Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by KJ Charles. I was so excited when I got my hands on this ARC because I’ve heard such great things about this author. I also recently enjoyed a novella she wrote and have been wanting to dive into some of her longer work. So, here we are!
Bridgerton meets Poldark in this sweeping LGBTQIA+ Regency romance from award-winning author KJ Charles
Abandoned by his father as a small child, Sir Gareth Inglis has grown up prickly, cold, and well-used to disappointment. Even so, he longs for a connection, falling headfirst into a passionate anonymous affair that’s over almost as quickly as it began. Bitter at the sudden rejection, Gareth has little time to lick his wounds: his father has died, leaving him the family title, a rambling manor on the remote Romney Marsh…and the den of cutthroats and thieves that make its intricate waterways their home.
Joss Doomsday has run the Doomsday smuggling clan since he was a boy. His family is his life…which is why when the all-too-familiar new baronet testifies against Joss’s sister for a hanging offense, Joss acts fast, blackmailing Gareth with the secret of their relationship to force him to recant. Their reunion is anything but happy and the path forward everything but smooth, yet after the dust settles, neither can stay away. It’s a long road from there—full of danger and mysteries to be solved—yet somehow, along the way, this well-mannered gentleman may at last find true love with the least likely of scoundrels.
***Thank you to Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I LOVED this book so much! It took me a minute to get into it at first because of the odd language, but once I became attached to the characters, which didn’t take too long, I was completely hooked. The language of the marsh used by the country folk actually became quite endearing, and by the end, it was one of my favorite things about the book.
I was expecting a cute historical romance, but I didn’t anticipate how action-packed the plot would be. It was the perfect blend of romance, mystery, murder, and mayhem. 🏴☠️ Despite all the goings on regarding the smuggling shenanigans, the romance never felt like it got lost in the shuffle and actually complemented the mystery really well. I never knew what would happen next and didn’t want to stop turning the pages until I was certain all my favorites would be safe.
Every single character in this book oozed personality. Some of them had an awful personality, but they all felt like real people with understandable motivations. I would probably read a book dedicated to each of the supporting characters, to be honest, and I’m happy to see we will be getting another book following a grown up Luke later this year. He was a bit of a brat, but I adored him and really felt like this was only the beginning of his story. So, I’m very excited for the impending follow-up! In general, the family dynamic of the Doomsday clan was a treat to read, even when they were super dysfunctional (AKA most of the time). I did have a hard time keeping track of how they were all related, though, and found myself getting distracted trying to figure it out. In the end, I just gave up and enjoyed the ride. 🤷♂️ (EDIT: I feel dumb. I went back and re-read the part of the book that explains how they’re all related. It makes perfect sense. I forgot that two Doomsday cousins married, which explains all of the things that didn’t make sense to me before.)
As for the main characters, Gareth and Joss, I loved them both. They had a tumultuous relationship to say the least, but they were perfect for each other. Both of them had difficulty opening up and relying on others but for very different reasons. Gareth had abandonment issues and tried to avoid needing to rely on others after being burned time and time again by his horrible family. Joss, on the other hand, took on everyone’s problems and believed he had to solve everything himself. This baggage led to misunderstandings and many bumps in the road to happily ever after. They had magnetic chemistry, though, and couldn’t stay apart for long. I loved seeing how navigating their differences in the relationship helped each man grow into a more well-rounded person. Gareth learned to be more assertive, and both he and Joss slowly began to lean on each other for support. They had some incredibly steamy moments together, as well, and I absolutely loved seeing Gareth’s growing assertiveness play out in the bedroom. 😳 Although, Joss’ dominant moments were super hot to read too.
The story explored interesting and timely themes related to queerness, class differences, and the ethics of law. Both of the main characters dealt with living in the closet and routinely being blackmailed because of their relationship. The story illustrated the stress involved with living while hiding such an integral part of oneself, but it also showed how support can come from places we least expect it. The baronet versus country folk dynamic was weaved throughout the entire story, and the argument over whether it is right to go against the law to better serve one’s family and community was compellingly presented.
All in all, I loved almost every single thing about this book and am now awaiting the sequel. If you enjoy your gay romance with a side of mystery and roguish adventure, I think you’ll probably love this one too. Therefore, I rate this book 4.75 out of 5 stars.