As a preamble, you have to know how much I love KJ Charles work. She was the first queer romance author I’d ever read and I am spoiled after her works.
If you’ve read a few of my reviews, you know how much I value good consent, accurate depictions of marginalized peoples in historical era and lovely strange words from the era. With KJ Charles, you get all of that and such great romance. She doesn’t shy away from representing the fullness of the era and the historical accuracy and reality don’t hinder her happily ever afters at all. Rather, they fill them out and make them more glorious and representative.
Content and trigger warnings: Description of an broken bone and the resulting medical care. Not gory, but a little graphic. Description and discussion of parental neglect, slavery, racism and homophobia.
First, what makes this book worthy of a Not Just A Buzzword review: it not only represents a non monogamous group that are healthy and functional with each other, but also black characters whose lives are not tangential or used as a narrative arc for others and who have their own desires. Lastly, a Portugese Jewish doctor, a woman who’s found herself outside of society’s strictures and dealing with period attitudes in amazing and realistic ways.
Is it obvious I loved this?
For main characters, we have the lovely Phillip Rookwood, black sheep of his family, acknowledged bastard (due to his mother’s affair) and all around shameless lover of pleasure and thumbing his nose at society.
On the other side of this happily ever after, we have Guy Frisby, a country gentleman fallen on hard times, who is deeply devoted to his sister Amanda and a classical scholar of some knowledge.
Phillip heads up a select group at his residence, Rookwood Manor, who meet to engage in activities that the current society would deeply disapprove of. Its a source of mystery and gossip in the area. Guy Frisby’s family has a long and complex history with Phillip’s which makes it unlikely for them to ever meet. Until Amanda breaks her leg wandering onto the property for reasons I will let you discover.
Amanda breaks her leg, Guy shows up to take care of her, they can’t move due to the severity of the break and the book really picks up speed here. We meet the lovely Dr. Martelo, a Portugese Jew who has no patience for the barbaric practice of bloodletting in cases of illness or English doctors who care more for propriety than health. He and Amanda are a joy to behold and by no means a tiny side plot of this story. I love his discussions of medical ethics and Amanda’s lively debates with him and everyone else in the house.
Then we have John Raven and Octavio Corvin, Phillip Rookwood’s partners in crime, family and lovers. John Raven is a freed slave who has an equal hold in this relationship and the others’ lives. Also, unlike many books featuring freed slaves, his previous status as a slave is not made the central plot point of his existence, but rather a part of his life. I appreciate it, because so often authors fall into the trap of only seeing a character through their trauma, instead of their wider life. Corvin is an aristocrat who was given John Raven by his father as a child and freed him at 14. Rookwood was sent to live with Corvin’s family at the age of 10, which is how all of them met.
The conversations around how to manage nonmonogamy and learning how this process works for all of them are so glorious. I classify Corvin, Raven and Rookwood as non monogamous because there are examples of when one of the partners has attempted monogamy and it has not been beneficial for them, either individually or as a whole. But it could be seen in a number of ways and my classification is not set in stone by any means.
The relationship between them is one of comfort, safety and love, which definitely goes beyond period definitions of proper relationships, but is beautiful in its space for them all to be themselves. There are other members of the Murder who are mentioned, but they are mostly in monogamous relationships and therefore not caught up in the hijinx as much. Still lovely though. The triangle (as they occasionally are referred to as) has been together since their teenage years and Phillip hasn’t really wanted to bring anyone into the mix until he meets Guy.
We have a classic trope of innocent and experienced in Guy and Phillip, but I swear my heart grew three sizes at the lovely, explicit consent kept throughout. I might have to go back and reread all those lines, because it legitimately felt healing to read such perfect, non coercive, language around consent said in such a loving way. Phillip’s favorite endearment, beloved, seems to mean something somehow more in my mind.
There’s the required misunderstandings in a romance, hilarious moments and even tree climbing, which is pretty hysterical. Guy and Phillip have a great deal of conversation on many topics, including religion and Latin, which are frankly amazing. I’ve never known Latin could be erotic. Its a vocabulary lesson, at the very least.
Finally, the villain (of sorts) appears and threatens to tear all our lovers apart. They win the day and have some of the cutest proposal scenes in the world and I swear I wanted to shout on a rooftop as this ended. Also, even the villain gets to be told she’s valuable and deserves being cared for. Its a win for everyone. Its a happily ever after that you can believe, that feels true and real and fills your heart with joy.
I give it 5 glorious stars, shining with light and I would give it every star in the sky if I could. Its going to stay on my shelf for comfort reads and I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.
If you love queer romance with real talk of shame, coming out and learning who you are, alongside glorious consent, fantastic smut and hilarious hijinx, this book is for you.
Until next time,
Not Just A Buzzword
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I am so deliriously happy about reading it. Getting it free didn’t influence me, cause I would have loved this book even if it cost 500 dollars.