Heat Factor: The fire is banked.
Character Chemistry: It’s that snapping, snarling: “I hate you and everything you stand for, so why am I so horny around you?”
Plot: Trying to keep everyone’s heads attached to their bodies during the Reign of Terror
Overall: This book would have benefited significantly from better editing.
There are a number of conflict points occurring in this book:
- The protagonists are on opposite sides during the Reign of Terror
- The protagonists are men who love men during a time when living that way openly was dangerous
- Perrin is grieving the death of his lover, who was guillotined without trial, and Perrin is likewise in danger because of his politics and social standing
- Henri is grieving the death of his father and sister, who were essentially (there’s a lot to unpack there) killed by the French aristocracy prior to the Revolution
- Henri is also a good bad guy, because the Revolution is bad, but Henri has a heart of gold and would never, ever condone ruthless, unscrupulous murder or imprisonment without due process. (Right.)
This is to say, there’s plenty of meat here for magnificent quantities of tension in an enemies to lovers trope projection. Unfortunately, the book does not pull through in its execution.
My first note is that these protagonists should in no way be open and honest with each other on multiple fronts. They wind up at the same (historical equivalent of a gay) club right off the bat, so a mutual suspicion of homosexual preferences might not be unreasonable, but it seems absolutely wild that they would jump straight into sexual innuendo, if only because it would be unsafe to do so with people one didn’t know. Add to that the fact that they ran into each other prior to entering the club, so they both know they’re politically opposed to one another during a time when that’s actually deadly, and there’s even less reason for them to be anything but ruthlessly evasive with each other. And yet they are remarkably hypersexed and confrontational. It’s a missed opportunity for tension. Just think of all the subterfuge and innuendo that could draw things out!
My next note is that the text relies heavily on heavy-handed presentations of everything that’s occurring. And I do mean everything. Not only are we heavily invested in the enemies trope of Henri and Perrin constantly and harshly antagonizing each other (but OH! The SEXUAL TENSION that I want to think is the absolute worst but won’t go away!), but also we get studies in caricature when Henri is antagonized by an absolutely disgusting, sociopathic work colleague, and Perrin is besties with his servant. I could positively hear the birds carrying the ribbons in the background. Employer/employee relationships have a power dynamic. Pretending that’s not the case is ridiculous.
Then, too, if I am asking “BUT WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” most of the time in the first third of the book (or really any third of the book), we have a problem. I should not be asking why two men who should want literally nothing to do with each other (except, fine, sexual attraction, but that can be a feeling not acted on) are making the choices they’re making to continue to be around each other. Perrin has multiple personalities, is one explanation, but I don’t think it’s the desired one. He flips from soft as a delicate cloud to bull-headed to sneering rage monster so fast I got whiplash. With respect to the bull-headed personality, he gets involved in a subversive political group, waltzing in like he’s got the chops to get the job done. He does not. As far as we know, he has no experience of soldering or espionage (not surprising since he’s an English viscount), and yet he inserts himself into extremely dangerous situations and throws fits about leaving Paris, which only demonstrates a serious lack of situational awareness.
Lastly, there is quite a bit of word misusage. It’s not full-blown Inigo Montoya “I don’t think that word means what you think it means,” but it was definitely a lot of …that’s not used correctly in context. Like, “hoity” by itself is not a thing. Also, since we’re talking word use, there are many, many power words in this text, and they evoke feelings. This is good…except when we’re using words that evoke negative emotions to discuss the protagonists. I’m not sure I ever recovered from Henri referring to Perrin’s lips as a “dreadful, fleshy grimace.” 😬 So if all the notes above didn’t make it clear that the book would have benefited significantly from better editing, the text certainly gave it away.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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