Rating: 3.5 stars
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After injuring his leg in battle, Captain Hugh Fanshawe has returned home to London, spending his days doing paperwork for the Horse Guards and his nights escorting his mother and sister around town. Neither job particularly excites him, but he is self conscious about his leg and mostly just interested in keeping to himself and doing his duty.
When Hugh meets the dashing Colonel Theo Lindsay, temporarily home from the war, he is immediately drawn to the handsome and larger than life man. He is surprised when Theo takes an interest in him, sure that there is no reason the seemingly perfect Theo would want to bother with Hugh. But as it turns out, Theo is in fact quite interested, reigniting Hugh’s buried feelings toward men and starting the two on a sexual affair.
But despite how well things are going between the men, there are larger problems with the war effort and a spy that seems to be working within the Horse Guards. And when suspicion turns toward Theo, Hugh realizes that his own concerns about security could be just what lead the authorities to falsely suspect his lover of the crimes.
I picked this book up because I am always looking for stories with heroes that are a bit different, so I was interested in Hugh and how his injury has affected him since returning from war. Here we see Hugh is a man who is somewhat out of sorts. He lives a fairly staid life doing paperwork during the day, continuing to be part of the war effort even though he can not contribute as he once did. And he spends his nights squiring his mother and sister around, trying to be a dutiful son and brother. But there is a sense of shame and unease about him due to his injury. He tries to hide in the woodwork, to avoid conflict, and to keep to himself. I enjoyed seeing how Hugh’s relationship with Theo opens him up a bit. He becomes a little more confident and blossoms under Theo’s attention and affection. And Theo is an entertaining character, full of life and vitality and a droll humor that I found really appealing.
My problem is that Hugh really is just such a blah character, and with the story coming from his POV, it dragged things down for me. Hugh lives a life that is fairly dull and feels quite sorry for himself over his leg (as well as later over his relationship with Hugh when conflict arises). He comes across as sort of befuddled much of the time, but not in a way I found endearing. More like everything is just moving too fast for him and he can never quite keep up. Considering Hugh was supposed to have been a military leader, I found his constant obliviousness to be quite strange. I wish we could have gotten more of a sense of the man he was when he served, but as it was he just seemed out of it much of the time. There is one place where we see Hugh take some action and real agency over his life toward the middle of the book, and again we see signs of it at the end. But so much of the book he just seems to be carried along, afraid to take initiative, going about his duty, and sort of confused about life happening around him.
The story has a fairly predictable thriller plot, with a spy in their midst and a bit of misdirection (though I found it fairly obviously reasonably early on who the culprit was). And the story picks up toward the second half as this suspense element takes a larger role with a few small twists I enjoyed. But a lot of the story is taken up by balls, trips to to park, and other assorted Regency novel type events, one after the other. In fact, most of the first part of the story seemed to be Hugh accompanying his sister and mother to one engagement after another. And there is a large subplot involving his sister and her various suitors, which I never found really compelling or directly relevant to the story (though I did find her entertaining and enjoyed the relationship between she and Hugh). So unfortunately, along with a somewhat flat main character, the book also features a fairly flat story that was somewhat bloated with events that didn’t really move the plot anywhere.
I also had a few other small issues. First off, the writing here is very formal and somewhat stuffy, giving the book an even drier tone. For example:
“It’s nothing of import,” he said swiftly, not wishing Sophia to refine too much over his subject matter…”
Also, I pride myself on having an extensive vocabulary, but there were so many places here I had to look up words that it kept throwing me out of the story. I welcome authors that don’t dumb down their books, but I think this was taken to the other extreme and resulted in such a formal tone it took away from the story. I don’t think most readers are familiar with words or expressions like “sartorial solecisms,” “opprobrium,” or “inveigled,” and this type of vocabulary just further added to the somewhat stuffy tone of the book.
Last thing. Although you guys know I like my juicy sex scenes, I have no problem with stories that fade to black or keep things very simple in the sex department. However, here I found sort of a strange combination of detail in some places and then extreme vagueness in another. For example, here the men are after Theo has been massaging Hugh’s leg:
“I take it you approve of my treatment,” Theo said, and he sounded amused at Hugh’s open appreciation.
“God, yes,” Hugh said, and wriggled slightly to underline just how much he approved.
“Perhaps you will let me know what you think of the next stage,” Theo said, pouring more oil from the bottle onto his hand.
Before Hugh could wonder too much what that might be, he found out. “Oh,” he said, shocked and not entirely sure what he was feeling, but almost certain he liked it. As Theo persisted, Hugh began to move restlessly, finally pushing himself up on his arms because he could not remain still beneath Theo’s touch, and Theo pressed a kiss against his spine as he continued his attentions.
Well, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what Hugh was feeling either. After rereading the passage few times and then moving on to what appears to be intercourse, it seems like he is being fingered, but I felt like it was left so vague as to make it almost impossible to understand. In another place, Hugh mentions doing to Theo something a prostitute had done to Hugh. I had to think back to that memory of Hugh’s from the very start of the book to realize he was talking about giving a blow job. Why not just say that? Again, it is not so much that it was not explicit sex as that it was just vague enough to be confusing about what was happening.
So it sounds like a lot of criticism here, and I definitely had a lot of issues, but there was enough that worked here that I did like the story. I particularly enjoyed Theo, as well as Hugh’s relationship with his sister and his female best friend. I liked the way the relationship with Theo helped open Hugh up a bit and take him outside of the somewhat boring life he had set for himself. But I also found Hugh just too blah, too dreary to ever really find engaging. And the story itself just felt too bloated with endless balls and parties and other Regency trope that it masked the real meat of the story and the suspense plot. So a mixed review for me here. I’ll be curious to hear what you all think.