Published by: Loveswept
Format: Kindle ARC
Genre: Historical M/M Romance
Reviewed by: Liz
Rating: Enticing, delicious, thought-provoking, glorious!
Fun trip to the Department of Backstory: I came into reading romance very recently through a desire to read historical LGBTQ romance. Essentially, what I was yearning for was a Regency of the swoony Jane Austen variety, only gay. I found quite a few amazing and satisfying reads, but this book in particular is what my Regency-loving heart has been yearning for and this book is what it so gratefully received!
Plot: 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.
Review: KJ Charles’s A Fashionable Indulgence tells the first of three main (and a terrific fourth side) stories of a group of Regency gentlemen known as the Ricardians. Led by Lord Richard Vane, a morally upright gentleman who protects those closest to him by most means necessary in order to help them exist in a world that would otherwise reject them, these men are influential, mannered, and live by a type of “all for one and one for all” maxim. Enter Lord Richard’s long-lost cousin Harry Vane, born to a Vane nobody speaks of due to his marriage to a low-born seditionist, Harry has resurfaced in England at the age of 23 and become an object of interest to his grandfather, Lord Gideon Vane, who now seeks to make him a gentleman. Gideon employs Richard to do the job, who in turn seeks the aid of one of his friends, Mr Julius Norreys, whose only goals in life appear to be wearing the most provocatively intricate waistcoats and making his friends’ eyes bleed as a result.
What a perfect set-up for a sweeping, gorgeous, intensely political and human romance. Charles is a master of this sort of tale. I was already primed to love this novel, having read her short “The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh” (Another Place in Time: A Collection of Historical Short Stories) which is the story of two side characters in this Regency trilogy, and it lived up to every expectation I had. All of Charles’ characters are unfailingly human—they try and they falter, they put off the difficult, they love, they get scared. Nobody in her world is perfect, and everybody is the hero of his or her own story.
Harry Vane is, in some ways, stunted—he grew up in the sort of poverty that made him yearn to be what his parents hated (a gentleman) only to be left an orphan at 17, unequipped to lead any life but that of a reluctant seditionist. He is also quite naïve. When thrust into the world he’s been longing for, he goes in with his arms wide open, only to find it contains quite a few more challenges than learning how to take a perfect bow.
Julius Norreys is, in many ways, his opposite. Older, cynical, and closed-hearted, he takes on his new tutelage role with very little grace and even less hope that it will be successful. A seditionist turned into a gentleman? You’d be better off attempting the same with a trainable dog.
What happens between these two men is an achingly beautiful love story. Charles is an exceptionally skilled writer of human nature, which is what makes her books resonate. Her light touch and ability to draw out emotional connections within and between the characters is truly a joy to experience.
I particularly loved the journeys that Harry and Julius took within themselves. Both were very different, and both were essential. Harry learns a tough, once-in-a-lifetime sort of lesson on what it means to be a friend and a partner. In Charles’s care, he comes off not as childish but merely as human. Imperfect, trying to do his best, and sometimes failing along the way. Julius, too, makes more and more sense as the book progresses, unveiling a past that he keeps, if not entirely hidden, then definitely tucked into his elaborate waistcoats, away from prying eyes.
The great cast of characters is a hugely important aspect of this book. This world is vast, its relationships intricate. A lot of the themes here revolve around no man being an island—both in their personal and political lives. In fact, the political is essential to everyone involved, in ways that may first appear to be small or impersonal and turn out to be anything but. Harry Vane learns just as much in the course of his story as do the other Ricardians, as do those Harry associated with before his life among the ton. The threads between everyone here are woven in ways that perfectly set up the rest of the trilogy.
I confess to having spent a lot of the time reading this book doing embarrassing kicky feet of glee because not only is this a beautiful, sweeping romance but it is also an intensely hilarious, clever book—another thing I always expect and get from KJ Charles. Snappy, hilarious lines are just as abundant here as achingly beautiful truths. The magic of Charles’s writing is the ability to meld the two so perfectly well that you find yourself breathless from laughing on the edge of tears. Not to mention the stunning love scenes, where even a kiss may melt your brain from hotness. This may seem like an afterthought, but trust me—it is anything but.
Overall, this was a joy to read. There’s disillusionment, ecstasy, friendship, betrayal, discovery—so much to experience and so much to take in. The plot moves along swiftly, stopping at key moments to delve deeply into the personal and the worldly, and doesn’t let go until the very end. And I never, ever wanted it to end. (Good thing we have two more to look forward. *vibrates in place*)
Things you will love: The characters, the pacing, every love scene ever (including one behind the scenes that had me squealing into my hands). The over-all emotional arc is incredibly satisfying.
Things You May Not Enjoy: Some of the plot could be seen as predictable—I definitely saw a few things coming from a ways away. But it honestly did not detract from my overall enjoyment of this novel, as the plot is both crucial and not at all what you will be here for. The villain of the piece sometimes comes off as slightly cartoonish, but his motivations become clear and demonstrate exactly why he is driven to the lengths that he is—a minor quibble, really.