Review: The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by 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.

Realise date: 7 March, 2023

Babe, wake up, there’s a new KJ Charles book.

I’ve been a fan of KJ Charles’ novels for almost a decade and every time she releases a new book, I can’t contain my excitement — so I’m incredibly thankful to Sourcebooks for providing me with an ARC.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen contains Charles’ quintessential complex characters, tender romance, wit, and discussions about class struggles. It follows two very different men from completely different worlds — Gareth, the banished son of a baronet, and Joss, the son of and second-in-command of the Doomsday smuggling family — who have a passionate short-lived love affair. Both men still harbour feelings for one another and meet again in disastrous circumstances, where Joss is forced to blackmail Gareth (now a baronet).

Gareth and Joss’ relationship at the very beginning of the novel is lovely — they fell headfirst for one another and spend a week essentially hooking up. And although I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes where they care for one another, I simply adored the miscommunication and feelings of betrayal they have to contend with. It’s this that allows their characters to develop and we get to understand Gareth’s tendency to hurt first and Joss’ intense desire for something that belongs only to him.

Family is at the heart of this book and I really enjoyed the large cast of supporting characters. Joss’ grandfather Asa, in particular, was wonderful, as he cares extremely deeply for his grandchildren, Joss, Sophy, and Luke. But family is also difficult, as Gareth’s heartless father and uncle prove, along with Joss’ uncle. When Gareth is attacked and blames Joss’ family, Gareth and Joss are forced to work together to uncover a mysterious smuggling plot that involves both of their families. This plot line is incredibly engaging, and the tender and vulnerable romance that re-develops between the two men as they work together, and go beetle exploring, is masterfully written.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a KJ Charles novel without a discussion about the differences in class, race and gender, which I always appreciate. Gareth, although growing up unwanted, unloved and poor, suddenly finds himself inheriting his father’s baronetcy over the half-sister he had no idea he had. Although Cecilia, his sister, seemed to be loved by their father, she’s ultimately written out of his will in favour of the son he abandoned. Joss is biracial and although he runs the Doomsday clan and is respected for his position, many people (including members of his family) still treat him with derision at times, and believe he doesn’t deserve his position. And although Joss and Gareth fall in love with each other, they do have to contend with the fact of Gareth’s social standing. Charles tackles each of these topics with care, and I especially enjoy the comparisons between the rich caring only for themselves and looking to line their pockets v.s. a community who come together and care for one another.

I had already guessed who the second book would be about, and I’m glad to see I’m correct! Luke’s story (Joss’ young cousin) will continue in A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel. I loved the sweet friendship that develops between Gareth and Luke in this novel, as Luke comes to see Gareth as a father figure in a way, and I sincerely hope we get to see more of that in the sequel.

Sourcebooks: please give me an ARC 🙏🏼

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