Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by KJ Charles
Series: The Doomsday Books #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 7, 2023
Genres: Historical Romance
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Abandoned by his father, Gareth Inglis grew up lonely, prickly, and well-used to disappointment. Still, he longs for a connection. When he meets a charming stranger, he falls head over heels—until everything goes wrong and he's left alone again. Then Gareth's father dies, turning the shabby London clerk into Sir Gareth, with a grand house on the remote Romney Marsh and a family he doesn't know.
The Marsh is another world, a strange, empty place notorious for its ruthless gangs of smugglers. And one of them is dangerously familiar...
Joss Doomsday has run the Doomsday smuggling clan since he was a boy. When the new baronet—his old lover—agrees to testify against Joss's sister, Joss acts fast to stop him. Their reunion is anything but happy, yet after the dust settles, neither can stay away. Soon, all Joss and Gareth want is the chance to be together. But the bleak, bare Marsh holds deadly secrets. And when Gareth finds himself threatened from every side, the gentleman and the smuggler must trust one another not just with their hearts, but with their lives.
After the high praise I felt for the 1920’s era Will Darling Adventures trilogy, I couldn’t keep my anticipation under wraps when I spotted another KJ Charles series set in Regency Napoleonic era rural Kent with another pair of unlikely opposites from different classes. No surprise I devoured it in two sittings.
The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen introduces prickly Sir Gareth Inglis and laconic and mysterious Joss Doomsday when they have an explosive shocking reunion in a magistrate’s courtroom no less. The pair had met under more clandestine circumstances using aliases when in London. Gareth’s a new baronet and doesn’t look kindly on the smuggling trade in the area of which Joss is the leader. But, then the mysteries start to come up.
As I indicated earlier, this is an opposites- class difference romance set against a lush and vibrant historical setting in the marsh and coastal countryside. The nation is at war and London is not even a day’s ride away. The marsh is an isolated world of its own and a naturalist’s paradise, but also the ideal locale for prime smuggling with the coastal access and hidden paths through the marsh.
Gareth comes to this place as an unwanted and under-appreciated law clerk, now baronet, dealing with family surprises and oddities all around him. He yearns for Joss even when circumstances occur that place them as near enemies. He’s so lonely and unsure, but starts to come into his own as realizes this is his chance to make his own way finally. At first, I thought he was a priggish cranky sort, but then his past is laid out and my heart leaped in and started cheering him on.
Joss’ situation is very different. He grew up with a tough situation and carries the weight of family and all the community on him with lazy charming smile hiding how much it is costing him. Gareth is his secret and only time he can lay aside his responsibilities and just be himself. I enjoyed seeing him protective of Gareth, but more so when he learned to let Gareth get close and be there for him. There were so many close calls for this pair whether it was attacks from those who think Gareth knows something or threats that they might be outed.
Strong action, suspense, and mystery as well as family and spicy hot romance all blend together to make this a well-layered story that was a feast for the imagination and emotions. It starts a series, but this first book wrapped things up neatly when it came to growth of character, relationships, and suspense. I’m not sure if there will be further adventures for Joss and Gareth or if new characters from the larger cast will get their tale.
All in all, it was abso-fab and just the sort of historical adventure-filled male romance I’ve come to appreciate from KJ Charles. I highly recommend this one.
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