Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

William Depmsey earned the name Blue Billy working in Marathon Moll’s bawdyhouse. He was popular among his clients and always turned a tidy profit. But Billy wanted so much more for himself than to sell intimate fantasies to old men, so when the opportunity came to be a kept boy by one of London’s well-heeled gentlemen, Billy jumped at the chance. Once he tasted the luxury of wealth, he swore he would never return to the bawdyhouse. Nevertheless, when Billy discovered that even wealthy patrons failed to satisfy his appetite for certain kinds of intimacy, he secretly found himself a more amiable companion. It wasn’t long before Billy’s patron discovered Billy’s unfaithfulness and turned him out into the streets with nothing but the clothes on his back. With nowhere else to go, Billy regretfully returned to Marathon Moll’s.

Billy is the last person Moll wishes to see, but a kind word from her new favorite star is enough to let Billy spend a few nights. While there, he discovers Moll has employed an intriguing and handsome man named Tom to see to various repairs around her house. Once he works up the courage to address Tom, Billy is immediately attracted to the man’s quiet strength. When they finally have a real conversation, Billy learns that however taciturn Tom may be, his words are thoughtful and his feelings genuine. In Billy, Tom stirs deep emotions unlike any he’s ever had. But before Billy can convince himself what Tom feels is genuine, he meets a merchant’s son named Roger. Compared to Tom’s humble situation with a small country home and a life of manual labor, Roger speaks of grandiose plans to get fabulously wealthy. What’s more, Roger seems to have his heart set on Billy—Billy with his rough background and intriguing insight into certain classes of citizens. Now, Billy has to reevaluate what he wants for himself…and how much he’s willing to sacrifice to get it.

Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon is what I imagine a romantic comedy would be if it were set in 1770s England. Billy is down on his luck, having been dumped by his gentleman patron and forced to go back humbly to the unglamorous neighborhood in which he was raised. He finds a man who has all the hallmarks of being The One until someone else dotes on and dazzles him. It seems clear who is best for Billy, but we get to experience Billy’s youthful questioning — ”settle” for a sure thing or “strive” for a fairy dream.

In broad strokes, I really loved this set up in this time period. But if I may be frank, there were times early on in the book when I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. I think this comes from the story being told in first-person perspective with Billy as the narrator. As a reader, I didn’t feel close to the action, I was “living” it. As such, on-page events like the bawdyhouse marriage and the way Billy narrates about the place where he grew up with its “cat language” and “The Stealth” took me a while to totally understand. The text isn’t impossibly opaque, but I was well into the book before I started getting a feel for it. Thankfully, I felt fully on board by the time I realized Billy’s heart was going to be pulled in two directions by two very different suitors. From there on out, I was enthusiastically on board with the story and desperate to know how things would turn out for our ambitious MC.

Lawrence has created a delightful world in Moll’s bawdyhouse (which, the best I can figure, is like a brothel but with services offered by and paid for by men). The introduction to this world is wild; Billy is absolutely a persona non grata amongst all the bawdyhouses and there was no love lost between him and Moll when he left to be a kept boy. I really enjoyed how much detail is carefully worked into Billy’s rekindled relationship with his former employer and those currently working for her. I feel like so much of the time period and the power relations are captured in Billy’s interpersonal relationships. To say nothing of the bawdyhouse culture splashed about on page. That wedding, when I first saw it mentioned, made me think this was some ceremony to celebrate two men actually getting married. What actually transpires is more like a live performance of a wedding, one where the audience (patrons to the bawdyhouse) are first entertained with the recreation of a shot-gun wedding that culminates in a party before patrons and clients break up to more carnal delights. It was such a wild reminder that social norms might have been more draconian, but humans are still humans and some of us will always be ready, willing, and able to engage in nights of debauched entertainment.

The main conflict, as I see it, is how Billy’s torn between his affection for Tom and later, for Roger. It was pretty clear Billy has always longed for (what he considers) a better life, one where he’s not forced to steal or sell sex to live. But for someone with zero money and no skills outside the bedroom, he knows he’ll have to rely on someone to support him. Tom is appealing because he’s attractive and smart; the man is a shipwright and worked on ships sailing on diplomatic missions to foreign lands. He seems drawn to Billy and like he could provide stability and comfort. The chemistry between them wasn’t sparking so much as it was exploding. Roger, on the other hand, is attractive and cunning. He’s the son of a some sort of businessman, so he’s got a head for money-making schemes. Plus, Roger fawns over Billy a ridiculous amount, something that appeals deeply to Billy because the whole reason he stepped out on his gentleman patron was lack of such personal interest in Billy. It’s not hard to see how Billy ends up viewing Tom as a diamond in the rough and Roger as cubic zirconia. Neither represents what Billy sees as the cream of the crop, but one has obvious appeal at first glance and the other represents potential.

I think Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon is a great choice for fans of historical romances. If you like period stories that take pains to build a vivid, engrossing picture of the time period, this is the book for you. Similarly, readers who love it when the romance centers around the main character having to choose between two love interests will probably have a ball with how Billy entertains and evaluates his options.