Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles


This title may be purchased from Amazon

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together…

Rating: A-

K.J. Charles always finds fresh, new angles to pursue in her stories and peoples them with characters in unusual walks of life – and her new novella, Unfit to Print, is no exception.  Set in late Victorian London, one of the protagonists is a purveyor of naughty books and has a shop in Holywell Street, which was, at that time, the centre of London’s porn trade; while the other is a somewhat uptight lawyer who views the whole business with a degree of distaste.  The novella boasts a mystery to be solved, a relationship to be rekindled and a mountain of filth to be shifted, and all of it is deftly and expertly done in well under two hundred pages.

Vikram Pandey and Gilbert Lawless are from minority – albeit fairly well-do-do – backgrounds, and met at boarding school several years before the story opens.  Vik’s father had been a high-ranking government official in India, while Gil is the result of a liaison between a black housemaid and a wealthy gentleman who publicly acknowledged him, paid for his education and treated him as a son.  Gil and Vik bonded at school and became the best of friends in spite of the fundamental differences in their natures, Gil seeming never to have a care in the world while Vik was always a little uptight and reserved. But one day when they were sixteen, both their lives were upended when Gil disappeared without warning or a word to anyone.  Vik was devastated, but his enquiries at school were always met with stony silence and disapproval, and eventually he stopped asking about or looking for Gil, believing him to be dead. He must be, or surely he’d have got word to Vik somehow, to tell him what happened.

In fact, Gil was removed from school and pretty much cast onto the streets on the day his father died and his half-brother inherited the estate.  Gil begged and scraped a living and now runs a small bookshop on Holywell Street near the Strand which, at that time, contained the largest concentration of porn shops in England.  Gilbert Lawless, Bookseller is Gil’s two-fingered-salute to the brother who, he later learned, cheated him out of his father’s last bequest, as well as to the “kind of respectability that means keeping other people in line while you do as you please.”

He is surprised when his cousin Percy asks him to attend Matthew Lawes’ funeral – and not at all surprised when he discovers there was an ulterior motive for inviting him. It seems his uncle was a connoisseur of pornography of all sorts, and faced with a massive library of books and photographs which could cause the family huge embarrassment, (not to mention large fines and possible imprisonment!)  they want Gil to take it all away and dispose of it.  Gil isn’t interested in most of it, but some of the books – one of them particularly rare – catch his eye, so he decides he might as well get what he can out of it, and agrees to have the lot transported to his shop.  It’s when he’s looking through some of the photographs that he recognises the likeness of a young lad – a rent boy – named Errol, who was found dead in a local alley just three weeks earlier.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that’s Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael’s newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

A retelling of the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zenda from a very different point of view.

Rating: A-

I’ve been looking forward to The Henchmen of Zenda, K.J. Charles’ ‘queered’ retelling of the classic The Prisoner of Zenda, ever since she announced it months ago, and in fact the book made my ‘most eagerly awaited of 2018 list‘ at AAR.  I love a ripping adventure yarn, and that’s exactly what the author has delivered – a tale of swashbuckling derring-do featuring a pair of amoral, cynical and devil-may-care anti-heroes, palace intrigue, political shenanigans, double crosses, triple crosses… and hot sex.  The latter being missing from Anthony Hope’s original novel, which isn’t surprising considering it was written in 1894. 😛  The Henchmen of Zenda can be enjoyed without reference to the original, although I’ll admit that for me, part of the fun was spotting the places where the stories meshed and picking up on the in-jokes.

For anyone not familiar with The Prisoner of Zenda, the story is basically this. Rudolf V, the new King of (the fictional) small European country of Ruritania, is drugged on the eve of his coronation by those working for his half-brother, Michael, Duke of Strelsau, who wants the throne for himself.  In a desperate attempt to stop Michael, those loyal to the king persuade an English gentleman (Rudolf Rassendyll) who bears an uncanny resemblance to the monarch and happens to be holidaying in their country to impersonate the king during the coronation.  Things are complicated when Michael’s men kidnap the king and Rassendyll falls in love with the Princess Flavia, who is Rudolf’s betrothed; complications, plots and counter-plots ensue, Rassendyll leads an assault on the castle of Zenda and rescues the king, and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to her king and country.

When our narrator, Jasper Detchard, immediately dismisses Rassendyll’s account as a pile of shit, and Rassendyll as an uptight prick who lied to make himself look good, the reader immediately knows they’re in for a rollicking good time.  Detchard’s deadpan, sarcastic narrative style grabbed me right away:

“My name is Jasper Detchard, and according to Rassendyll’s narrative, I am dead.  This should give you some idea of his accuracy, since I do not dictate these words to some cabbage-scented medium from beyond the veil.”

A disgraced former army officer who now makes his living as a mercenary, Detchard is approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau, to become one of his trusted bodyguard (known as The Six).   Michael demands absolute, unquestioning loyalty, and Detchard, not one to be overly picky as to where he lays his hat or sells his sword – signs up. As it turns out, for more than he bargained for.

I’m not going to say more about the plot because it’s twisty and complex and full of clever moves, counter moves and counter-counter moves and I don’t want to spoil it.  Suffice to say that Detchard’s reasons for accepting Michael’s offer aren’t quite as transparent as they seem and he’s going to be playing a dangerous game. So the last thing he needs is the distraction provided by the reckless, outrageously gorgeous, larger-than-life young ne’er-do-well, Rupert of Hentzau.

He’s a former companion of the debauched king, a turncoat and a late addition to Michael’s exclusive band of murderers and assassins; and Detchard is, despite his better judgement and innate cynicism, captivated by the younger man’s beauty and insouciance, recognising a kindred spirit of sorts, a dangerous man of questionable (if any) morals who seems to share his  no-fucks-left-to-give attitude to life.  Hentzau is a force of nature, and even though Michael has forbidden any *ahem* fraternization, Hentzau blithely disregards that instruction and is clearly as interested in getting into Detchard’s breeches as Detchard is in having him there.

One of the big differences  between this and the original novel is that K.J. Charles has given these characters personalities and lives of their own that go beyond what we see on the page.  The sub-plot involving Michael’s mistress, Antoinette de Mauban, adds depth and another, more personal, layer to the story, and I loved the way that both she and Princess Flavia are so much more than the mere cyphers of the original novel.  These are ladies who know how to play the game – and they’re better at it than the men.

The stars of the show are, of course, Detchard and Hentzau – liars, cheats, murderers and a hundred other despicable things – and yet immensely engaging and entertaining as they rattle their way through the pages with reckless glee.  Ms. Charles creates a strong connection between the pair which evolves naturally and realistically from an initial wariness to eventual trust, with plenty of steamy hook-ups along the way.  Their chemistry is electric, their verbal sparring is as entertaining as their swordplay (both euphemistically and otherwise!)  and their relationship is refreshingly frank and down-to-earth.  Neither is interested in or comfortable with the concept of ‘romance’ but something clearly evolves between them that is more than mere physical attraction; they come to respect and admire each other… not that either would ever admit to such a thing, of course, and while there isn’t an HEA in the traditional sense, it’s as close to happy ever after as these two are ever going to get (or want) and that feels absolutely right.

The Henchmen of Zenda is a rollicking adventure romp of the best sort; full of flashing blades, tight breeches, nefarious plots, scheming villainy and snarky dialogue but with a subplot that confers depth and insight into the characters and their motivations.  It’s funny, sexy and clever and I loved every minute of it.

Jackdaw by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

If you stop running, you fall.

Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser’s life. His betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.

Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can’t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah’s chaotic existence all over again, and they’re running together – from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.

Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, the policeman and the thief must find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them…

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A

In an effort to prevent withdrawal symptoms after finishing K.J. Charles’ A Charm of Magpies trilogy, I jumped eagerly into listening to Jackdaw, which is set in the same universe and which tells the story of Jonah Pastern, who appeared as an important secondary character in book three, Flight of Magpies. Jonah – a type of practitioner (magician) known as a Windwalker because of his ability to manipulate air currents and to literally walk on air – was instrumental in the revenge planned by an evil warlock against Lucien, Lord Crane, and Stephen Day. Jonah came across as amoral, charming and irresponsible; he may have been coerced into co-operating with the warlock, but he had his own agenda and didn’t care who got hurt in the crossfire as long as it wasn’t him.

Jackdaw opens with disgraced former policeman, Ben Spenser (using an assumed name), trying to find his erstwhile lover, the man who upended and destroyed his life. Meeting the handsome force of nature that was Jonah Pastern some six months or so earlier, and falling in love, secure in the knowledge that the feeling was returned, had been the happiest time of Ben’s life – until it all fell apart when he witnessed Jonah in the midst of a burglary at a local museum. Jonah escaped, leaving a confused, furious and brokenhearted Ben to face the consequences, not only of having shared a home with a thief, but of having had an illegal relationship (i.e. a homosexual one) with him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Flight of Magpies (A Charm of Magpies #3) by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Danger in the air. Lovers on the brink.

A Charm of Magpies, Book 3: With the justiciary understaffed, a series of horrifying occult murders to be investigated, and a young student who is flying – literally – off the rails, magical law enforcer Stephen Day is under increasing stress. And his relationship with his aristocratic lover, Lord Crane, is beginning to feel the strain. Crane chafes at the restrictions of England’s laws, and there’s a worrying development in the blood-and-sex bond he shares with Stephen. A development that makes a sensible man question if they should be together at all.

When a thief strikes at the heart of Crane’s home, a devastating loss brings his closest relationships into bitter conflict – especially his relationship with Stephen. And as old enemies, new enemies, and unexpected enemies paint the lovers into a corner, the pressure threatens to tear them apart.

Warning: Contains hot-blooded sex, cold-blooded murder, sinister magical goings-on, and a lot of swearing.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

So compelling was K.J. Charles’Flight of Magpies that I listened to all six-and-a-half-hours of it in one sitting. In the third book of the A Charm of Magpies series, the author has crafted an engrossing story full of intrigue, magic and danger which pits our heroes, Lucien, Lord Crane and practitioner (magician) Stephen Day, against some truly evil old enemies bent on revenge while at the same time exploring the effects of, for want of a better expression, ‘real life’ on a couple in an established – although illegal – relationship.

Please note that there are spoilers for books one and two in this review.

By the end of book two of the trilogy, A Case of Possession, Lucien and Stephen are a couple; ILYs have been exchanged, Lucien has decided to remain in England with Stephen – at least, until such time as he can persuade his lover to go to Shanghai with him – and they’re in it for the long haul. Stephen has always been a bit elusive, but he’s now spending several nights a week at Lucien’s flat and their lives are becoming more and more intertwined, and not just because they are inextricably linked together by an ancient and potent magic. Lucien’s ancestor, The Magpie Lord, was the most powerful sorcerer England has ever seen, and although Lucien has no magical abilities himself, the supernatural power that runs through his blood can somehow amplify Stephen’s already considerable abilities and together, they are a force to be reckoned with.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A story too secret, too terrifying – and too shockingly intimate – for Victorian eyes.

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant, and chronicler for 20 years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – A

K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a collection of wonderfully imaginative, well-written and downright spooky tales of ghostly goings on and supernatural shenanigans set in the late Victorian era featuring ghost-hunter extraordinaire, Simon Feximal, and his chronicler and long-term companion Robert Caldwell. The author draws on ancient legends and late Victorian sensation fiction for inspiration and has crafted a set of original and compelling creations while also charting the development of the relationship between her two protagonists, a lasting partnership built on a solid foundation of love and respect that endures through dark days and the direst of adversity.

When we first meet Robert Caldwell, he is a making a name for himself as a journalist for The Chronicle. He has recently inherited old, dilapidated Caldwell Place and decides to sell it rather than live there. The only problem is that it appears to be haunted – and when the walls start bleeding, Robert realises he’s got to do something about it before he can even think of putting the place up for sale. So, he calls in the renowned ghost-hunter Simon Feximal in the hope that he will be able to get rid of his unwanted, ghoulish guest, and is immediately struck by Simon’s imposing form and air of command. Feximal clearly knows what he’s doing – but both he and Robert have reckoned without the strength of a spirit long denied its desires, and a highly-charged, passionate encounter ensues which sends the mischievous spirit packing and sees our principals left to their own – most pleasurable – devices.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

Think of England by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Tom Carter

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless, and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share – a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail, and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Rating: Narration – B: Content – A

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Think of England ever since I learned that Audible Studios was going to be releasing a number of K.J. Charles’ backlist titles in audio. It’s one of my favourite books of hers (one of my favourite books, full-stop, actually) and while I admit to a bit of trepidation when I saw that an unknown narrator had been used, I’m pleased to be able to say that on the whole, Tom Carter does a pretty good job.

The story is set in 1904, and opens with former army captain Archie Curtis arriving at Peakholme, near Newcastle, for a house-party given by Sir Hubert Armstrong, a wealthy industrialist. Curtis was invalided out of the army after losing three fingers and sustaining a serious knee injury at Jacobsdal in South Africa, occasioned when a faulty batch of guns backfired and exploded, also maiming and killing a number of his men.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals