A Nobleman's guide to seducing a scoundrel by KJ Charles
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
One of many things to love about KJ Charles' books is how anchored they are in their particular historical period. She doesn't hit you around the head with facts, or elevate research over plot. Instead, we join A Nobleman's guide to seducing a scoundrel in the early 1820s when Gothic novels are still the rage, medievalism is becoming an academic study, the Napoleonic Wars are over, and smugglers now operate largely above board.
This isn't historical decoration. Rufus d'Aumesty, the new, disputed Earl of Oxney, spent more than a decade in the army and it's formed who he is. Luke Doomsday is a confidential secretary who's apparently left behind his days of belonging to Romney Marsh's foremost smuggling clan. They meet at the start of the novel in a maze of a house dating back to Norman times, both embroiled in a succession dispute worthy of Dickens.
Luke becomes the earl's right hand man as they both seek to right years' worth of estate neglect. At first, Luke's interest in the job appears genuine. Then we get hints otherwise, even as he and the new Earl fall for each other. Another thing to love about KJ Charles’ writing is how she quietly acknowledges that queer individuals have always existed. That they not only existed, but tried to make full, loving lives for themselves.
Finally, Luke is discovered at night somewhere he shouldn't be and everything goes full-on Gothic. Think 'Northanger Abbey' or 'Melmoth the wanderer' - all dark and stormy with strange, shadowed buildings, crazed, vengeful relatives, and a lone hero(ine) struggling against the odds to save themselves and solve the mystery. Of course, the clouds clear and the sun comes out at the end. No matter how hard KJ Charles makes you (and her characters) work and suffer, there’s always a happy ending.
This is great fun and a worthy sequel to The Secret lives of country gentlemen. If you read this book first, it doesn't matter. KJ Charles has been very clever in linking both books firmly together but also making it possible to read them separately.