Among his eccentric though strictly principled group of friends, Lord Richard Vane is the confidant on whom everyone depends for advice, moral rectitude, and discreet assistance. Yet when Richard has a problem, he turns to his valet, a fixer of unparalleled genius—and the object of Richard’s deepest desires. If there is one rule a gentleman must follow, it is never to dally with servants. But when David is close enough to touch, the rules of class collide with the basest sort of animal instinct: overpowering lust.
For David Cyprian, burglary and blackmail are as much in a day’s work as bootblacking—anything for the man he’s devoted to. But the one thing he wants for himself is the one thing Richard refuses to give: his heart. With the tension between them growing to be unbearable, David’s seemingly incorruptible master has left him no choice. Putting his finely honed skills of seduction and manipulation to good use, he will convince Richard to forget all about his well-meaning objections and give in to sweet, sinful temptation.
Karen: while it’s early in the year, I will say that this book in particular – and the whole series in general, is one of the best historicals I have ever read. I know that Fra really loved A Seditious Affair (that’s the anti establishment in her) but this book, it made me laugh, it really made me cry, and it also made me think about the balance in relationships, and how we have beliefs about how they work.
I know that I’ve said this before, but KJ Charles was one of reasons that I started reading romance again. And while sometimes I loose faith in the genre, it’s books like this that make me continue. And one of the very minor characters has my surname !
Fra: I do occasionally feel bereft when finishing a beloved series – actually no, make that I feel bereft all the time when finishing a beloved series and the end of KJ Charles’ A Society of Gentlemen is no exception.
A couple of days ago I was saying to Karen that I needed to go a consult a dictionary because I needed a new set of words to describe how much I utterly love both this writer and the series. And I did, because, hey, there’s only so many “brilliant, awesome(if I even used that word!), great and love” one can use in any given sentence.
I plan to use all of my newly discovered synonyms in this review.
So book 3, Richard’s book – the head of the Ricardians, the most privileged of the lot. The man who has created several safe spaces for his circle of friends, the man who saved both Harry and the radical Silas, the man who loved Dom but refused to understand his inclinations and wishes, and the man who is in love with Cyprian – his valet and won’t give in because it would feel like taking advantage and it would be so very improper.
Right there, in my opinion, lays the full narrative tension of this very intelligent series. Privilege is explored in all its facets and so is the nature of society and subversion.
There is no doubt that the Ricardian are very privileged – in the actual sense of the term: they belong to the highest rankings of Regency society, they are wealthy and powerful; by the very nature of their privilege they are able to afford themselves safe spaces and a protected environment. At the same time though, the very fact of their love lives and sexuality is subversive and breaks some of the most fundamental rules of said society.
Having read the first two books and followed the rescue of both Harry and Silas as readers we know that Richard’s objections to pursuing David Cyprian are moot from the beginning, really.
Karen: Yes, Richard is the most privileged of the lot, and how he feels the responsibility of that. If there is one word that I would use to describe him , it is that..responsible. The weight of being ‘Richard’ weighs so heavily on him that he is the public face all the time. Not a person.
While David, he truly has been the star of the whole series, David is his own creation, his own man and in control, with one notable exception.
Fra: One of the most interesting elements of the story (and the whole series) for me is that there are several layers of Regency society explored in it. There’s radical politics and beliefs, there’s the privilege of the upper classes and with David Cyprian there’s the layer of the common man, the man that has to go into service to make a living. Where Silas has strong political beliefs and Harry the flippancy and enthusiasm of youth, David brings a completely new dimension to the world of The Society of Gentlemen. He is a man content in his work, a man who takes pride in his accomplishments in service to Richard Vane. And not necessarily only in the boots blacking department but mostly in the acknowledged fact that David is one critical factor in the safety and well being of all Ricardians, that he is the shadow that ensures that they are all safe and well looked after.
David relishes the power, has zero problems with his position and is also hopelessly in love with Richard.
The UST is sustained by a tight plot and animated, quick witted dialogue. It is one of the most impressive skills of KJ Charles that her language and dialogue reflects the historical period her novels are set in effortlessly and without flaws.
Karen : I totally agree on the exploration of power and society told through what are on paper unequal relationships, yet completely work. In the Magpie Universe this is also true, but here because the books are more relationship focused it’s more apparent. Also despite the romantic relationships being between men these books are very much a progression from the regency romances of Georgette Heyer.
Fra: The language changes depending on the circumstances: the Ricardians speak a certain way amongst themselves; Silas and David have a completely different set of language when they are on their own; although my love for Silas is firmly based on the fact that he says what he wants at all times and in the manner that pleases him; and David seems well versed not only in the language of the obedient valet but also in the affirmative language of the lover who knows what he wants and will eventually get it.
KJ Charles affinity for extensive research is what makes her one of my auto buy authors. The facts, the gestures, the small details of the world she sets her characters in which make the books such a joy to read are the result of in depth historical research and that shows. It is not superficial; the research, the knowledge shines through her narrative a gives it depth and a strong sense of realism.
Karen: I was going to say exactly that about the language, we all do this to a certain degree, change how we use language to suit who and how we communicate, and it’s not something that we necessarily see in romantic fiction all that much. For me it added another layer and gave the books so much more depth.
The issue of research is quite interesting for me, I think that it’s something you don’t really actively notice, until it isn’t there, so that moment you pick up on something that jars can ruin the rest of the book . That never happens with KJ Charles.
Fra: The push and pull of Richard and David’s relationship is cleverly counterpointed by ominous threats to the Ricardians all. In this context Richard must be brought to task on his shortcomings and he is so – constantly – by all set of characters. Silas and Dom are both magnificent in this book as they take turns in telling Richard off. If Silas offers the point of view of the radical mind and a very well delivered lecture of why things are different depending on the person who experiences them; then Dom is the one who is able to make Richard really listen to what is being said to him. In fairness it couldn’t have been anybody else. Richard and Dominic’s relationship was effectively squashed by Richard’s inability to listen and understand. His realisation that the his point of view is not the point of view comes at great cost for this man who has been raised to be responsible at all times.
In all honesty some of Richard’s concerns in pursuing David are rather objective. He is aware that he is in a position of power and he doesn’t want to abuse it: I found that admirable. The critical issue here is that he is not listening- by his very nature he is making decisions and assumptions about other people’s desires based on what he thinks is right: which, as an in depth tackling of the subject of privilege is incredibly well done, really. Nor is he giving himself permission to push the privilege aside and pursue happiness.
Karen: Yes, while this is inherently Richard and David’s love story, it’s more of an ensemble piece than the other books, partly because we’ve met the characters in the first 2.5 books, but also because Richard, the man at the centre, the creator of the group, needs to realise how much he is loved for himself, but also how much he needs to change. One set of circumstances alone would not be enough to trigger that change.
My one and only complaint is the cover.
Fra: Yeah, none of the covers do any justice to these splendid books.
This whole series has been a masterful exploration of privilege and its consequences in society at large and for people’s relationships in particular.
There are too many stories and books right now that place characters on a soap box and let them go on and on and on and on about “privilege” before they whip out their dicks and fuck anyway. In The Society of Gentlemen, privilege is analised in its many facets; its consequences explored in detail not through generalised statements but through the characters’ agency, it is seamlessly stitched in the narrative and the plot and it never feels like the author shouting at you to tell you what you need to think about this or that issue.
Add to that KJ Charles trademark scintillating prose and we can safely say that this has become one of our best loved historical romance series and that we are most certainly looking forward her next narrative adventure.