Think of England
Samhain / July 1, 2014 / $4.50 digital
England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.
Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.
As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.
As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…
I love tropes. It’s hard not to go all mushy when the Viking soldier turns berserker after someone he cares about is threatened.
KJ Charles knows her romance conventions and uses that one well.
What’s even more fun than a good trope? When those familiar bits are turned on their heads, shaken all about, until the standards you have seen presented elsewhere are reversed. Best possible fun: when you know the result of the mixed-up-trope action is exactly right.
The book starts out with familiar patterns, but then we discover that the good-looking manly Oxford man with bright, frank air is actually a frivolous coward. The coward is shown to be heroic. The familiar well-appointed English country home turns out to be a depraved pit for spying.
In a way, it’s almost a pity we have the back cover telling us what to expect. As I read the first few pages of what I knew was going to be m/m romance, I could have guessed one of several well-built, attractive men might be the hero’s possible love-interest. He admires, in a nonsexual way, a servant and houseguests.
And then Charles starts in on her trope-bending and we get another new treat: almost the opposite of the familiar Insta-lust ™ theme. We get insta-disgust and not just the standard fiery-temper-meets-strong-will-disagreement pattern. Archie Curtis is apparently repulsed by Daniel da Silva. Here’s the passage describing their meeting:
Curtis looked at the gentleman indicated and decided on the spot that he’d rarely seen a more dislikable man.
He was about Curtis’s age and just a few inches shorter, close to six foot, but with nothing of his own bulk. A slender, willowy sort, and very dark, with sleek and glossy black hair, brilliantined to within an inch of its life, and eyes of such a deep shade that it was nearly impossible to tell pupil from iris. His skin was olive-tinted against his white shirt. In fact, he was quite obviously some kind of foreigner.
A foreigner and a dandy, because while his shirt was impeccable and the tailcoat and tapering trousers cut to perfection, he was wearing a huge green glass ring and, Curtis saw with dawning horror, a bright green flower in his buttonhole.
Da Silva walked a few steps over, giving Curtis just enough time to register that he affected a sinuous sort of movement, and offered him a hand so limp that he struggled not to drop it like a dead animal.
Although he’s not the sort of gentleman to resort to name-calling, Curtis agrees with the mutters about dago and queer. Our hero’s repelled response fits his time and position, but it’s still going to be tough to appreciate him. Added to all that is the fact that da Silva is Jewish—another black mark in that era—although to be fair, Curtis is apparently only confused by that one, not repulsed.
By the time the author is done, we’re convinced that Curtis and da Silva are perfect together, Curtis’s transformation into someone who would need da Silva is heart-warming and believable.
Da Silva, a man everyone in the book is convinced is a slimy coward, is one of the most straightforward and brave people in the story. He’s also a prickly pain in the ass, and, by the end, you know Curtis will deal with that perfectly.
We’re not the only ones who get to see tropes turned on their heads. Da Silva learns a thing to two as well. Even though we’re exclusively in Curtis’s point of view through the story, it’s fun watching da Silva learn that Curtis’s anger isn’t based in their sexual activity—a response of revulsion da Silva is obviously used to—but because Curtis resents being treated as a cripple. That scene….aw, man. That’s when I knew I loved those two together.
Seriously, I love those two separately, but they’re even better together—which is the mark of a successful romance, after all.
Curtis is perhaps too disingenuous with the whole “I’m not queer” thing. He’s presented as intelligent, but not prone to self-examination. I’ll buy that, particularly since he doesn’t go for the self-loathing and hiding once he decides what he wants.
There are spies and deceit and plots—and they work. They’re as over-the-top as they should be for a book that’s “Edwardian pulp” which is Charles’s description. That bad-guy, evil plan stuff is fun, but I mostly enjoyed watching two men who are so obviously wrong for each other and have nothing in common turn out to be a swoon-worthy perfect match.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Think of England by KJ Charles, available July 1, 2014:
Kate Rothwell writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. She lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can find out more about her at KateRothwell.com and SummerDevon.com.