KJ Charles’ latest historical romance, The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, is best described as a queer version of “Poldark.” It’s an adventurous cross-class love story set in the marshy hinterlands of England’s County Kent, as the Napoleonic Wars rage in the background.
The action-packed and intrigue-filled plot begins with a union of virtual opposites. Gareth Inglis, a gently bred law clerk, and Joss Doomsday, a charismatic country smuggler, have little in common. But for one blissful week, they are just “Kent” and “London,” aliases signifying their respective home turfs.Their idyllic affair abruptly ends when Joss is called back home to attend to urgent family business and Gareth, who’s experienced more than his share of rejection, assumes this “family business” is just a polite brushoff.
That would have been the end, if not for one inconvenient fact: London-raised Gareth actually hails from Romney Marsh, the same patch of Kentish land as his working-class ex-lover. And when his estranged father dies, Gareth inherits his title, country home and responsibilities.
Just like that, Joss and Gareth’s no-strings tryst turns complicated as they find themselves not only in close proximity but also on opposite sides of the law. Joss is in charge of his family’s illegal but well-established and locally respected smuggling operation. And Gareth, now an influential local landowner by virtue of his inheritance, has a half-sister who is romantically attached to a zealous revenue officer, enemy number one in Romney Marsh, where even judges and gentry buy their goods from Joss’ family.
The various financial and internecine quarrels are convincingly rendered and the supporting characters and setting finely textured, but it’s the tenderness and steam that emanate from Gareth and Joss that really give the story its spark. Their relationship is deeply passionate, and they have a lovely way of communicating even when they don’t have the language to articulate their feelings. Charles beautifully describes exactly what each man is going through emotionally, even when no words are exchanged: “They kissed their way past the hurt and the loneliness, kissed themselves back together . . .”
Fans of Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series and new readers alike will adore this complex and emotional historical romance.