pursuit of…, Courtney Milan

The Pursuit of… is the story of two men from opposite sides of the American Civil War. John Hunter spares Henry Latham at a key engagement, and Henry goes to find him to repay the debt afterwards. John expects him to duck out at every turn, but he doesn’t, and they head across country to John’s home — with Henry talking nineteen-to-the-dozen the whole way. It took me a while to warm up to John — though I liked Henry right away — but as he warmed up to Henry, so I warmed up to him. The cheese thing is silly and cute.

In fact, the whole thing is oftentimes silly and cute, though there are also serious parts: the discussion of what truly constitutes equality, Henry’s learning process, Henry figuring out that he has to go home and figure things out with his family… There’s also a scene with non-sexual intimacy that is just lovely.

There is a sex scene, of course; it’s pretty explicit, but skippable if that’s not your thing. It isn’t all about sex, by far, and it has a lovely happy ending — though it doesn’t go with the easiest happy ending. I enjoyed it a lot.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Miss Jacobson’s Journey

Posted December 18, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Miss Jacobson's Journey by Carola DunnMiss Jacobson’s Journey, Carola Dunn

Miss Jacobson’s Journey is the first book in the trilogy with a book I already read, Lord Roworth’s Reward. It features Felix during his earlier adventures, alluded to frequently in the second book, though the main character of the first book is undoubtedly Miriam. It opens when she rejects a suitor chosen by her parents to travel around Europe with her uncle, a doctor, and swiftly moves onto her attempts to get home after her uncle’s death. She ends up on a mission to deliver gold to Lord Wellington, accompanied by her longterm companion, Hannah, and two men: a somewhat familiar Jewish man (the very same man she turned down years before), and a young English lord (Felix) — two men who don’t get along at all.

I enjoyed reading about Miriam trying to unite the two, and the struggles and missteps as both of them become attracted to her. I’m not Jewish, or well-versed in Jewish traditions, so it’s hard to evaluate whether the portrayal of Miriam and Isaac, and the other Jewish people they meet, is a good one — but it felt like it to me, as an outsider. Miriam is great, capable and kind, though not always endowed with the best of judgement when it comes to a pretty face. It was good to get to know Isaac a bit as well, after his brief appearances in the second book. Felix is hardly shown to best effect here: we do see him grow over the course of the book, but he starts out as a snobbish antisemite, and that’s a rough thing to shake off. (And perhaps it was easier for me to shake off because I know him from the second book, as a man who has got over a lot of his prejudice, if not all of his stupider ideas.)

The happy ever after is lovely, and I do appreciate the way this trilogy is completely embedded in the history of the time. It doesn’t go too far — Felix isn’t an invented war hero, Isaac’s no international superspy; they’re just cogs in the great machine of war — but it gives you a solid feel for the time they’re living in. All in all, I think I want to acquire copies of this trilogy for my shelves to reread some other time. Onto the third book, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dread Nation

Posted August 12, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Dread Nation, Justina Ireland

I can’t remember who I spoke to who thought this might be rather like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, just a sort of awkward shoehorning of zombies into a historical period in a fairly superficial way. That’s not how this comes across — I’d compare it more closely to Mira Grant’s Feed and sequels in terms of the way it’s built into how society works — and it does seem to me to reflect the era of history fairly well. Set after zombies rose during the American Civil War, this book follows the fortunes of Jane, a black girl who has been sent to a combat school in order to learn to kill zombies (along with all other non-white children of her age). No longer slaves, but definitely second class citizens, black people bear most of the burden of fighting zombies, leaving white people living in luxurious safety.

For the most part, anyway. Maybe things aren’t safe as they seem. But as soon as Jane starts to poke around into that even a little bit, she’s caught and carted off to a new settlement, a place that’s meant to be safe from zombies — safe because it’s guarded by a vast perimeter wall and the endless patrolling of people like Jane. Naturally, there’s all kinds of nastiness — in terms of race, class, and just plain horribleness — and a whole mystery into which Jane must dig.

I enjoyed her character on a superficial sort of level, though I found her somewhat contradictory. One minute she hates Katherine, another girl from the school, and the next she does her a favour with the thinnest of reasoning. (Tit for tat doesn’t work if you don’t like or trust the person covering your back if you cover theirs, especially if the stakes are rather different between the two of you.) Katherine’s the same, one minute despising Jane and the next relying on her. The interpersonal stuff just never quite adds up for me.

The setting works well, and I believe in the way Ireland has tweaked history and changed things up. What she changes makes sense, as far as I understand history, and the social consequences are all too easy to imagine. The story ticks along well, action following action rather than getting stuck — it certainly keeps the pages turning. In the end, though, I just wasn’t in love with it. It wasn’t bad, but nor do I feel any pressing need to read the sequel when it arrives.

Rating: 3/5

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