BOOK REC: Think of England – KJ Charles

Author: KJ Charles (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Self-published

Genre: Historical romance, gay romance

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Hello, can I interest you in some delightful gay romance, as a period novella, with some snappy dialogue, a mystery, and a bit of smut? Of course I can, the world is pretty miserable and you want nice things. You deserve it.

The character dynamics in this are a lot of fun. Daniel is introduced as an Oscar Wilde-esque flamboyant wit, whose sexuality is a poorly-kept secret. Meanwhile, Archie is a pragmatically minded, and disinclined to dance around most of the societal niceties, or notice subtext unless it literally smacks him in the face. It doesn’t help that he’s attended this gathering in the remote north east of England to investigate his suspicions of treason, after a faulty batch of firearms kills a number of men in his company, and leaves him with life-changing injuries. It just turns out that Daniel is there to do exactly the same thing, except he’s doing it with a warrant from the King’s Spymasters, and he’s a bit better at it. Archie has all the subtlety and subterfuge skills of a brick through a window. Meanwhile, this weekend has been dressed up as for dinner parties and group pursuits, but it appears to essentially be one of many weekend sex parties set up by the host. They pitch the idea that this is a safe place for intimate encounters, but instead use the time to collect blackmail material of their guests’ sexual appetites.

What makes this delightful is that Daniel clearly reads Archie as being a bit of a typical man’s man, one who won’t take kindly to anything outside of Propriety, and who is just as likely to report Daniel for indecency than help him. Instead, Archie is just a man who thinks in very straight lines, and entirely misses nuance, while Daniel tries to read subtext into everything Archie says, unable to believe that a man is capable of literally saying exactly what he means. It’s quite a fun character trait, particularly when you consider that for Daniel, every aspect of his life is double-speak and innuendo, whether it’s his work or his personal life, nothing can be straightforward and in the open. Meanwhile, Archie has never once in his life considered that he can’t just say exactly what is in his head, which in some ways makes for some quite refreshing crossed wires. It’s not that they’re not talking to each other, or saying what they mean, it’s almost like they’re just speaking different languages.

Naturally there are some great tropes as well, such as the “fake relationship to avoid detection” one which I’m frankly pretty weak for. Daniel also is the slightly-damaged but pretending to be confident character, who has his own traumas and doesn’t believe that the handsome man who he’s suddenly acquired is actually interested in him. Or that he even understands what’s at stake, instead thinking of him almost like a human labrador who is very excited about this brand new thing he’s discovered.

It’s not a heavy plot, but it’s enough to keep the narrative moving along. This is a light read, and a novella, so it’s a really nice palate cleanser after denser reading material, and thoroughly self-indulgent. What I liked was that it was placed solidly in a historical setting, and at no point did Charles shy away from the issues that came for LGBTQ+ people historically, but that’s not the focus of the story. She addresses it, and finds ways to work around it, or remove it as an issue for the larger part of the tale. This isn’t an angsty piece about the trauma of homosexuality in Edwardian Britain, and although that was the case, it’s nice that there’s LGBTQ+ romance literature that just gets to be a historical romance in the same way as heterosexual characters get. Additionally, if you’re more interested in a WLW story, two of the wonderful side characters in this get their own romance in Proper English.

Briefly:

  • A proper opposites attract, fake-romance-for-the-mission historical glamour romance, with some delightful tension and a narrative character who isn’t so much in the closet as has just never considered that this sort of thing might be an option but he’s very excited about the possibilities.
  • There is some homophobia in the sense that it is a book in an historical setting, however this isn’t a story about the struggle for LGBTQ rights. It’s a love story, and all the homophobes are very clearly bad.
  • Not to seem to mercenary, but as this is a self-pubbed book the kindle price is about £3. This is an excellent way to justify spoiling yourself with some romantic fluff.

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