The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian

the queer principles of kit webb

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Kit Webb has left his stand-and-deliver days behind him. But dreary days at his coffee shop have begun to make him pine for the heady rush of thievery. When a handsome yet arrogant aristocrat storms into his shop, Kit quickly realizes he may be unable to deny whatever this highborn man desires.

In order to save himself and a beloved friend, Percy, Lord Holland must go against every gentlemanly behavior he holds dear to gain what he needs most: a book that once belonged to his mother, a book his father never lets out of his sight and could be Percy’s savior. More comfortable in silk-filled ballrooms than coffee shops frequented by criminals, his attempts to hire the roughly hewn highwayman, formerly known as Gladhand Jack, proves equal parts frustrating and electrifying.

Kit refuses to participate in the robbery but agrees to teach Percy how to do the deed. Percy knows he has little choice but to submit and as the lessons in thievery begin, he discovers thievery isn’t the only crime he’s desperate to commit with Kit.

But when their careful plan goes dangerously wrong and shocking revelations threaten to tear them apart, can these stolen hearts overcome the impediments in their path?

Rating: B

Cat Sebastian takes readers back to Georgian England with her latest novel, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb.  It’s a lively tale laden with wit, sparkling dialogue and insightful social commentary; the two leads are superbly characterised and there’s a vibrant secondary cast, too.  In fact, when I was only a few chapters in, I thought I’d be awarding the book a DIK, but unfortunately, the plot gets rather convoluted in the second half in a way that didn’t seem all that well thought-out, and that knocked the final grade down a notch or two.  But it’s still an entertaining read.

After taking a bullet to the leg, highwayman Gladhand Jack ‘retired’ from the business of highway robbery and now runs a moderately successful coffee house in London.  It’s a comfortable – if unexciting – life, and a year after his retirement, Christopher – Kit – Webb is bored.  He doesn’t really want to go back to his old life of thievery and trying not to get killed, but he can’t deny that he misses the activity and excitement – or that he’s getting more restless and foul-tempered by the day.  Which is why, when something that looked like first-rate trouble – an exquisitely dressed young gentleman complete with powder, patches and an elaborately adorned wig – walks into the coffeehouse,  Kit is instantly intrigued.

Edward Percival Talbot – Percy to his friends – is the only son and heir to the Duke of Clare.  Or rather, he was, until information recently came to light revealing that his father’s marriage to his mother was bigamous.  After living for some years on the Continent, Percy returned to England after his mother’s death to discover that his obnoxious father had married his (Percy’s) childhood friend Marian (seemingly against her wishes), that he has a new baby sister – and that his father married his mother – and now Marian – while he had another wife still living. The first blackmail letter arrived a month earlier, setting out the facts and demanding money, and now Percy and Marian have two months to come up with a plan.  Neither of them wants to pay the blackmailer. Percy knows that paying up will mean spending a lifetime in fear of exposure and is inclined to make the truth known on their own terms; Marian thinks paying the blackmailer will let Clare off the hook for what he’s done and she wants revenge, to bring him as low as humanly possible.

Although Percy is facing social ruin, and his entire life has been based on a lie, he’s firstly concerned for Marian and little Eliza and wants to make sure they’re safe and well taken care of before he focuses too much on his own situation.  To this end, he plans to steal a book from his father – and then use it to force him to pay him and Marian enough money for them to be able to live comfortably. (At this stage, we don’t know what the book’s contents are).  It’s Marian who comes up with the idea of getting Gladhand Jack to do the job for them – but after his first visit to the coffeehouse, Percy isn’t so sure the former highwayman is the right man for the job.

And, as it turns out, neither is Kit, although he’s tempted.  Very tempted – and by more than just the idea of one last job.  But he knows his own limitations and that his bad leg won’t hold up sufficiently for him to be able to pull off the robbery himself.  So he offers to teach Percy how to do it instead.

The first section of the story details Percy’s attempts to persuade Kit to help him, using a mixture of financial incentive and flirtation that stops little short of outright seduction.  The chemistry between them is palpable, the dialogue is superb – witty and very sharply observed – and I enjoyed their spirited conversations and the steadily growing affection and tenderness between them.

Kit and Percy are likeable, complex characters, complete opposites who shouldn’t work as a couple – yet they do.  Kit is an adorable grouch who has no idea of the esteem in which he’s held by those around him, and Percy hides a deep vulnerability behind his ostentatious outfits and witty conversation.  He makes little attempt to hide his attraction to men, while Kit is less concerned with what’s between a partner’s legs and, as he puts it, seldom goes to bed with people because he seldom meets anyone he really wants to go to bed with.

Both men are carrying considerable emotional baggage – Kit has experienced great loss, and Percy hasn’t known much love or affection – and have come to believe that they don’t deserve to be happy or loved. But as they become closer and begin to fall in love with each other, that experience – and the mutual support they can now offer – gradually shows them the lie and they begin to understand that they’re more than the sum of their past experiences and that together, they can be better than they were before.  I was pleased with their honesty and that they behave and speak like adults, discussing their pasts in a realistic, sensible way, and that there are no overblown dramatics.

The big problem with the book though, is the plot, which gets progressively more complicated somewhere after the halfway mark.  We don’t find out what’s so important about the book Percy wants to steal until really late in the day, and the way plot point after plot point is suddenly stuffed in in the last quarter of the story not only had my head spinning but contributed to an overall feeling of ‘is that it?’ when the book ended.  I understand there’s going to be a sequel , but this novel wasn’t originally billed as part of a series (and still isn’t) and I came away from it feeling vaguely disappointed at the way so many things have been left hanging.

In the end, I liked, but didn’t love, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb.  The romance is sweet, tender and sexy, and the setting of Georgian London is well-established;  I especially loved the descriptions of Percy’s sumptuous outfits.  The secondary characters – special mention goes to Betty, Kit’s employee, and Collins, Percy’s valet – are interesting and well-rounded, and the discussions as to the evils and abuses of great privilege are perceptive and, dare I say, timely.  Despite my criticisms, fans of queer historical romance will find plenty to enjoy here.

The Wedding Night Affair (Ash & Juliana #1) by L.C. Sharp

the wedding night affair

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The year is 1748, and Lady Juliana Uppingham awakens in a pool of blood, with no memory of how her new husband ended up dead beside her. Her distaste for her betrothed was no secret, but even so, Juliana couldn’t possibly have killed him…could she?

Juliana’s only hope is Sir Edmund Ashendon, a dashing baronet with a knack for solving seemingly unsolvable crimes—and a reputation for trouble. A man as comfortable in the rookeries of St. Giles as he is in the royal court, Ash believes Juliana is innocent, though all signs point to her as the killer. He doesn’t expect to develop a soft spot for the spirited widow, one that only grows when escalating threats against Juliana force Ash to shelter her in his home.

When another body is found, it becomes clear that Juliana has been dragged into something much, much bigger than simply her husband’s murder. With a collection of deadly black-tipped feathers as their sole clue and a date at the end of a hangman’s noose looming, they’ll have to find the real killer—before it’s too late.

Rating: B

The Wedding Night Affair is the first book in a new series of historical mysteries set in Georgian England entitled Ash & Juliana for its two protagonists – Sir Edmund Ashendon, a well-to-do young lawyer and Lady Juliana, daughter and sole heir to the Earl of Hawksworth.  This opening instalment has a similar premise to the first books in at least three other historical mystery series I can think of – Lady Julia (Deanna Raybourn), John Pickett (Sheri Cobb South) and Lady Darby (Anna Lee Huber) – in that the heroine is accused of murdering her (thoroughly unpleasant) husband, but that’s really the only similarity, and The Wedding Night Affair very quickly establishes its own distinctive world and authorial voice.

The story opens in a memorably shocking way as new bride Lady Juliana awakens the morning after her wedding to Lord Godfrey Uppingham.  Every part of her body aches and she’s covered in bruises; her wedding night was one of pain and terror as her husband used her roughly and repeatedly in a way she had not been at all prepared for.  (The assaults are not detailed on the page but are referred to in sufficient detail as to leave no doubt about what took place the night before.)  When Juliana moves the covers so she can get out of bed, she at first thinks the smear of blood on her thighs is only to be expected – until she realises it’s more than a smear. She’s lying in a pool of blood, her husband lying flat on his back next to her with his own knife sticking out of his chest.  The same knife he’d used to slice through her clothes the night before.

Juliana’s screams naturally bring servants running, followed by her in-laws, who immediately berate her for alerting the servants by making so much noise and then accuse her of murdering their son.  Still in shock, the only thing Juliana can do is cling to the knowledge that she didn’t kill her husband while his parents send her back to her family home in disgrace.

Henry Fielding (yes THE Henry Fielding) is the magistrate in charge of Bow Street at this time, and having learned of the murder, asks lawyer Sir Edmund Ashendon to go to question the lady and bring her back to Bow Street where she can be safely housed until a date is set for her trial.  Already intrigued by the case, Ash agrees and makes his way to the Hawksworth town house, where he is able to speak with Lady Juliana and get her side of the story.  As he listens to her and realises how terribly she has been treated by everyone around her, he can’t help feeling sympathy – and listening to her account of her wedding night, suggests she may have been acting in self-defence.  But Juliana insists she didn’t commit the murder – and Ash is starting to believe her.

The Wedding Night Affair gets this series off to a good start; and I should say now that while the murder mystery is solved and we find out who killed Uppingham, the author has also set a larger, overarching plot into motion featuring the mysterious London crime-lord known only as Raven, which is to be continued in the next book.  In this one however, we watch as Ash and Juliana work together to find the evidence necessary to exonerate her, and in doing so, develop a strong friendship with the potential to turn romantic at some point in the future.  There’s a definite attraction between the pair, but the author very wisely keeps it fairly low-key and allows them to get to know each other, and for Juliana – in the company of Ash and his family – to be able to enjoy the sort of family life she’s never had.

Ash is an engaging hero; kind, intelligent and principled, he doesn’t open up often or easily, but he finds himself letting his guard down with Juliana (just a little bit) and maybe liking her a bit more than he feels he should.  He’s the head of his family and obviously cares deeply for his siblings, but there are some secrets in the family’s past he’s keen to keep hidden.

One of the best things about the book is its very strong sense of time and place – which isn’t surprising considering that L.C. Sharp is a pseudonym for Lynne Connolly, who has written a number of historical romances set in the period.  Her research is always impeccable and she makes really good use of it, inserting fascinating period detail (such as the very real ‘fad’ for kidnapping heiresses and forcing them into marriage or holding them for ransom) into the background or even into the main plotlines, and evoking the sights, sounds (and smells!) of the smoke-filled pubs and taverns, or the narrow, muddy streets or the grand, Palladian mansions of the newer West End.

She also hammers home just how precarious life could be for a young woman in Juliana’s position. Outwardly living a life of luxury, she seems to have it all, but behind closed doors her parents treat her despicably, marrying her off to a man of whose depravities they are well aware in order to further her father’s plan to have her son inherit his lands and title.  Sadly, it takes a horrific assault to set her on the path towards becoming her own person, but I was rooting for her to make the most of her second chance (and I may have been cheering inwardly when she at last talks back to her horrible parents!).  The one issue I had with that though, was that Juliana so often thinks “I’ll never go back to being that person” (or words to that effect) that it felt repetitive and got old very quickly.  I could see her gradually taking control of her life; I didn’t need to be reminded she was doing it so often.  There are a few other minor irritants along the way, such as Juliana’s very nearly TSTL moment (when she decides to go against Ash’s express wishes) and an early clue which was then forgotten about until near the end.

One last thing.  I know authors often have no input into the titles for their books, but whoever came up with this one has devised something misleading.  “The Wedding Night Affair” gives the impression this is much a more light-hearted read than it is, so if you’re thinking about picking it up, please take note of what I’ve said about the way in which the story begins.

Poorly chosen title aside, The Wedding Night Affair nonetheless earns a recommendation.  The characters are engaging, the plotline is intriguing and I’m invested enough to want to read book two, The Sign of the Raven, when it comes out later this year.