I was feeling fidgety, so I decided to read for a book by K.J. Charles I hadn’t read yet. Unfit to Print is a standalone, following Gil Lawless and Vikram Pandey, the owner of a dirty bookshop and a high-flying lawyer, respectively. They knew one another at school, but have been separated for quite a long time, with Vik believing Gil to be dead. He’s looking for the son of a local Indian family, though, and that takes him to the street where Gil keeps his bookshop… and there they run into one another again.
Gil’s been hurt a lot and is as prickly as a hedgehog, while Vik’s not been interested in anyone since Gil’s disappearance from their boarding school. They quickly fall into their old intimacies, though Gil finds it hard to offer anything other than the physical and Vik finds it hard to take the physical aspect without the feelings getting in the way. At the same time, Gil needs to help Vik find out what happened to the boy he’s looking for, while trying not to get his reputation all smeared up for him…
It’s a lovely little second chance, and I quickly fell for both characters and their silly desperate attempts not to get hurt more when they’re already stumbling along with plenty of hurt to spare from their pasts. Their interaction smoulders as usual — holding hands was never so sexy — and it was a really fun read overall. The mystery aspect was a little bit perfunctory; it felt a bit of a letdown for the answer to be that easy, but it did make sense as well.
All in all, plenty of fun, though not for all the family!
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.
Harry Vane is the son of a rabble-rousing nobleman who married a commoner and ended up disowned by his family. He had to flee England with his family when he was 12 because they involved him in their revolutionary activities, and now he’s scraping by helping a secret printer turn out radical tracts and pamphlets… and then his noble family turn up to claim him, and suddenly it’s all a bit My Fair Lady: Julius Norreys is tasked with turning Harry into a gentleman. In the meantime, Harry’s thawing Julius’ heart after past tragedies, quite without Julius’ permission.
I have no doubts anymore when it comes to K.J. Charles: whatever the scenario, I’m going to enjoy it. A Fashionable Indulgence turned out to be one I enjoyed a lot. Harry’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre is palpable, and it’s no wonder it brings Julius to life. Julius’ slowly awakening need to have Harry around is a joy, and I’m on fire with curiosity for what the books about Richard (and Cyprian) and Dominic (and Silas) are going to be like, and for the chance to get a better look at their characters. It felt like I was being set up to dislike Verona, and then boom! I’d love to know a little more of her story, too. So once again, Charles got me involved with a whole new cast of characters. I was shockingly fond of Francis and Ash, even though The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh is so short, too — I was glad to see them play their parts.
I read this almost all in one go, which was lovely too; I’ve seen reviews complaining about the slow start, but I honestly wonder if that isn’t mostly because Julius and Harry don’t meet at first. I think the set-up makes the payoff better, and it’s not as though it takes long for Harry and Julius to figure things out.
My only complaint really is that it made me come over all Relationship Advice Dalek (COMM-UN-I-CATE!) for a bit… but it does make sense for the story too. It wraps up very neatly, at least for Harry and Julius, but it’s enjoyable that it all comes together like this.
This is a short story set in the world of a trilogy I haven’t read, so it feels like just a bit of a teaser. Gabriel Ashley has just made a big mistake: he gambled against a man who was an enemy of his brother’s back when they were at university, who he further insulted when he met him in person by being a drunk idiot, and he’s lost everything. The man in question, Francis Webster, has invited him round to pay up, and proposes another game. Ash ends up with absolutely nothing to bet… except his coat, his shirt, himself…
Ash is a cutie — he’s messed things up with Francis, but he knows it and tries to apologise, and he’s ready to face the consequences of his actions. Francis comes off badly at first, and I’m not 100% in love with the whole scenario, but it’s saved by Ash’s explicit and enthusiastic consent, and the fact that Ash is the one to push the situation into sex.
The story is really minimal and just set-up for the sex, so if you’re not interested, it may not be for you. I’m not sure if Ash or Francis play a particularly big part in the Society of Gentlemen trilogy, but all you’d really need to know is what I’ve described in this review. If you are interested in a short sex-filled story, it turns out rather sweet and seems worth it to me!
Gilded Cage is the follow-up to Any Old Diamonds, featuring Templeton Lane. From the first book he didn’t appeal to me too much, although the defenestration thing in The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter was great; Jerry felt the more compelling of the two characters to me, and I wasn’t sure I could get to like Templeton. Well, I didn’t, really; he still seemed like a thug with the emotional awareness of a brass doorknob… but the history of James Vane as revealed in Gilded Cage did work for me. It felt like a bit of a quick flip from the thug to the sensitive, thinking, feeling man, and the transition didn’t entirely work for me… but predictably, Charles was able to pull me along and sell it to me anyway.
It helps that Susan Lazarus is awesome, and that this book features a lot of brief glimpses of the characters from Sins of the Cities (and of course from the other Lilywhite Boys stories). I loved seeing Justin again, and I’d have loved to see more of Mark and Nathaniel as well, but I suppose they would have stolen the show. Susan is relentlessly practical, determined, and closed-off; it’s a delight to watch her realise that she can trust James after all, and to see them open up and talk about their feelings and actually figure things out.
The plot also ties together both other books in this series, and gives a satisfactory ending to a certain adversary of the Lilywhite Boys — satisfactory in that someone gets Susan’s hairpins in very tender places, and also gets captured and trialled.
It all works out well, and we get a happy ending that feels true to who Susan is. We also get some glimpses of Jerry and Alec’s life, which is nice. All in all, I suspect and hope there’s little more to be said for the Lilywhite Boys: they both have their happy endings. That said, I wouldn’t object to Jerry and Alec and Susan and James having to come together to heist their way out of trouble again, so I’ll slam the preorder button hard if that comes about!
Jackdaw is part of the Charm of Magpies series, but follows a different pair of characters. It’s probably best for those who’ve read Flight of Magpies in terms of the plot, but you might actually be able to enjoy the at least one of the characters more on their own terms if you don’t know them already, because that character is Jonah Pastern, he who nearly brought Stephen and Lucien to disaster in the last book. I trust Charles to bring me to the point of enjoying even a total scoundrel’s love story, honestly, but it took a little more time because I already knew Jonah deeply endangered a character I love, and Ben Spenser — his lover — turns out to be rather dour and angry at first.
It’s worth noting that among the sex scenes in this book, there’s one with strong non-consensual themes. Ben is angry and wants to punish Jonah, and knows what he’s doing is wrong, and though he stops short of actually doing it and then Jonah wants to continue, it’s still pretty discomforting. It obviously coloured how I saw Ben: the kind of man who, in anger, seriously considers using rape to punish his lover. It is clear that Jonah has conclusively ruined Ben’s life at that point: you very quickly realise Ben lost his job, was imprisoned, etc, etc, but that isn’t an excuse.
This is also the only story in this series that really engages with the homophobia of the time. It’s not just hinted here that there could be trouble: Ben can’t do magic, can’t soften his way out of a terrible situation, so he ends up imprisoned, sentenced to hard labour, beaten, rejected by his parents, and at one point you can read him as being suicidal. He’s definitely without hope, only a grim anger, blaming Jonah for everything.
That’s not the sort of book you expect after the casual way Crane deals with even blackmail about his homosexuality; Stephen and Lucien duck almost all consequences through being able to protect themselves. It’s also not what you’d expect from Jonah’s flamboyant devil-may-care attitude in the last book. Ben doesn’t have that protection, and in the first half of the book in particular, the damage, anger and shame are all on display. It’s very grim, given the previous book, and more realistic; that’s something to bear in mind.
Aside from that, the story is essentially a redemption arc for Jonah, and somewhat for Ben as well. It has the great dialogue I expect in a novel by K.J. Charles, and in the last half or so of the book, you can start rooting for the characters again. It stands or falls, really, on the extent to which you can forgive Jonah (and Ben, if that near-rape scene bothered you as much as it did me) for what he’s done. I got there in the end — there are some delightful bits when the two of them finally feel free and comfortable — but this definitely is not a favourite in this series or among Charles’ books.
For those who are fans of the series, it does include cameos by Stephen and later Lucien, Merrick and Saint. It wraps up into a lovely conclusion, and there are some great bits of dialogue between Lucien and Stephen, as seen from outside.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts. This week’s check-in is here!
What are you currently reading?
I’m most of the way through Biased: The New Science of Race and Inequality, by Jennifer Eberhardt. It is decidedly light on the science, and heavy on anecdotes about the current state of racial inequality in the USA, used to illustrate the statistics. The more I think about it, the less science I can actually think of, especially in the last couple of chapters. She’ll mention a study briefly, but then tell a long story that illustrates the same point, and often also explain her emotions about it — at times, it’s autobiographical. It’s not ineffective, but it’s not quite what I came here for!
What have you recently finished reading?
The last thing I finished was the last book of the Charm of Magpies trilogy by K.J. Charles, Flight of Magpies. Hell of a showdown, everything coming together, and of course a happy-ever-after. Makes me want to pin my K.J. Charles ‘romance with body count’ badge to my bag — I’m terribly prone to just hoarding badges like this, worried about losing them or something, but… then what fun are they?
What will you be reading next?
Goodness only knows, as ever. I think I’d like to pick up the third book in Carola Dunn’s romance series set during the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance. It’s fairly slim and will be a quick read, and then it can go back to the library. I’m definitely going to try and pick up copies of this trilogy for myself; I can see myself rereading it for comfort. Though I suppose that depends on whether this third book ends up messing everything up!
Flight of Magpies rounds this trilogy off beautifully. Of course, as it opens, the two are struggling: Stephen’s work-life balance is dreadful, while Crane has too much time on his hands. They’ve come a ways from the start of the last book, but they haven’t really resolved their priorities and their future intentions. That has to play out against the background of even more work issues for Stephen, something going on with Saint, and mysterious deaths that are clearly magical in some way, but hard to trace back.
That’s really just the start of the problems, but I shan’t spoil it. Suffice it to say that everything comes together beautifully, and Stephen and Crane get the ending they deserve. I’ll confess to wandering through the flat with my hands flailing saying “aaaaa” and refusing to spoiler it for my wife, having started and finished the book in one evening.
I’m intrigued by the glimpses of Pastern and his story — which is good, since I have Jackdaw lined up to read soon. None of the revelations in that part of the plot were particularly surprising, but the climax was nail-biting all the same. I’ll admit I was surprised about Merrick, and still don’t quite understand how that relationship developed, as such — like Crane, I was blindsided by it.
There were several sex scenes, some of them including plot-relevant information, for those who might be averse to reading them or might prefer to skip.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts. Check out the link-up post here.
What are you currently reading?
I’m trying to be pretty spontaneous and be really excited about everything I read this year, so I am only officially partway through one book (though others on the shelves are part-read and might get resumed in future). That is Bettany Hughes’ Venus & Aphrodite.
I’ve half-followed Bettany Hughes’ work since my first graduation, because at the same ceremony she received an honorary doctorate from my university, but I hadn’t picked this up yet. Actually, I wasn’t expecting to; I do a challenge where each month a random Dewey category gets chosen and you need to read one book from it for a chance to win, and this month was the 200s. Venus & Aphrodite happened to catch my eye when I couldn’t find the book on Judaism I’d searched up to get, so I took it instead.
I’m honestly pretty near finished; I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, though it’s very light.
What have you recently finished reading?
The last thing I finished was Sisters of the Vast Black, by Lina Rather. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow primed me not to even flinch at the idea of nuns in space, so I didn’t consider it gimmicky (contrast my initial reaction to “Jesuits in space” when I first read The Sparrow). I enjoyed it a lot, and there’s something powerfully hopeful about it — about rebellion and doing the right thing, and shining your light when no one else can or will.
What will you read next?
I’ve just been buddy-reading The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles with my wife. She’s solidly on her way through A Case of Possession, so I guess I’d better catch up! Otherwise, it’s going to be even more based on whim than my usual. I’m going through my shelves and re-cataloguing my books, so it really could be anything.
My wife was planning to try reading some K.J. Charles, and I suggested these books… and then as she started reading, realised I couldn’t remember the first book well enough to go on the second myself. So, obviously, I had to do a reread! Right up front, the book itself contains triggers for quite detailed attempts at suicide, sexual (and incestuous) assault off-screen, and some mind-manipulation stuff that really isn’t cool (mostly by villains). There are also some scenes where enthusiastic consent is absent, though it isn’t assault.
It starts with Lord Crane being overcome by seemingly outside impulses to harm himself after a return from Shanghai where he made a living for himself after being kicked out and sent away by his father. His father and brother killed themselves too, the only reason he’s inherited, and his manservant reckons there must be something going on — they’ve seen magic before and know it’s real, so he persuades Crane to ask for the help of a local equivalent. Enter the Justiciar Stephen Day, with a family grudge against Crane’s family and an unbending need to do the right thing. Naturally, Crane’s not as bad as his family, and sparks fly between the two of them as they get to grips with the rather sordid details of the curse.
There are a couple of scenes I’m less than comfortable with between Lucien Crane and Stephen Day. I read an older version of the book, so it’s possible the 2017 version softens this somewhat — I don’t know if it was edited. But Crane’s tendency to push Stephen around is less than attractive for me, even if Stephen is actually enjoying it — and the scene where he does explicitly consent but only out of a sort of spite isn’t so great. It isn’t that I don’t love the characters together, because I do, and these kinds of stumbles and miscommunications are entirely human, but it is best to go into them forewarned if it’s something that might trip your wires.
Despite that caveat, I do love the way they come together, and especially the epilogue/added bit in the re-issue (which I did read as well after realising I somehow had the old version). Their relationship is genuinely exciting, and I love Crane and Merrick’s protection of each other, and the hints about Stephen’s life elsewhere. I hope to see something of Esther in the second or third book!
It stood up to a reread, and I’m looking forward to the second book.