A guest review by Erastes
A lad from the streets meets a lord of the manor…
When war veteran Sir Alan Watleigh goes searching for sex, he never imagines the street rat he brings home for one last bit of pleasure in his darkest hour will be the man who hauls him back from the edge of the grave.
A night of meaningless sex turns into an offer of permanent employment. As Sir Alan Watleigh’s valet, Jem offers much more than polished boots and starched cravats. He makes Sir Alan Watleigh’s smile and warms his bed. Just as the men are adjusting to their new living arrangement, news about a former soldier under his command sends Sir Alan Watleigh and Jem on the road to save a child in danger.
The journey brings them closer together as they travel from lust toward love. But is Sir Alan Watleigh’s love strong enough to risk society discovering the truth about him?
There’s not many times that I finish a book with a huge smile on my face, but this achieved that. I guess you can tell up front you are in for a good review then!
It’s a delight.
What? You want more? Bah!
When I read this writing duo’s last book “Seducing Stephen” I knew that anything else they wrote would be an auto buy for me. My faith in that was backed up with “The Gentleman and the Rogue” because it delivers on just about every count.
In a way it’s a bit of a re-telling of Scheherazade. Alan Watleigh has lost everything, friends, family, most of his regiment at Badajoz, his faith in humanity and he’s been badly injured in the war. Life is black, bleak and painful. Added to that, he’s homosexual and although he’s been celibate throughout the war he knows there’s no happy ending for him. So he decides to have one last whore to satisfy his shameful and revolting lust (his opinion) and then he’s going to blow his brains out.
But don’t be put off. This is no Angsting Annie. In fact we don’t get into the darkness that is Alan’s mind for quite a while, and that’s probably just as well.
We are introduced into the story by Jem Brown, the “rogue” of the piece, a whore from Southwark who has been plying his trade on the streets for quite a while. He’s street-smart, intelligent (for his class and profession despite hardly able to read or write), but despite the most appalling upbringing, he has a natural joie-de-vivre which is entirely irrepressible. This bubbling champagne quality gradually seeps into Alan’s muffled world and begins to drag him to the light again.
As the blurb says, at first it’s a sexual arrangement, and there’s a touch of Pretty Woman about it in that respect, too, so there’s no surprises there, but it’s the way that Jem is portrayed that makes him such a star character and one I predict will gain him more than me as a fan. His voice is entirely note-perfect; at times he speaks in cant (thieves slang) and the authors do this most skilfully, sometimes making it clear what he’s saying and other times leaving us to ponder what he means, and sometimes making us burst with frustration (along with Alan, who says “English please, Jem!”) His inner voice is also entirely different from Alan’s and that’s not something you often see done well in books. People might talk entirely differently, but when it comes to their POV, it often becomes very samey. It’s not that way here–Jem doesn’t think in cant, thank goodness–but he has the same lightness and irreverence in his thoughts as he does in dialogue. I loved, for example, the nicknames he called Alan (in his head) before he knew his name: Lord Gloomy, Lord Fancy, Lord Bumbuggerer and the stories he tells Alan along the way made me laugh out loud so much that it surprised even me. Most of them are old tales, I’m sure, and I’d heard one or two of them before, but they still made me guffaw.
So often, too, the “tart with the heart” or the “urchin” character in these books turns out to be a real Gary Stu, knowing everything, winning everyone over, being able to tackle complicated tasks out of his class with ease, but the writers deliberately avoided this. Jem is able (just about!) to manage the daily tasks of being a valet, although they bore him horribly, but he can’t ride, can’t drive a carriage and there’s no chance that he’s going to ever pass himself off as a gentleman.
Alan is wonderfully presented, too. Like Jem, we get to learn him by small increments, even when we are in Alan’s POV. Like a reverse Scheherazade it takes Jem’s buoyancy and Alan’s growing feelings for him to get Alan to trust him with any information about himself at all. I loved the way that he reverted to a dark, dangerous commander of men when angry, it was truly frightening, both for Jem and me!
The sex scenes are not overdone, and they fit in perfectly. After all, Jem is hired at first as a whore, so we know there’s going to be a fair amount of sex, and after the first night, neither Alan nor Jem are really convinced that Alan wants him to be “just a valet” so there are a few partially gratuitous sex scenes, but they do build up to the complete consummation of the relationship.
What really impressed me, though, is that the writers pack so much in just 158 pages. It’s a really compact, solid story with a lot going on: good servants, bad servants, loyalty to dead troops, riding lessons, a road trip… it’s amazing how much it contains.
The cover is lovely. The figures are very pretty and the costumes are well painted. I am obliged to be picky as the bottom of it, though – why is there a picture of the Houses of Parliament? It wasn’t built until 20 years after this book. Historical details should be right on covers, as much as possible and this was a big gaffe.
Regarding the text, there were a couple of niggles, mainly regarding distance and horse-power and one or two tiny things but nothing that will spoil anyone’s enjoyment in a damned good story, a great road-trip, a good adventure and a obstacle-filled romance. Oh and something that will make you laugh.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if these ladies keep up this kind of quality, then they are set to be stars of the gay historical genre.