Monday, October 12, 2020

A FASHIONABLE INDULGENCE, Regency England romantic novel featuring men in love with each other

A FASHIONABLE INDULGENCE (Society of Gentlemen #1)
$6.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: In the first novel of an explosive new series from K. J. Charles, a young gentleman and his elegant mentor fight for love in a world of wealth, power, and manipulation.

When he learns that he could be the heir to an unexpected fortune, Harry Vane rejects his past as a Radical fighting for government reform and sets about wooing his lovely cousin. But his heart is captured instead by the most beautiful, chic man he’s ever met: the dandy tasked with instructing him in the manners and style of the ton. Harry’s new station demands conformity—and yet the one thing he desires is a taste of the wrong pair of lips.

After witnessing firsthand the horrors of Waterloo, Julius Norreys sought refuge behind the luxurious facade of the upper crust. Now he concerns himself exclusively with the cut of his coat and the quality of his boots. And yet his protégé is so unblemished by cynicism that he inspires the first flare of genuine desire Julius has felt in years. He cannot protect Harry from the worst excesses of society. But together they can withstand the high price of passion.

My Review: Don't dismiss Romances without reading at least one KJ Charles romantic novel first. This Regency possesses all the charms of the best in the field at conveying the sense of an exquisitely beautiful lifestyle lived by rather dreadful people being, nonetheless, quite extraordinarily tempting an offer. Harry Vane, legitimate son of a pair of narcissists from wildly different social milieux, has that offer made:
No, I don’t want to be sober and restrained {like his older Vane cousin}. I want to be beautiful. Bright. Confident. Perfect. I want to be you.
he thinks of his mentor, Julius, lusting and admiring and trying so hard to please:
“Again. No. With grace.”

Harry bowed hopelessly, a clumsy movement. “I don’t feel graceful.”

“Of course you don’t. You aren’t. You resemble a cart horse attempting to caracole. Very well, stop.”

Harry's noble father ran away from power, money, position to marry his mill-owner's daughter of a mother, and neither was ever going to be welcomed home because they embraced the Ned Ludd radicalism that led to them racing ahead of the hangman's noose to France. Napoleon's France. The one still reeling from their aborted revolution. And at daggers drawn with England.

Harry, in short, was never ever going to feel safe anywhere...but then his fortunes changed when his paternal grandfather needed him, now that he's twenty-three and has lived hand-to-mouth in London (after the parents had the balls to die at the same time) to carry on the family name. And it is here, my olds, that the action springs to life.

Julius is a man in misery, sadly, and the kind that warps one's view of humanity as much as Harry's uncertain upbringing does: He is Other, a queer gent in a time when that was a hanging offense; he is not on good terms with his family, not for his sexuality (one receives the distinct impression that they are in the dark about the subject), but for a tragic accident that took place at Waterloo. (No, not talkin' about it here. Read it for y'all's selves.) These two men, so young...Julius turns thirty during the story, and that's a big, big part of the story...and so damaged, gravitate together.
And everything he hated, the saliva, the fleshiness, the taste of other people’s food and breath and teeth and sweat, was here. Harry’s skin was as flawed as anyone’s close up. He had wide pores and what looked like red pinpricks, hairs in his nostrils and the sharp brown points of stubble, the first hints of what would be wrinkles when he aged, and stray hairs under his thick brows that could have been plucked away. He was imperfect flesh, like any man, and Julius buried himself in that imperfection because it was alive.

Harry's imperfections bother Julius; Julius's perfection bothers Harry:
“When my namesake, the great Caesar, rode in triumph,” Julius said, “he was accompanied by a slave whose role was to whisper to him, You are but mortal. To remind him he was merely a man who would one day die like any other.

If I could, I should have you at my side to remind me that I am alive, because I have not felt alive in so damned long, and with you, I do. No, I don’t want you to marry, any more than I want you to return to your dirty democrats. I want to show you the world, and see you smile, and keep you with me while my soul grows back. Don’t gape like that.”

The last line is directed at a completely overawed, overjoyed Harry, slackjawed that someone who opens his mouth and just spills this kind of guff verbiage would consider taking him as a pupil, still less as a lover!

So there are plot twists; Harry is banished forever (lasts about two weeks) from Julius's side because he wasn't completely honest once; Julius and the other men in their circle rally round Harry as some exceedingly horrible events transpire; a murder, a suicide, a long-awaited restoration of ma'at all occur. In short, it's a romance. And a fine one, replete with period details (look up "gamahuche"! Haw), and like all Author Charles's books, agreeably smutty and louche. (Straight-straight people: NO.)

I'd be deeply remiss if I didn't mention one major thread running through the read: Harry's parents flight from England cost one of their very staunchest supporters a flogging, which is no small matter in today's world but could then, if the flogged was unlucky, be fatal in the form of infection. Their supporter, Silas, nonetheless opens his home and his seditious printing shop to orphaned Harry when he has no one (certainly not his noble relatives!) to turn to. Harry, after being fished out of this cesspool of democratic radicals, leaves them all behind but with many a guilty twinge. He does finally go back after being Banished Forever by Julius (as if!), to talk to Silas:
He planted a thick, ink-stained finger on the table in front of Harry. “And here’s Mr. Aristocrat Vane, the clothes on your back enough to feed a family for a month, I’ll be bound, come crying to me because you’ve squabbled with a fop over a pink coat. Because you’ve sold yourself and you don’t like the price. Is that the best you can do?”
“If you can’t be happy, then be something else. Be useful, that would be good. Decorative, if you like. Selfish, if you must. But don’t whine about it.” He scowled, rubbing his hand over his short-cropped, brindled hair. “And be careful.”

It is that last that shows Silas for what he truly is: A mother hen of a man, always taking good care of whoever needs it and be damned to his own needs.

The usefulness of any read is what the reader needs from it at the time of the reading. I needed something to help me combat crippling wretchedness by reminding me that there is love, compassion, and commitment in the world. This story was exactly that for me. Is it Dostoevsky? No. I didn't want Litrachure and its many, many tedious foibles, as I needed to be convinced that the world has always been filled with better people than I am used to seeing on the news.


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