raven: black and white street sign: "Hobbs Lane" (quatermass - hobbs end)
[personal profile] raven
A week post-move and we still don't have internet at home. I'm reading a lot! It's rather nice. But apologies to all the people to whom I'm being a terrible correspondent, which at this point is just about everyone. Apparently we have internet from Friday, I live in (moderate) hope.

So I've recently been reading a lot of KJ Charles - I liked A Charm of Magpies, her historical fantasy about an aristocrat-former-smuggler and his magical practitioner partner, but didn't read any of the sequels because her magical system is very close to mine - and I really liked Think of England, a standalone historical romance which is this delightful queer King's Solomon's Mines pastiche. Then to get me through the move I idly bought A Seditious Affair, on the basis that it looked sort of fun and it had the sort of cover I could troll A. with. (Also in this category: Mélusine and all the Vorkosigans!)

Anyway, so. A Seditious Affair is a novel which is, technically, a Regency romance - two people fall in love; it's England in 1819 - but does not, ah, bear much resemblance to books that normally carry that descriptor. It's 1819, and Silas - I keep wanting to write Silas Marner, but that is not in fact his last name - is a seditionist pamphleteer and bookshop owner. He's a well-read if not a formally-educated man; a radical and a latent revolutionary. One fine day in the middle of the night, he's asked by a couple of brothel-keeping friends of his (who think they are, and are in fact, hilarious) if he fancies a well-paid side-gig - does he, they ask, want to rough up an enemy of the people. A well-spoken, well-educated, casually privileged, Tory.

This does not go to plan.

Well, kind of not. It turns into a weekly arrangement, maintained on their determination to remain nameless to each other.

Obviously, they fall in love.

And everything that happens next could have been written just for me, my goodness. Quoth [personal profile] happydork, who had to listen to all my thoughts and feelings on this book while sitting on a van tailgate in a bus lane on the A1, I love how much you love your Tory - but I do, oh my goodness. Silas falls for his "precious, peculiar Tory" mostly through arguing with him - through lending him books and borrowing his books - and through their very careful exploration of the Tory's willingness to be hurt. ("Whatever is wrong with me," he says, "that I want this" - but he's not broken, and he's not wrong.)

And everything is beautiful and nothing hurts, at least not non-consenusally, until Dominic Frey (Tory; principled; cynical; driven, to the point of self-destruction; anti-seditionist) walks into Silas' bookshop with the whole might of the Secretary of State for the Home Department behind him.

I love this book. I love it so much. I love that love makes nothing easy; that it won't save them; that they will not try and change each other; that they change each other regardless. That Dominic (who is my favourite fictional character of the year so far, probably) says at one point, with a soft, amazed, loving wonderment: "My friend called me a Whig!", while his internal monologue is telling him to shut the hell up, that's the worst sweet nothing ever oh god. I love Dominic's hilariously ironic name - yes, he does use Dom for short - and characters who are trans for no immediately plot-relevant reasons and most of all, that they argue with the best versions of each other. Is it right that the common man should be ground under the paternalism of his alleged betters? How do you account for the worst as well as the best of human nature? Is an unjust law a law at all? And what happens after the revolution? I'm here for that, layered and organic, a part of a story that is an examination of power and control as well as a hard-edged and lovely romance. The juxtaposition of those themes in the private and the public spheres reminds me of the Captive Prince trilogy, in a strange way - it's the same double-edged sword of personal and political.

Generally speaking, I think the novel suffers a little from having shifted out of its genre but not quite into another slot. The pacing feels a little off to me; if I’d written it, I’d have lingered more lovingly on the delicious identity porn stuff and rather less on the political resolution - which we know can't be happy or easy, so the tension is rather lost from the narrative. I wasn't completely convinced by the ending. But – nota bene – this is not the sort of analytical criticism I usually think to level at a romance novel I bought for £1.50. I'm not sure if anyone who doesn't happen to be me would enjoy it quite as giddily much, but it's a very good book and I really recommend it to the people who like the sort of thing I like. It's actually the second in a series, but I didn't suffer from not reading the first one first.

Also, a content note, in respect of consent: nothing happens to Dominic in this book that he does not consent to, but we’re not always in his POV.
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