Charlie Price has lived a life of a bit too much fun. He drinks too much, spends a lot of his time hanging out with friends at his molly club, and has ended up in debt from too much indulging. And Charlie’s most favorite indulgence of all is his vast collection of pornography. However, now Charlie is having to get his life together, as while his father is willing to help keep the debt collectors at bay, it comes with a price. Namely, Charlie needs to start working to earn some money, and he needs to get married and settle down. If Charlie is overwhelmed at the change his life is taking, well, he is sure it will work out in the end, somehow.
As a last hurrah before he has to pack his porn collection away from his wife-to-be’s prying eyes, Charlie’s friend, Jo, manages to track down his absolute favorite author for him, the one who writes the dirtiest, most salicious books that Charlie has read over and over. But when Charlie approaches Miles Montague, he never expects to terrify the man so. Miles lost his lover, who died in jail after being arrested for sodomy, and he is extremely careful about his privacy. So Miles is not happy to see that Charlie has somehow connected him to his pen name, and at first wants nothing to do with the man. But as Charlie and Miles spend more time together, they find that despite their quite different dispositions, they are actually a great fit. The sexual connection is intense, but there is also a sense of friendship and comfort they give one another that neither expected.
Even as the men begin to have fantasies of a future together, they are both somewhat trapped. Miles runs a failing bookstore, a shop that his lover opened and adored. He feels guilty even thinking about selling it, even as he knows this was Ethan’s dream, not his, and he is unintentionally running it into the ground. For his part, Charlie has a clock ticking on his bachelorhood, and the wedding is drawing ever nearer. While he doesn’t have any romantic or sexual interest in Alma, his intended, Charlie cares for her deeply as a friend, and he knows cancelling the wedding leaves her in an impossible situation. Charlie and Miles have found their way together and fallen in love, but figuring out how to have a future together is proving to be a difficult hurdle.
The Gentleman’s Book of Vices is the debut romance from Jess Everlee and begins the new Lucky Lovers of London series. The story opens with the men at odds, as Miles is not at all happy about having Charlie show up for his autograph, as he is very worried about discovery and fearful about how seemingly easily Charlie tracked him down. But Charlie manages to win Miles over, particularly as the men are very attracted to one another, and their relationship begins to bloom. I found the pacing of the romance a bit off, as a lot of the relationship development happens off page and it’s just mentioned they are spending time together, so it felt like the guys jump from friends having hot sex to real feelings for each other pretty fast. But the men fit together nicely and there is somewhat of an opposite attract vibe here between them. Once things get going for the relationship, I really enjoyed the way the men help balance each other and particularly how Charlie helps to bring Miles out of his shell a little.
I’ll admit that I didn’t find Charlie particularly likable early on here. He comes across a little arrogant, rudely dismissing men in the club he doesn’t deem worthy. He also has an overall demeanor of not taking much responsibility for his actions and just sort of assuming things will all work out. He has been in debt multiple times, mostly because he just buys things he wants but can’t afford, and his father has bailed him out. This time, he is being held accountable — hence the job and the marriage– but it is something forced upon him, rather than responsibility he is seeking. Even when facing a loveless marriage to a woman he will never desire, Charlie just seems to push forward breezily with an attitude that is it fine. It is all fine. But we get some nice growth for Charlie over the course of the book and much of the character development focuses on Charlie growing up and being accountable and taking some responsibility, which I appreciated. He wants to be a better person, even when it comes at the expense of his happiness.
The conflict that arises he is that Miles and Charlie can’t be together, and Charlie is engaged to a woman he doesn’t want to see hurt. I do wish the resolution to the issue had come more from within from Miles or Charlie, however, as there is almost a fairy godmother effect here as other people sweep in, solve all the problems, and tie things up nicely in a bow. (Which also made me wonder why, if they had the solution at hand, they waited until the last possible moment to do anything about it.) I felt like for Charlie’s character development, I would have liked to see him as the agent of his own success, rather than just the lucky recipient of someone else’s machinations.
While much of the focus here is on Miles and Charlie and the risk they are under being gay at the time, the story also does nice job reflecting the plight of women in this era, both with Alma, as well as Charlie’s friend, Jo. As much as Charlie and Miles are trapped, they still have far more options than Alma, and I appreciated that the story touches on that as well. I also enjoyed the found family Charlie has at his club, as well as how they take Miles under their wing. It appears the second book in the series will feature some of the side characters from the club, and I am interested in their story.
Overall, I found this a nice debut book and and interesting historical. I think it is a good start to the series and I’ll be looking forward to learning more about future books.