William hails from a long line of aristocrats, albeit one where each successive lord mismanaged the affairs of the estate. Luckily, William’s elder brother and heir to their estate married well and Rivington, his home, was saved. Unluckily, his sister-in-law is something of a miser who deems a room and board almost too much generosity for William and his siblings. Thus, the arrival of an extremely wealthy and extremely eligible bachelor by the name of Reginald Abernathy and his sister is met with great enthusiasm. Nothing would please William more than seeing his younger sister, Catherine, settled in a fortuitous match—not in the least because his own proclivities necessarily mean William himself will never know happiness with a partner of his choosing.
Reginald Abernathy is nothing like the peers that now surround him. He comes from the New World where he made a fortune in the breeding of horses. Now heir to an English estate and all its riches, he has his pick of the local ladies. Reginald, however, has eyes only for the handsome William Bascomb. And with wealth comes a certain level of immunity. Indeed, Reginald travels with his own trusted servants who know how to keep their lord’s secrets. This allows Reggie and Will space enough to explore their forbidden love. But when one of Reginald’s confidants is caught in a compromising position, it threatens to ruin the relationship William and Reginald have been building. And worse, William’s own conflicted loyalties may make the separation irreversible.
In Manners and Mannerisms, Tanya Chris delivers a richly described historical world replete with upper class drama, including copious romance and intrigue. Based on how the characters interact and their circumstances (footmen, valets, clothing conventions), I clearly imagined a bygone era. There is also much attention paid to how a woman (or peers who are not well-to-do) must rely on marriage to secure a means of living, but without much commentary on the implications of such a system. Instead of focusing on this societal aspect, the reader is treated to William’s falling in love with a man and his angst over his awareness that his own sister is likely the de facto marriage prospect for Reginald. It was fun to watch this semi-competition unfold, even as William and Reginald forged ahead with their illicit romance. William just cannot fathom any version of reality where he might have Reginald as his own. The stunning part is that William is so focused in the taboo of two men together, he entirely misreads Catherine’s interest in the Abernathys lies not with Reginald, but with his sister.
It was a bit matchy-matchy that both the Abernathy siblings and William and his sister are all gay, but it wasn’t a turn off for me. I did get a bit skeptical about the apparent fact that all of the staff Reginald brings to England from America are not only gay, but loyal to a fault. This plays a big role in the fact that Reginald and William are able to engage in an amorous relationship without fear of discovery. I also found it a bit rich that Reginald seems to buck social conventions that would happily punish even the mere suggestion of homosexuality, but is absolutely aloof to class and racial oppression (there is a scene where Reginald states he himself does not own slaves, but admits he benefits from slave labor; he continues the edifice of “upstairs” and “downstairs” by employing peope in positions of service—albeit apparently well-paid ones). Though I point this out, I did not feel like the story focused over much on social issues of the period beyond how it would be taboo for two men to be lovers.
As for the lovers, I thought the pair had great bedroom chemistry. The narration made it clear that William was desperate for exactly the type of man Reginald seems to be. It was less clear what attracted Reginald to William and there were times where I wondered if perhaps Reginald was insincere in his love talk with William. Nothing in the blurb indicated Reginald was a devious or untrustworthy character, but I think his attitude towards engaging in a gay relationship seems almost cavalier at times. There are plenty of intimate scenes between the two and these are probably my favorite because it feels more like a give and take. The rest of the time, Reginald as a character had a bit of an aloofness to him that seemed disproportionate to the desperate wishes and absolute fear of discovery William portrays.
Overall, I thought Chris captured the period through the speech, dress, and manners of the characters well. I was especially captured by the speaking mannerisms of the characters, which really helped me envision a bygone era. I think the author builds a clever work-around for two peers of the era to find happiness in each other’s arms, albeit one that feels very modern. For readers who enjoy steamy intimate scenes, there are plenty of those peppered throughout the latter part of the book, but it’s a slow build to get to that point. There’s also heaps of angst as William grapples with his understanding of social norms and expectations, all of which make him believe his sister and Reginald are destined to be together, then with his own shortcomings when he perceives he fails the first real test of the love he bears for Reginald. Altogether, this is a fine book for anyone interested in period M/M romance books where the focus is very much placed on the characters themselves and how society dictates they spend their lives.