Silas Mason has no illusions about himself. He’s not lovable, or even likable. He’s an overbearing idealist, a Radical bookseller and pamphleteer who lives for revolution . . . and for Wednesday nights. Every week he meets anonymously with the same man, in whom Silas has discovered the ideal meld of intellectual companionship and absolute obedience to his sexual commands. But unbeknownst to Silas, his closest friend is also his greatest enemy, with the power to see him hanged—or spare his life.
A loyal, well-born gentleman official, Dominic Frey is torn apart by his affair with Silas. By the light of day, he cannot fathom the intoxicating lust that drives him to meet with the Radical week after week. In the bedroom, everything else falls away. Their needs match, and they are united by sympathy for each other’s deepest vulnerabilities. But when Silas’s politics earn him a death sentence, desire clashes with duty, and Dominic finds himself doing everything he can to save the man who stole his heart.
The second book in K.J Charles’ Society of Gentlemen trilogy, A Seditious Affair contains all the ingredients I enjoyed so much in A Fashionable Indulgence, which I read in the summer. I was so impressed by Ms Charles’ writing and the wonderful way she wove the romantic relationship through a gripping story of social and political unrest, attempted murder and conflicting loyalties that to say I was chomping at the bit to read this next in the series is a massive understatement.
But the wait was well worth it, because A Seditious Affair is, amazingly, even better than the previous novel. Some of its events run concurrently with those in A Fashionable Indulgence, so readers of that book will already be familiar with the protagonists of this story; lawyer and Home Office official Dominic Frey and Silas Mason, bookseller and free-thinking political activist.
Every Wednesday night for the past year, Dom and Silas have been meeting anonymously, at a discreet house of assignation. Although he is a gentleman of good breeding and a powerful official, when it comes to the bedroom, Dominic likes it rough; he wants to surrender control, to be forced to submit to the man he has dubbed his “brute”. Neither knows the others identity, but over the year they have been meeting, they have become friends and companions as well as sexual partners, enjoying the intellectual aspect of their relationship as much as the sexual side.
K.J Charles sets the tone of their relationship right from the opening page, with a searingly hot sex scene after which the couple starts chatting companionably about their week. It’s poignant, almost domestic and utterly brilliant, the deep emotional connection between them so strongly drawn that it drew me in straight away and wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished the book.
Readers of A Fashionable Indulgence will recall Silas’ activities as a pamphleteer, writing about the injustices practiced on the British people by the ruling classes, and calling for drastic change. The book is set shortly after the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, a peaceful gathering of workers which turned nasty when soldiers began firing on unarmed civilians. Readers of historical romance set in the Regency period will be familiar with the world of the ton; the seemingly endless round of balls and parties attended by our beautifully dressed heroes and heroines as, in the best tradition of escapist fiction, we are presented with a picture of grace, elegance and wealth . But in actuality, the decade from 1812 to 1822 was a period of great unrest in England. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the country was on the verge of great change in many ways, fuelled by bad harvests, large numbers of returning soldiers unable to find work and the massive inequalities between rich and poor. And in 1819, so many were prepared to speak out against the privileged classes that the government was driven to introduce the Six Acts, acts of parliament that pronounced every meeting for radical reform is an overt act of treasonable conspiracy against the King and his government. I confess, this isn’t a situation I knew much about before reading this book, but I found it fascinating.
On opposite sides of the political spectrum, “the brute” and “the Tory” are stimulated as much by their often voluble exchanges of ideas as by their sexual relationship. Dominic is all for the need to maintain order – people need rules, laws and government or there will be chaos; whereas Silas wants people to have a choice, even if they choose badly, and he will continue to speak out while he can. But the passing of the acts – one of which is a tax on printed material – makes Silas’ already precarious situation even more hazardous. Already believed to be the seditionist Jack Cade, Silas is struggling to stay one step ahead of the authorities who want to silence him. Dominic’s loyalties are stretched to their limit, and it’s hard to see how on earth these men who so obviously care very deeply for each other can possibly end up together. But what Ms Charles does so beautifully and convincingly is to show how both men have been changed by their association, so that when things come to a head and they have to make some difficult choices, those choices are perfectly within the bounds of possibility and don’t feel at all like some convenient plot device to ensure an HEA.
Set against the backdrop of the Cato Street Conspiracy, Ms Charles has done an amazing job of weaving a compelling and deeply romantic love story through the rich tapestry of real historical events. I admit that when the nature of the relationship between two such unlikely bedfellows was revealed, I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy the book as D/s relationships are not normally my cup of tea. But I was completely won over by both Silas and Dominic, who are wonderfully drawn, strong characters, and by the sheer depth of emotion that lies between them. We are re-introduced to a familiar cast of supporting characters including Julius and Harry from the previous book and Lord Richard Vane and his mysterious, seemingly omnipotent valet. Richard will be one of the protagonists in the next book, and is such an unpleasant stuffed-shirt in this one that I can’t imagine how Ms Charles is going to redeem him; although I’m sure she will, and in spectacular fashion.
Without doubt, A Seditious Affair is one of the best books I’ve read this year.