At age 12, Harry Vane found himself fleeing to France with his parents, a warrant out for their arrest. His mother and father were political dissenters accused of starting a riot, and the three were escaping just ahead of the law.
Years later Harry’s parents are dead and he is back in England. Work is scarce and so Harry has turned to support from his parents’ friend Silas who protected the family years ago. Officially Harry works in the bookshop, but he also helps Silas print and distribute seditious pamphlets decrying the role of the government in ignoring the needs of the poor.
Harry is shocked one day when a stranger comes calling and informs Harry that he is the grandson of a wealthy aristocrat who is willing to take him in. Harry had no interest in returning to politics and the life of his parents, but he had no real choice when he couldn’t find work. So he is thrilled at his new fortune and determined to do whatever he needs to in order to fit in and win his grandfather’s acceptance.
The goal is to get Harry ready for London society, keeping his controversial background hidden and introducing him as a gentlemen and a Vane cousin. In order to get him in shape, Harry’s cousin Richard enlists the help of his friend Julius Norreys. Julius shut off his heart years ago, but he is polished and impeccable and knows just how to instruct Harry in order for society to accept him without question. Determined to succeed in his new life, Harry works hard until he has the skills, manners, and taste to be accepted among the upper crust.
Along the way, Harry finds himself falling for Julius, and despite his determination to remain aloof, Julius finds himself caring for Harry in return. Harry brings joy back into Julius’ life that he thought was long gone and the two begin a relationship that thrills them both.
Things are not all smooth sailing for the men however. Harry grandfather is determined to see him married to further the family line, and Julius has made it clear the relationship will be over once Harry gets engaged. Not to mention that Harry’s intended pretends to all that it is a love match, while being horrid to Harry in person. On the political side, Harry finds it increasingly difficult to hide his feelings when political dissent is leading to even more heavy handed dealings by the government. He knows he should do nothing to rock the boat or remind others of his controversial past, but he is finding it almost impossible to stay silent. And even worse, as Silas’ political acts get bolder and the law attempts to stop him, they are beginning to turn their eyes toward Harry. Julius and Harry have found happiness together, but politics — both of the family and government variety — threaten to destroy their relationship and Harry’s safety.
A Fashionable Indulgence is the first book in the new A Society of Gentlemen series by K.J. Charles and things are off to a wonderful start. The series connects a group of friends who call themselves the Ricardians under the leadership of Harry’s cousin Richard. They are wealthy and with good influence and enjoy the privacy of rooms within their club where they accept one another’s interests and support each other.
This story features Julius, a member of the group, and Harry, Richard’s newly found cousin. When we first meet Julius he comes across as bored, aloof, and a bit superior. He has a droll and biting wit and a fondness for exquisite tailoring. He has no real interest in tutoring Harry, but agrees because that is what the Ricardians do for one another. I liked the bit of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady built into this part of the story as Julius tutors Harry in the ways of gentlemen. I found it fascinating to see the little tips he imparts and also watch Julius slowly thaw as he falls for Harry’s charm and enthusiasm.
I expected this to be more of a focus on the story, but this training takes only the early parts of the book before they all move to London to introduce Harry to society. Things slowed down for me a bit after that as we see them at a series of events around town and I kind of wondered where there story would go at that point. But I shouldn’t have doubted as Charles then deftly moves the story to the more political side and we move into intrigue, family drama, and legal conflicts. It is all woven together so nicely and as things get more and more complicated, it is hard to imagine how these guys are ever going to get out of it safely and happily. But the journey is fascinating and so rewarding when we get or happily ever after.
One thing I particularly enjoyed here is how nicely rooted the story is to the historical period. Charles gives us a great sense of the political climate. There is great unrest as the poor are beginning to seek fair representation and rebel against the iron rule of the aristocracy. The French Revolution looms heavily in many minds. It is clear the old ways of life are being threatened and there are many who will do whatever it takes to preserve them. We also get a nice sense of what life is like for women, who still have few rights of their own. Harry’s cousin provides a wonderful illustration of attitudes toward women and paternalistic way they often are treated.
Overall I thought this story was a wonderful start to a new series. Harry and Julius are so likable and incredibly sweet together. The Ricardians are intriguing and I am eagerly looking forward to more of their stories and OMG the next book’s MCs look amazing! And please tell me there is a story for Richards valet Cyprian! (And SQUEEE! I just looked at the upcoming blurbs for the series and there is! Dying!) So a great start and definitely recommended.