Guy Frisby and his sister, Amanda, grew up in the face of their mother’s affair and the subsequent scandal. Now they live a quiet and isolated life in the countryside, forced by finances not to venture far. Casting a shadow over them is Sir Phillip Rookwood, brother to the man involved in their mother’s affair and a known scoundrel himself. Phillip has a reputation for being a rake and a member of a notorious hellfire club. Not only does Guy not approve of Philip, but their family history means they stay far away from one another. However, when Amanda falls off her horse and severely breaks her leg on Phillip’s property, she is forced to convalesce in Rookwood Hall, and Guy must naturally come with her to chaperone.
As it turns out, Phillip and his friends are nothing like their reputations would suggest (reputations that they happily encourage). They are a group of intellectuals and artists who spend time discussing politics and other social issues. They are open with one another, as well as friendly and kind to Amanda and Guy. Yes, their conversations and political and religious leanings are somewhat scandalous, but the group is quite open minded and pleasant.
As Amanda recovers, Guy gets a chance to spend more time with Phillip and finds himself surprisingly drawn to the man. The two share a history of facing public scandal and ridicule, so they are able to understand one another quite well. And with Phillip’s encouragement, Guy starts to shed some of his fears and the rigid rules he has placed on his own life. Philip not only offers Guy affection and a chance to explore sex for the first time, but also encourages him to stand up for himself and what he wants.
However, time is running out for the men as Amanda is almost recovered and Phillip and his friends are preparing to move on from the country home. Phillip and Guy have fallen hard for one another, but with Guy’s financial situation and Amanda’s reputation to think about, the men are having trouble figuring out how they could make a relationship work in the long term. Now Phillip and Guy have to decide what they are willing to risk for the chance to be together.
Wow, so Band Sinister was such a lot of fun, I really loved it! Author K.J. Charles describes the book as “Full Heyer” (as in author Georgette Heyer of old-school romance fame) and has modeled the cover off her style as well. I will admit that I have never read any of Heyer’s work, so I can’t attest to whether it works as an homage to her writing, but as a modern reader, I found this one fabulous.
There is so much here to like, I feel like I could write on and on and still not scratch the surface, but let me highlight a few of the areas that really worked for me. First off, I absolutely adored the members of the “Murder,” a group consisting of Phillip’s best friends John and Corvin, along with others. I loved that these men are a mix of races and classes and professions. They are comfortable together and all just so incredibly fun and charming, as they bicker and banter and yet so clearly all love and respect one another. Phillip, Corvin, and John are the core of the Murder (I’ll let you learn why they are called that for yourself) and their lifelong bond of love and support is just so lovely and endearing. These men are found family and rely upon and support one another so well. I also loved the relationship between Guy and Amanda. Amanda is strong willed and fiery (just how I like my heroines) and she helps to push Guy a bit out of his shell. They are clearly incredibly close, bonded by their life circumstances and willing to stand by each other through anything.
The first portion of the book takes time to really introduce us to these two factions as they get to know one another. And I’ll admit, I found them all so charming, I was a little worried I wouldn’t feel so engaged when we got to the romance between Phillip and Guy, but I needn’t have worried. The relationship is sweet and very sexy, as Philip introduces Guy to all the pleasures to be had between two men. I loved how Phillip is so careful with Guy, making sure he is comfortable every step of the way, that he learns to speak up for what he wants, and that he knows he can always say no. Phillip is all dashing heartthrob, and poor Guy starts out as somewhat of a skittish thing, but it doesn’t take him long before he jumps into things wholeheartedly, claiming happiness for himself. It isn’t something that comes easy to him, as Guy not only has a lot of fears, but his protectiveness over his sister means he doesn’t often seek his own pleasure. So I just loved these guys together and enjoyed seeing their relationship build.
As I said, there is a lot to like here. I adored what a strong heroine we get in Amanda, and loved the bond between her and Guy. I appreciated that both she and Guy are so accepting of Phillip and his friends right away, and while Guy is somewhat scandalized at times, he takes things in stride and is eager to learn and open up his mind. I enjoyed seeing how the group discusses the politics of the time and the issues that they are facing. And I just loved the progressive way this story approaches just about everything.
So I pretty much love everything K.J. Charles writes, and this story is no exception. If you are looking for a well-written and engaging historical, I encourage you to pick up Band Sinister.