Heat Factor: They just crash into each other. It’s intense.
Character Chemistry: The way that Will knows he can’t trust Kim but also just really wants to love him is *chef’s kiss*
Plot: After WWI, Will Darling struggled with the return to civilian life until his uncle bequeathed him a bookshop. A bookshop that embroils him in a conspiracy, and brings into his life the perturbing and slippery Kim Secretan.
Overall: Exceptional. Absolutely exceptional.
The hook is all in Slippery Creatures. Will Darling came back from The Great War and struggled for a while (as so many returning soldiers did—this is a recurring theme), before reuniting with his formerly estranged uncle (and namesake) who died shortly thereafter, leaving Will the inheritance of a used bookshop in London. It’s not much, but Will has a livelihood and a home…and he is extremely confused when he is somehow embroiled in some bizarre espionage.
Enter Kim Secretan, a charming, disgraced son of a marquess who seems to care nothing for his notoriety or anything else. He befriends Will when everyone else is trying to strong-arm him. Or kill him. Or at least threaten him. Plus Kim is pretty delicious, and their chemistry is explosive. It’s just that Kim is a huge liar.
But the conspiracy they’re fighting is real. It’s a matter of life and death for Will, and a matter of millions of lives if the conspiracy succeeds. And maybe Kim isn’t so bad after all.
I was drawn in from the first. The POV is all Will’s so Kim is a delightful mystery. Do we like him? Do we not? Is he sincere? It feels like he’s catching feelings—is he catching feelings? Will’s feelings are complicated. Then we layer in all the suspense from the mysterious espionage plot, and there’s really nothing more thrilling. Charles is really good at taking on a certain style, and in this case the 1920s pulp fiction vibe is just right. So if you enjoy a period crime drama or the like, you’ll probably like this book. I certainly did.
Slippery Creatures ends with an HFN, so it’s fine if you just stop there. But then you’d deprive yourself of some delightfully exciting escapades in which the conspiracy that we thought was foiled continues to grow while Will and Kim’s personal lives (meaning their friends and relations and random acquaintances) become further embroiled in an ever-increasing body count.
In The Sugared Game, we learn that everything isn’t all that perfect between Kim and Will. This is not terribly surprising in a trilogy featuring the same couple, yes? It turns out that Kim decides to make decisions by himself again, and yet somehow Will still ends up in trouble. It’s England, so drinking isn’t illegal, but if you’re interested in that 1920s speakeasy vibe then join Will as he goes dancing with a friend, only to be caught up in a mystery that has ever more dire consequences. And, of course, Kim is at the center of it.
Everything that is true of Slippery Creatures is true of The Sugared Game (maybe even more more so), but here you see that Kim has made something of a habit of keeping things from Will. Like to the point that it would not be too much to say that he’s regularly lying to Will. (For his own good! Of course!) And, you know, if someone tells you who they are, you should believe them. So how do Will and Kim overcome this? Possibly the best part of this relationship and this book is the conversation that Will has with Kim regarding this problem and what they think they should do about it. If you’ve ever read any of Charles’s blog posts on writing (which I recommend if you’re at all interested in craft), you can see just how masterfully she puts into practice making a conflict real and also resolving it in a way that resonates because it’s how imperfect people behave.
(Further to this conversation, there’s a sort of epilogue that Charles has on her website that resolves the matter even more, so I definitely recommend that you seek it out if you read the whole series.)
Anyway, the HFN of The Sugared Game is much more solid (for which we are thankful), so how can things possibly go wrong in the conclusion?
Did I mention that Kim is the son of a marquess? He’s actually Lord Arthur, and he and Will could hardly be farther apart, socially speaking. So, at the beginning of Subtle Blood, just when Kim’s at loose ends after the repercussions of the goings on of The Sugared Game, he finds himself in a bit of a pickle when it looks like his brother is going to go down for murder. If there’s one thing a lord can’t get away with, it’s murder, which means that Kim will inherit the marquessate and it’ll be that much harder for him to carry on in any sort of clandestine way with Will. They’re fighting for their very future!
Not gonna lie, this one might have been the most bonkers of all, but it was also (possibly?) the most exciting? How they were going to get out of that terrible mess, I did not know. The conspiracy is subtle (hmm), Kim and Will might be the only people in England who don’t believe Kim’s brother committed the murder, but why is Kim’s family caught up in it, and how on earth are they going to find the real killer? Charles doesn’t shy away from a violently increasing body count, that’s for sure. And there’s an absolutely terrifying moment when Will is hanging off the side of a yacht well out to sea (or the English Channel, whatever). It’s a real nail-biter!
It has not been my experience that Charles writes elaborately tied up HEAs, but this might be as close as it gets. If you’re looking for love and commitment, teamwork, friendship, found family, and an optimistic future, you’ll close the book happy.
(There is also a bonus epilogue, which may give us more happily ever afters, but it’s for both this trilogy and the Think of England duology, and I have not yet read the latter, so I’m saving it for such a time as I can enjoy the epilogue in its completeness.) (But if you want it, it’s here.)
Anyway, look, I borrowed these books from the library first, but they were so great that I ordered paperbacks so I could keep them forever. This trilogy was that delightful.