Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“How does one start a relationship with another man when it is forbidden?”
“One needs to decide that the other man is worth dying for.”
Sir Evan Penhart. Baronet. Highwayman. Scoundrel.
Julian Reece. Writer. Wastrel. Penniless.
No one forces Julian Reece to marry. Not his father, not his brother. No one.
When he is thrust into a carriage heading for London to meet his future bride, his way out comes in the form of an imposing highwayman, riding a horse as black as night. Julian makes a deal with the criminal, but what he doesn’t expect is that despite the title of baronet, the robber turns out to be no gentleman.
Sir Evan Penhart is pushed into crime out of desperation, but the pact with a pretty, young merchant’s son turns out to have disastrous consequences. Not only is Evan left broke, but worse yet, Julian opens up a Pandora’s box of passions that are dark, needy, and too wild to tame. With no way to lock them back in, rash decisions and greedy desire lead to a tide that wrecks everything in its way.
But Julian might actually like all the sinful, carnal passion unleashed on him. How can he admit this though, even to himself, when a taste of the forbidden fruit could have him end up with a noose around his neck? And with highway robbery being a hanging offense and the local constable on their back, Julian could lose Evan before he can decide anything about the nature of his desires.
I had to include the blurb, because it was really well written and catches your attention, and it truly does describe the plot, and the nature of the book. There are layers and layers to the two main characters, and I actually read the book through twice before writing this review, because, well, it deserved it.
The first read through, I felt this was a tale of two men who descended into an amoral quagmire, as each crime committed led to another, until they truly were deserving of punishment. The second read through was a little different and I could appreciate more of how Evan and Julian interacted with each other, as well as the way they rationalized their actions, even as their crimes escalated. The blurb mentions “morally ambiguous protagonists” and that was the god’s honest truth – and got to me a little more than I thought it would. I guess I’ve gotten way too used to my romances involving characters who are always, at the deepest level, good men, or at least men who have repented and changed by the time the book ends. Not so here.
Julian is a narcissistic, entitled, shallow, immature, spoiled brat, who thinks nothing of using other people – family, friends, and strangers alike. And though he is forced to recognize all of those traits in himself, and how despicable they make him, he didn’t care who he hurt to save Evan. Was he a better man at the end of the book than at the beginning? Jury is out on that one. Evan probably started out as a good man, but abuse and neglect from his family, self-loathing for his homosexuality and punishment kink, a misplaced sense of responsibility, and a tragic end to his first love affair have left him with his priorities really screwed up. Which not only led to his first theft, but kept him going on that path until the denouement that was shockingly violent.
Whew. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely a book that will leave its mark on you. If you truly believe “all’s fair in love and war” – and I mean, you really think it is OK to hurt anyone who stands in the way of true love – you will like the ending, and you will like the book. I have qualms about that attitude, even when it’s absolutely appropriate for the setting of the book, so the whole thing left me a little disturbed. Did I like the book? I’m not quite sure because I’m so conflicted – I truly got invested in the characters, the romance was emotionally very passionate, and I wanted them to overcome obstacles, but the way they did that, well…..
The kink level was not nearly as high as I expected from the blurb. The historical perspective of homosexuality, class privilege, and gender roles was very well done, really reinforcing the fact that 1785 was a more violent time with very different social mores than 2017.
Cover art by Tiferet Design is nice in a very Fabio/regency romance way.
Sales Link coming soon
ebook, 471 pages
Expected publication: February 7th 2017 by Acerbi & Villani ltd