Rafe Lancaster is injured fighting for the Imperial Aero Corps. He recovers from the aeorwing crash in all ways except for his eyesight; he will never fly again. Medically discharged, he heads back home to Londinium, takes a room, and goes about trying to rebuild his life. On a trip to a very upscale molly house, he spends a magical night with the amazing Edward Fairfax. But Edward is leaving town, and Rafe doesn’t know if or when he’ll see Edward again.
In the meantime, Rafe begins to make friends. In particular, the owner of the coffeehouse where he becomes a regular. He even starts a tentative relationship with Daniel Meredith. But he’s at loose ends, not knowing what to do with himself. Until Mr. Pearse says he’s selling the coffeehouse. Suddenly Rafe knows his purpose, and buys it. Daniel is against the purchase and Rafe, who has never been one for being told what to do, ends their relationship. Rafe throws himself into his work, and tries to stay out of the politics of the Houses. And then Edward returns.
It’s only then that Rafe discovers who Edward truly is, and the implications of that are startling. They get off to a rocky start, but then their friendship begins to grow. But as they are growing closer, and moving toward something more, the politics between the Houses heat up. Rafe’s house is attempting to use him as a pawn, and something even more sinister is lurking. Rafe suddenly finds himself in the middle of a plot for kidnap and murder, and he will do whatever it takes to save the man he loves.
A book like this hinges on the world building, and oh my god, the world crafted here his phenomenal. This is steampunk at its best, a world lovingly crafted and vividly presented so that all the little nuances are instantly understandable. I was transported to another time and place, immersed so fully in the world I half expected to look up and see aeroships flying overhead and autocars outside. For that alone, this book is absolutely worth reading. But fortunately, it doesn’t stop there and we have amazing and consistent characters to bring the world completely to life.
This is Rafe’s story. Through and through, this is his journey from his injury and recovery to how he makes a new life. I simply and totally adored this guy. His voice is unique, and he’s the perfect narrator to bring this story to us. He is brash and witty, intelligent and honest. He’s loyal to those he believes deserves it, but he’s no one to be ordered around or be made to do something he doesn’t like. He pulled me in and made me care about him from the very start, and I was glued to the pages for every bit of his journey. I loved everything about him. I particularly loved how he was his own man, and he didn’t let societal conventions hold him back. Yes, he played the games he had to play in order to get by in his world. But he did it with his own truth in his heart.
Which is also why he was the perfect man for Edward. Their romance was one of my favorite parts of this book. But I’ll be honest, I would have like to see a little bit more of it. There was a good portion of this book where Edward was gone, and Rafe was on his own. In that time, he did find another man, Daniel, for a time. It was clear that Daniel wasn’t the right guy for Rafe, and there was a small part of me that was waiting for Edward’s return. It was a tiny quibble, really, but it did wear on me just a bit as I was waiting for Rafe to have Edward back.
In addition to Rafe, Butler has given us a great many other endearing and well-drawn characters. Each person was so individual, so perfectly developed, that I felt like I was getting to know them right along with Rafe. He makes a small bevy of friends, each one integral to the plot and his journey. There was no one superfluous or extra. From Mr. Pearse and Hugh Peters, to cousin Agnes, and the baker next door, Will, every member of Rafe’s circle had a part to play, and played it well. It’s not often that I pick up a book where every secondary character is so important and so well done. It made this story so fleshed out and believable.
Do yourself a favor and run out to buy The Gilded Scarab. An amazing world, fantastic writing, an interesting plot, and engaging characters, it worked for me on every level, and I highly recommend it to you.