Treading the Boards, Book 2.
Review of Treading the Boards, Book 1 here.
Heat Factor: Sex is frequent, explicit, and hot.
Character Chemistry: Even though Sarah is the only one with any sense, I completely believe her relationships with both Meg and James who are both ridiculous and moderately annoying.
Plot: Let’s navigate a threesome, plus an evil pimp.
Overall: A welcome change from standard regencies.
Imagine: you are a nice man, with a successful trade and a good income. You own a home in London, inherited from your father. Now, you are ready to settle down with a wife. The only problem is that you find yourself attracted to two women. What’s a man to do? Why, court them both, of course! Conveniently, one would make the perfect wife, and one would make the perfect mistress.
Unfortunately for James our Intrepid Staymaker, Sarah and Meg, the two women in question, happen to be BFFs. Who have only recently discovered that they are also sexually attracted to each other, and are having a grand time romping in bed during their stolen moments together.
Naturally, Meg and Sarah decide that James needs some punishment. Luckily for James, however, they both actually like him, so the punishment quickly morphs into forgiveness and then a threesome. Through the rest of the book, Sarah, Meg, and James work on figuring out how to successfully navigate a triad like mature adults. Because we have three protagonists, the scope for misunderstanding and jealousy is naturally much higher. However, I never felt that the disagreements felt manufactured or unrealistic, but could just as easily happen in a contemporary polyamorous relationship. Both Meg and Sarah feel moments of jealousy and sometimes fall into a competitive mindset; James worries that if he pisses one of them off, he’ll lose both of them. Reading the book, I felt that Sarah was the nexus that held the triad together, but that could have been because I related to her the most, and found Meg to be impetuous and vain and silly.
The fact that this is a regency, however, adds some depth and danger to the proceedings, in two ways. First, they want to ensure that their special arrangement will not be discovered. I mean, nothing would happen to James – he starts his whole dual courtship after another dude is like, obviously you need a wife and a mistress. But Sarah and Meg could be in for a heap of trouble. While as far as I can tell (I am not a historian and have not done any research beyond googling), there were no explicit laws against female homosexual behavior in 19th century England, it’s not like open lesbianism was tolerated. There were cases of “Female Husbands” in both England and the US during this time, though we mostly hear about the ones where the woman was punished – though it’s hard to tell if they were punished for fraud or sexual deviance. And “Female Husbands” were definitely enough of a curiosity that they made up a whole genre of writing – so Sarah and Meg (but really Sarah, because she’s the one with sense) worrying about repercussions seems about right.
The second component that makes their situation much more precarious is class. None of our protagonists are upper class, but there are also distinct class differences between them. James is an apprentice staymaker, but one who is quite well settled. The man he works for has no family, so James will take over the business once the dude retires. Plus his father was a successful tradesman, so there is some family money. He and his sister keep several servants. Sarah is the lady’s maid to the grumpy old Lady Horlock. As such, she’s mid-level in the pecking order at the grand house – she’s not the scullery maid or cleaning the fireplaces or anything – but she also has very little independent time. She cannot have guests over, and would face serious repercussions if her boss suspected that she was even being courted. Meg is an actress. But not a fancy actress at a famous theater, but an ingénue who does the cheap theater circuit. She supplements her income by finding protectors. She is by far the most financially precarious of the three, but also seems the most unconcerned about that stuff. And she doesn’t understand why Sarah can’t just meet her whenever, because she has a lot more freedom than Sarah does.
Because of both the gender and class dynamics inherent within this triad, James has a lot more power than either Sarah or Meg does. Part of his appeal is in fact his willingness and ability to provide financially for both of them. I wish that Bowery had explicitly explored the nuances of the power dynamics between the three main characters, because in the end, I really just felt like James got really lucky to have two awesome ladies in his life and Sarah and Meg took the opening that was provided for a more stable existence – where, as a really great bonus, they could keep having sex with each other and not worry about it.
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