Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Gary Furlong
Length: 11 hours, 9 minutes
Rafe Lancaster is a military aviator in the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps. When his ship crashes, Rafe escapes with his life, but not without damage to his eyesight. Without perfect vision, Rafe can no longer captain military vessels and is suddenly faced with having to find a new direction for his life. He returns to London, his family, and House Stravaigor and sets about figuring out what to do with himself. Rafe has been away for a while, so he does need some time to settle back in. That includes spending his days in a local coffee shop, suffering through House politics, and having an occasional tryst at one of the clubs for men seeking other men. It is there that he meets a man who captivates him, but sadly, Edward has to leave town for months, ending things before they can really begin.
When an opportunity arises to buy his favorite coffee house, Rafe finally feels like he has found his direction. It takes him long hours of learning how to perfect coffee making, as well as trying to turn the struggling business around. It also means he is forced to take a loan from his House, though he is loathe to get involved with them more than necessary. Still, it is all worth it as Rafe not only builds a successful business, but finds himself surrounded by some unexpected friends. And even more, the chance for love as well. But not everyone around him is what they seem and when Rafe finds himself caught up in a kidnapping and theft plot, it will take all his skills and training to save the life of the man he has grown to love.
The Gilded Scarab is the first book in Anna Butler’s Lancaster’s Luck series. I remember reading Kris’ reviews when the books first came out, so I was excited when I saw that Butler was releasing this in audio. The book has lots of interesting elements, but for me, it shines most brightly in the world building. This is sort of an alternate world set in Victorian England, but with a twist. The monarchy is in place, but the country is largely ruled by political Houses, who are essentially family groups that roughly fall into different fields or specialities within the government. There are a handful that are the most powerful, prominent Houses, while others (like Rafe’s) are lesser Houses that must work to ally themselves with those that are more influential. Rafe wants nothing to do with his House, but getting out from under their thumb is near impossible. House politics creep into so many aspects of life and there is so much political maneuvering as each tries to gain power and influence. Top House members must travel with armed guards, as assassination attempts are common, and the spies within the Houses are constantly out looking for advantage. It is really all so well done and adds such an interesting spin to the world Butler creates. The story is very much grounded in the real world and history of the time, but with this twist that adds such an fun dynamic to it all.
The other major world building element is the steampunk dynamic. I love a steampunk story and this adds another layer to this alternate world. There is so much grounded in real life, but then these other elements are mixed in to really great effect. I’ll admit, I would have liked things to go a bit more heavily on the steampunk side. At times, this could have been a plain alternate world historical, as it felt like much of the steampunk side was focused on weaponry and transportation. Though, I do wonder if it might also be a factor of listening in audio and I just wasn’t picking up on the steampunk elements the way I might have noticed when reading.
This one is a slow, slow burn on the romance end as Rafe and Edward meet fairly early on, have a hot night together, and then are apart for a very large portion of the book. Even as Edward returns to town, it takes quite a bit of time for the men to then transition from friendship to something more. I enjoyed Rafe and Edward together quite a lot, and I think Edward’s warm, sunny disposition really opens Rafe up nicely. Rafe is kind of prickly and not super fond of taking orders (which is kind of funny given he was in the military and is a lower-level House member, meaning he spends a lot of time being told what to do). There is a great connection between them, it is just that things really take a long time to develop into more. I will note that, in meantime, we do see Rafe with another man (including some explicit scenes), which is very important to a variety of aspects of the larger story and it all comes together quite well. The trilogy does follow Edward and Rafe throughout the books, so I think the slow burn does work as the relationship will grow across the series.
I also think the story is a bit slow to develop in general. I felt like a lot of time is spent following Rafe’s day-to-day life and it took a while for the larger plot to really materialize. And even once I figured out where things were going, it took a while to get there. There is a really exciting beginning, and things gain a lot of speed toward the end, which is super intense and very well done. But there is a long period where it feels like the stage is being set. Butler does do a wonderful job getting it all arranged and then pulling the pieces together, and I love how the story ends up unfolding. I just felt like it takes a while for things to really get moving. Some of that might have been the audio format, as this is a fairly long story and I tend to listen to audio over longer periods of time than when reading an ebook, so that may have been a factor. I’ll also note that I love the found family that develops for Rafe, who begins the story mostly alone after leaving the only life he has really known as an adult. But as the story builds, we see Rafe slowing finding these unexpected connections and they are all there for him as the story unfolds.
I enjoyed the audiobook with narration by Gary Furlong. I found he really captures the characters well and gets their personalities through the narration. Furlong does tend to have sort of a clipped manner with Rafe, which I think highlights his arrogance and sarcasm well, though perhaps a bit too much at times. But I think overall the voices are done well and Furlong nicely handles this very large cast. Furlong really captures the tone of the story, as well as the tension, excitement, and more suspenseful moments. I think his narration is a great way to enjoy this book.
So I am really happy I got a chance to listen to this one and am very much hoping we are able to get audios of the other two books soon. I am very eager to continue with Rafe and Edward on their future adventures!