Story Rating: 4.5. stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars
Narrator: Antony Ferguson
Length: 7 hours, 17 minutes
Belimai Sykes is a being whose only desire is to end his worthless life in a sweet haze of the drug ophorium. As a Prodigal, a descendent of the demons who ascended back to Heaven during the Great Conversion, Belimai and his kind are relegated by law to live beneath the city’s capital in the cavernous, tenements of Hell’s Below. Once, Belimai had designs to live a quiet life, hidden among humans until he ran afoul of the Inquisitors. Now, he lives alone in exile in the city with scars, shame, and a drug habit resulting from torture at the hands of the Inquisition Confessors.
Inquisition priest, Captain William Harper, shows up on Belimai’s doorstep to request help in finding the Captain’s missing sister, Joan, who had secretly been involved with Prodigal advocacy. Belimai’s quick trip to talk to a Prodigal friend of Joan’s suddenly thrusts Belimai and Harper into a conspiracy of murdered Prodigals, corrupt leaders, and an Inquisition priest one tiny shift away from ruin.
Wicked Gentlemen is an engaging fantasy story about society and power. It explores how those in power influence society, how it shapes people’s lives, and how, amidst the chaos and corruption, two lost souls can still find one another and make a place for themselves and a little justice. What I enjoy most about the book is Ginn Hale’s ability to evoke the mood of a scene and place so well with just a few well-chosen words, and it pays off the most in the worldbuilding. As the setting seems to be an alternate, Victorian-era London in which the descendants of fallen angels and humans coexist, Hale has a lot of backstory to fill and manages to do so without hindering the narrative flow of the story. The only bump for me comes in the transition between Parts I and II, where the narrative jumps from the first person from Belimai’s POV to the third person from Harper’s perspective.
Aside from the worldbuilding, there are the interesting cases that draw me into the world. The first is the disappearance of Harper’s sister, Joan, which eventually embroils Belimai and Harper into a number of gruesome Prodigal murders. With Harper being an Inquisitor, Belimai is Harper’s “in” for information and the reader’s view into the dynamics of the world from a Prodigal’s perspective, as well a look at who Belimai is. When Part II begins, the next case has Harper at its center, which continues this pattern I love that establishes the MCs as conundrums. Belimai is the Prodigal whose nature, by his own admission, is made to tempt and deceive and prone to excess. He lives in exile, drugs himself into a stupor, and refuses to quit ophorium because he’s convinced it’s the drug that gives him any qualities that make him lovable or redeemable. Yet, it’s his depth of loyalty and love that led him to ruin to begin with and contrast so deeply to the corruption of the system that condemns him as evil. Then there’s Captain Harper, the Inquisition priest, the symbol of unyielding, uncompromising moral truth and arbiter of justice. Yet as the story progresses, one comes to realize that the Inquisition does not mete out justice to all citizens equally, and while Harper may be a morally just and fair Inquisitor, his inner demons and reasons for becoming an Inquisitor make him less than saintly.
Just a quick note for romance-centric readers — the on-page development of Harper and Belimai’s relationship is not the main focus of the story. Neither character is open or sentimental. By nature and circumstances, they are prone to hide their feelings behind walls, sarcasm, or simply because they are busy avoiding the powerful figures trying to capture or kill them. However, they do share some vulnerable moments, particularly in Part II, that gives their relationship forward momentum. This dryness and lack of sentimentality, present even when the characters are emotional, is captured well by narrator Anthony Ferguson. Ferguson’s delivery is well-paced and matches the tone of the story and characters well. His voice-work for all the characters is good overall. Ferguson manages to convey most of the characters’ moments of studied nonchalance, frustration, drollness, or other times of quiet subtly with ease and consistency. Ferguson’s narration is well-matched and together Wicked Gentlemen is a compelling listen.