Trigger warning/Content Warning for this book: Bullying, extortion, drug use, use of derogatory slurs against various groups, murder of a secondary character off screen
I am struggling with where to start on this review because my entire mind is just full of “I LOVE THIS BOOK AND I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY FOR A MURDER” and somehow, that seems a bit insufficient and also unclear.
(Its a fictional murder. Just to be clear. I am not happy for any other type of murder.)
You know when you’re watching a movie and you hear the ominous music start and you really hope the jerk who’s been hitting on people in a creepy way gets axed by the serial killer first so you don’t have to hear his voice anymore?
Yeah, you might feel a bit like that. I know I did. But you might ask, what does murder have to do with romance? In this case, everything.
You see, KJ Charles didn’t just make a romance book about two lovely women coming together unexpectedly. Said women also get to solve a murder mystery about someone who everyone had a motive to murder. They are all stuck in the house for reasons and so they decide they might as well solve the murder before the police get here (think Clue, but more bigotry on the part of the murdered person). Its delightful.
First off, why does it hit the blog? One, its f/f historical romance done well, which is a rare and beautiful unicorn. Two, femme and butch rep without stereotyping or privileging of one way of presenting versus another. At least, I’m calling it femme and butch, but your mileage may vary. There’s also a brief and less focused on romance between a lovely Punjabi Sikh woman and her English lover, but really Victoria steals the show.
As a Punjabi, this was a near and dear one to my heart. Discussions of vegetarianism, the fact that South Asians have been in England for a long time and also someone standing up to the bigoted jerk on her behalf? Swooning. So rare to see and cathartic for the small brown kid in me who got their food made fun of on vegetarian holy days.
Moving on, we’ve got Patricia (Pat) and Fenella (known as Fen), two lovely humans who are very different but appreciate each other. Pat’s a sportswoman of some renown, growing up in a family of brothers and developing a practical way about her, that doesn’t lead to her being seen as womanly often. Then we’ve got Fen, an heiress who’s learned how to seem helpless and ‘cherishable’ in the mode of the time but not precisely how to be seen for who she is. Between the two of them, they create a fantastic balance and also make openings for growth on both of their parts.
I was worried for a moment when Fen came up, because she’s so stereotypically femme and its a characterization that is often disrespected or seen as featherheaded. Even Pat isn’t sure initially if she has a thought in her head.
But I should have remembered I was reading a KJ Charles book. Fen’s character is complex and she has reasons for presenting as she does. They’re a shield but also part of her, similar to Pat’s brisk, forthright nature. When she and Pat begin to finally see each other without their societal masks on, it changes the entire tone. They use each other’s strengths and others perceptions as ways to help solve the mystery.
Pat’s defense of Fen before she even gets to know her is also breathtaking. “If a woman is brought up to do nothing except get married and mix in society, its hardly fair to blame for carrying out the job she was given. If you didn’t want that sort of woman you shouldn’t have proposed to one, and having done so, its hardly fair to criticize her for it.”
Yes! Talking about how society’s expectations cages women into impossible no win scenarios of who they have to be is 100% why K J Charles is an auto buy author. I can always rely on her to remember the context of the characters. (Except for the villain Maurice, but I am really terribly all right with shooting him out of a cannon).
And when they each get down on certain parts of themselves, the other lifts them up. Fen loves Pat’s forthright attitude and Pat loves Fen’s ability to think of others, smooth things over at times and do the societal niceties she’s never learned how to do. Its so wholesome and lovely I might cry.
I could probably write about how much I love this book for pages and pages, but I’m going to try to trim it down to a few sentences.
If you like:
-mysteries where you’re not sad about who died
-two people coming together without either of them losing who they are
-adorable, heartfelt conversations between multiple characters
-unexpected redemption and love
You’re going to love this book and its out today. So throw your plans out the window, get a snack and cozy up.
5 stars and the happiest I’ve ever been about a murder! No other book I’ve reviewed can say that.
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Until next time,
Not Just a Buzzword
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and you would have to murder me to get it from me. Don’t try. I like being alive.