ARC Review: The Sugared Game by KJ Charles (The Will Darling Adventures, #2)

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It’s been two months since Will Darling saw Kim Secretan, and he doesn’t expect to see him again. What do a rough and ready soldier-turned-bookseller and a disgraced shady aristocrat have to do with each other anyway?

But when Will encounters a face from the past in a disreputable nightclub, Kim turns up, as shifty, unreliable, and irresistible as ever. And before Will knows it, he’s been dragged back into Kim’s shadowy world of secrets, criminal conspiracies, and underhand dealings.

This time, though, things are underhanded even by Kim standards. This time, the danger is too close to home. And if Will and Kim can’t find common ground against unseen enemies, they risk losing everything.

Read my review of the previous novel in the series:
Slippery Creatures (#1)

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Thank you very much to KJ Charles for providing a copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review.

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“Nothing’s gone like I thought it would since 1914. And all I can think about is you.”

I think at this point I’ve made it pretty obvious that I’d read anything KJ Charles puts down in front of me. Hell, I’d even read her grocery list. Luckily, her second novel in The Will Darling Adventures, The Sugared Game, is a lot more exciting and impressive than a grocery list — but I want you to know that I’d still read it if she told me to.

The Sugared Game picks up a couple of months after the conclusion of Slippery Creatures. Will is bored: he sells books all day and spends time with his best friend Maisie and his new friend Phoebe, but hasn’t seen or heard from Kim, his sort-of lover, in over a month. But then suddenly Kim is back in his life, talking about blackmailers and a nefarious anarchist group that hasn’t quite forgotten about either of them, and Will once again finds himself drawn into the shadowy, unlawful world of criminals and state secrets Kim is so good at playing in.

While the plot in Slippery Creatures takes a bit of time to fully develop as we’re introduced to a fresh cast of new characters, The Sugared Game takes off right at the first page — literally. Will has a knack for getting himself into trouble, which happens when he takes Maisie out to a nightclub and senses something criminal going on there; it’s not long until Kim walks back into Will’s life as he too suspects that not all is at it seems at this club. Will and Kim begin to work together to unravel the complicated connections between a cutthroat nightclub owner, an ex-soldier and his sweetheart, a group of aristocratic anarchists, and a box of chocolates.

I think Kim Secretan is now my favourite love interest from all romance novels I’ve read. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you might have noticed my favourite characters are the morally-grey-will-totally-stab-you-if-need-be-but-secretly-just-wants-to-be-hugged characters, and that’s Kim to a T. Kim is so good at presenting a facade to the world to hide his inner shame — his Bolshevik past, his brother’s death — and he can’t stop himself from lying at every turn because it’s how he’s managed to survive for so long. But Will has a tendency to get under his skin and he finds himself being vulnerable, with someone other than Phoebe, for the first time in a long time.

Will continues to be a shit and I love him for it. He’s sarcastic and abrasive, and I laughed out loud multiple times at his interactions with his “betters” — the aristocrats and the Bright Young People who Will just wanted to give a good smack in the face to. But in The Sugared Game, we see a different side to Will too. In Slippery Creatures, Will’s role in the mystery was an incidental one and for the most part, he just wanted to be left alone. But now Will is actively participating in the larger mystery and is hurt by Kim’s constant inability to trust him as a partner ought to. I loved seeing this side of Will as he develops from a lost ex-solider to someone who knows what — and who — he wants in life.

The relationship between Will and Kim developed so wonderfully in The Sugared Game. I constantly found myself smiling like a loon at almost every interaction between the two men, as each of them let a little bit more of their guard down and began to be a little more open about their feelings. It’s awfully charming and surprisingly tender, and I just know that the final novel in the romantic trilogy is going to have me on edge.

I can’t not mention the amazing women of the story, who both so completely own my heart: Maisie and Phoebe. The women became fast friends during Slippery Creatures, and now they’re pursuing a career in fashion together. Even though they’re secondary characters, they never feel as such and constantly reiterate to the men in the story — Will, Kim, and all the villains — that they are not to be pushed around and made submissive, and that they have an active say in their own lives and decisions. Both women play important parts in the mystery element of the story, which is something I so appreciate from KJ. Oftentimes in m/m novels, the female characters are pushed to the side to make room for the romance between the men, but KJ says screw that, and makes her women characters shine just as brightly as the men. 

The Sugared Game is a sequel I won’t be forgetting. As soon as I finished the novel, I was devastated that I didn’t have the third book immediately on hand. The last quarter of the book had me on the very edge of my seat, stressing over how Will and Kim could possibly get themselves out of the mess they made. I reckon the third book’s probably going to give me a heart attack.

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4 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Sugared Game by KJ Charles (The Will Darling Adventures, #2)

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