Published by: Loveswept
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewed by: Liz
Get ready for: A stunning historical romance of the highest calibre!
Plot: Silas Mason has no illusions about himself. He’s not lovable, or even likable. He’s an overbearing idealist, a radical bookseller and pamphleteer who lives for revolution . . . and for Wednesday nights. Every week he meets anonymously with the same man, in whom Silas has discovered the ideal meld of intellectual companionship and absolute obedience to his sexual commands. But unbeknownst to Silas, his closest friend is also his greatest enemy, with the power to see him hanged—or spare his life.
A loyal, well-born gentleman official, Dominic Frey is torn apart by his affair with Silas. By the light of day, he cannot fathom the intoxicating lust that drives him to meet with the radical week after week. In the bedroom, everything else falls away. Their needs match, and they are united by sympathy for each other’s deepest vulnerabilities. But when Silas’s politics earn him a death sentence, desire clashes with duty, and Dominic finds himself doing everything he can to save the man who stole his heart.
There really were no chains like the ones in your head.
Review: Before I could start this review, I had to pour myself a glass of wine (sadly, not an Imperial Tokay) and then watch the blinking cursor for a good long while, because how do you even begin?
This book is, in all ways, an absolute triumph for KJ Charles. Which is no small feat, considering she’s written a slew of incredible romances. So why does this feel so special?
First, there’s her writing. As always, it is incomparable. No word is wasted, no emotion is spared or manufactured. You get the guts and the glory, the pain and beauty, all written in a way that lures you in without you even realizing. Before you know it, you’re in deep and you never wish to come out.
The second are the characters. In this middle installment in the (ultimate) trilogy, we get the whole story of Silas and Dominic that we were only given tantalizing glimpses of in A Fashionable Indulgence. In contrast to AFI’s romance woven in delicate threads of hope, longing, and rediscovery of feeling, here we get one made up of chains, all sorts of chains, that bind people together or keep them apart.
KJ Charles doesn’t let us breathe for even a moment. The book starts out with quite the bang, and immediately, reels you in. If you read the first book of the trilogy (which I highly recommend you do first, along with the short story “The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh.” To do otherwise would be to do yourself a massive disservice), you’ll notice that this book’s action somewhat overlaps with the previous. But sooner than you’d think, we have no idea what is going to happen and we’re in.
This story is raw, and dangerous. If the tension in A Fashionable Indulgence came largely from a monetary and class divide, the tension here comes with that, and higher stakes yet–not just the threat of disownment, of money and status and love lost, but your own ideals, beliefs, and, ultimately, freedom and even life. The tension here is political, moral, and criminal, encompassing ideas that we still struggle with on a daily basis.
How do those with no power make their voices heard, and why won’t those with all the power listen and care? How do you rectify your own desires with your principles? Can you really do that or is it a fruitless hope? How do you make sense of a gray world?
The two main characters could not be more different. A gutter-born political seditionist and a high-standing Tory whose very job is to protect an elite few from insurgence by the powerless many. But the way KJ Charles brings the two men together illustrates, in a truly beautiful and powerful way, that you can, in fact, “love across a divide.” Both men are stubborn, both love their country, and for all that they see England differently, both hold steadfast beliefs, falling for each other amidst incredible sex and perpetual argument in the afterglow. Wednesday by Wednesday, their bond strengthens.
The point of first contact is Dominic’s peculiar sexual desires. He longs for submission. The ecstasy he craves can only be granted to him on his knees, bound, doing as he’s told. Silas provides this service with a keen sort of intelligence and intuition. Instead of finding it unsettling and even grotesque, Silas refuses to judge a man by what he wants done to him behind closed doors, and indulges every need that Dominic is able to express (and beyond). Their assignations are poignant, powerful, and potent. Each new discovery brings them both closer to the edge of something they don’t wish to talk about lest they make things even harder on themselves.
Their political disagreements are beautifully and succinctly written by Charles, as is their desperation not to give themselves or each other away in this intricate game of purposeful ignorance. She gives the same care to their minds as she does to their souls and bodies. These characters are fully fleshed-out, real and imperfect, and beautiful in their flaws. Their love story is stunning, and gets better with each new reread. (I just finished read #3, for those counting along at home.) This is Romance with a capital R, heart-fluttering and breathless.
What this whole series feels like is a sort of storytelling tornado. We’ve seen the outer edges of the gathering hurricane in the story of Harry and Julius, but now we’re getting deeper and deeper in with Silas and Dominic. And all of it is circling towards the eye of the storm–the two men who have, thus far, played an integral but somewhat removed role in all the action. With Dominic, we are able to get closer to Richard than Harry or Julius ever could. And through the necessities of the action, we also get to meet Cyprian, his shrewd, jack-of-all-trades valet who pulls the strings on Richard’s order and keeps everybody safely away from the (unjust and otherwise) laws.
Charles sets up their book beautifully. In a poignant conversation with Dom towards the end, Richard makes a statement that seems to be at the heart of his and, by extension, this particular world’s struggle. But I won’t spoil it for you. Because I am evil.
Apart from the Ricardians, we also get to know such fascinating characters as Jon Shakespeare, a black man working at Quex’s Club, his sister Zoe who runs the assignation house of Millay’s, and Quex himself, who may somewhat surprise you. We meet the Spencean Society, those desperate, hungry men who work fruitlessly if misguidedly for a hopeless cause they’re willing to die for. We see the threads that run between the world of the privileged and that of the downtrodden poor, and Silas and Dominic walk that invisible tightrope while looking straight into the pit below them.
Charles succeeds on every front. Her whip-sharp writing, her gift for delivering an idea in the most beautiful and simple way that belies the intricate intelligence beneath it, her ability to draw fully realized humans with a seamless stroke, all make for a truly wonderful book. The diversity of her characters, the emotionally satisfying relationships (whether they be romantic, platonic, or antagonistic), and the historical accuracy of the setting all add to the absolute pleasure of this novel. Read it. You won’t regret it.
What May Not Work for You: As this is, in a way, a BDSM novel, you may be tempted to stay away from it if that isn’t your thing. I urge you to read it despite any misgivings, though. Trust me on this. (Are you not a fan of politics in your books? I guess that may put you off, as well. But see above re: my recommendation.)
What You Will Love: Everything. The sex is scorching, the story is beautiful, and the happy ending is hard-fucking-won. Also, it’s hilarious. Did I not mention that? And you get to see more Harry and Julius, as well as Ash and Francis, in all sorts of wonderful scenes. I mean. Really. What are you even waiting for?