Josiah Balfour is the administrator for the Society of Beasts, an elite club catering to the wealthy men of London who enjoy the company of other men. While the founding Beasts officially lead the club, Josiah is the one who keeps things running, managing everything behind the scenes. Now, Josiah learns the club is facing an unexpected rival in the form of another club that could be coming to London. Josiah knows they must figure out who is behind the new club and get out ahead of things to prevent them from siphoning off the Beasts’ membership. But he also knows that he doesn’t have the clout to do it alone. The only person who Josiah can think might be able to help is one of the Beast founders, William Hartley. Of course, Hartley happens to be the man Josiah has totally fallen for and a man he most definitely can never have.
Hartley is dealing with his own struggles in the aftermath of being locked in a room and almost burning to death a year before. He thought he was doing all right, but now he is tortured by crippling claustrophobia. For some reason, Josiah’s presence seems to ease some of Hartley’s fears. So when Josiah comes to him for help with the club problem, Hartley agrees to assist if Josiah will help him get more comfortable in small spaces.
As the men dig into who is behind the new club, the trail leads them to Bath. They also realize that the only way someone as rich and well known as Hartley is ever going to uncover any information is if the men pretend to be lovers who are seeking a new club, as the Beasts’ clientele would never tolerate a lord like Hartley being romantically linked to a servant like Josiah. As they spend more time together, the connection between them begins to flare. The men begin to fall for each other, and even begin to imagine how they might make an unconventional relationship work with one another. But when the truth comes out about the rival club, it could destroy everything between them.
The Servant and the Gentleman is the third book in Annabelle Greene’s Society of Beasts series. The books each feature one of the founding members of the Beasts and, while they can mostly stand alone, I think they are best enjoyed when read in order. The first book sets up events that carry through to the other stories, so reading that one first does help. Here we catch back up with Hartley about a year after the events in The Vicar and the Rake, and it is very clear that he is still struggling in the aftermath. I appreciated that this story brings some closure for Hartley in terms of how things affected him and how some of his relationships got strained. This also sets up things with Josiah, as it gives the men a reason to interact more personally than just the business relationship they have now as employer/employee. We learn fairly quickly that Josiah has feelings for Hartley despite himself. Hartley is arrogant and rude and can barely be bothered to notice those he considers beneath him. So falling in love with your boss is bad enough, but Hartley is certainly not a man who is likely to give his heart to a servant. Yet give his heart he does, and it leads to some great growth for him as a character.
The men strike a bargain to help one another; Josiah will help Hartley with his claustrophobia and Hartley will help Josiah figure out who is behind the rival club. It leads to a fun fake relationship situation, as the men must pretend they are together and that their upstairs/downstairs partnership is why Hartley is considering striking out for another club, given he is a founder of the Beasts. What I found most interesting here is the way this story explores class and it plays out in numerous ways. We have the relationship between Hartley and Josiah, of course, but we also learn that the other club is much more egalitarian with men from a variety of walks of life. We also see how the rich and wealthy men of the Society of Beasts have much less to fear if their proclivities are exposed, as they have the money and power to make things go away if they are caught with another man. And, of course, the rules are much different for those not of means. We also see class and power play out in Hartley as a character. Like I said, he is rich and powerful and incredibly entitled. At best, as the story starts he looks past those he sees as beneath him; at worst, he is mocking and disdainful. Josiah calls him on it despite their imbalance of power. He points out when Hartley is being cruel or selfish or entitled. And as the story develops, we see Hartley really grow. So there are definitely times when Hartley isn’t completely likable, but Josiah sees the good in him and Hartley has nice character growth that I think makes it all work.
As the men dig, they learn more about this other club and whether they may pose a threat to the Beasts. It gives them a chance to travel to Bath, and to be in close proximity in a casual way away from the club, which really helps them grow their connection. I will say, in this case, the focus is more on the exploration of class than it is the suspense element that we see in other books. The first story is quite high octane, almost a thriller, and while the second book isn’t as intense, there is still the blackmail threat and a lot of maneuvering and danger. So here I felt like the story is a little more subdued, as while the fate of the club is obviously important to the characters, as a reader I found myself not quite as invested in whether these uber rich and entitled men had their elite club all to themselves.
I enjoyed the way this story all resolves and I think this book ties up a lot of threads that we have seen play out in the other two books. I am not sure if this ends the series or there are more to come, but I feel like everything comes together in a good place here. I really liked Josiah and enjoyed seeing him find happiness with Hartley, as well as the way we see Hartley grow as a person over the course of the book.