Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Co-Review: Think of England by KJ Charles - Part 1

Today I'm joined by Yash from The Book Wars as we take a look at KJ Charles' Edwardian era romance novel.  If you haven't stopped by The Book Wars before, I highly recommend it.  They always have a great selection of books to recommend, with a focus on younger readers and diversity, and they're funny and insightful and basically you should just go check them out.  With no further ado, let's take a look at the first half of this book!

SUMMARY:  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…

Warning: Contains explicit male/male encounters, ghastly historical attitudes, and some extremely stiff upper lips.

Chapters 1-8

Y: I love the way the character are introduced. Curtis at a social event and is the reader’s eyes. Slowly we get a list of people--his hosts, their child, their child’s best friend (“a striking piece of work”), a couple of woman who Curtis cannot judge fast enough, and of course, the person you just know is going to be Curtis’ love interest, the one that gets under his skin even as he looks at him: Daniel da Silva. Truthfully, Curtis with his hesitation and suspicion and fumbling kind of reminds me of Alec Lightwood and da Silva might as well be my favourite warlock wearing a glamour. There are so many instances of Daniel da Silva resembling Magnus Bane, and since Bane predates da Silva, that I have to wonder if K. J. Charles is a fan. (Not a bad thing in my opinion. I like these kinds of proud, sharp-tongued, and surprisingly kind characters.) I have to wonder, however, if this combination of Not Out Manly Man and Definitely Out Intellectual Type is something of a cliche. As of now, I don’t think they are very stereotypical?

E: I definitely agree with Yash about Daniel da Silva - he reminds me so much of Magnus Bane! (And as such it should be no surprise that he’s my favourite character). It’s not to the point that I feel like he’s just Bane cut out and pasted in this work, but he’s got the flamboyant fashion, the snarky wit, and plenty of mystery to go around that is very reminiscent of Magnus. I always have a hard time with very alpha men, and Curtis is Very Alpha indeed. I did feel like at times the writing did him a disservice - whereas da silva gets to be cool and collected, Curtis - despite his varied background and generally open-minded views (for the time), will get lines that make him appear stupider or at least plainer than I would expect him to be. It felt a bit uneven at times - but I think some of that may be that I greatly prefer witty, flamboyant men.


Y: Oh, man. I do not know how I feel about this. Um. So, basically, Curtis and da Silva are both caught snooping in the same room. Da Silva, quick on his feet, makes it look like they merely ducked into a room for um, how shall I put it delicately …

… or, at least, making out. (Can I just state for the record how thoroughly unromantic the phrase “hard lips battering his mouth” is? Very. Very unromantic.) Except this leads to them having to “prove” they are smooshing, so. Things happen. Not smooshing. But definitely not something Curtis was expecting. Curtis did enjoy the experience, but I would have liked him to have assented to the idea a little more enthusiastically. Granted, it wasn’t something da Silva really would have wanted to do either--the situation was just so messed up? Which, of course, leads to a very messed up conversation about consent where neither of them comes to a consensus but agree that oral sex is enjoyable enough to repeat? I hate to sound like an overbearing housewife, but ugh, men. Just talk about your feelings, please.

E: I tend to avoid very alpha characters (unsurprising given my previous statement), particularly paired with rather effeminate characters, but this one works for me. I think it’s because Curtis is generally open minded and willing to talk about his emotions (comparatively), and his physical prowess is balanced by da Silva’s superior abilities in subterfuge and because he’s out (as far as one can be in this time) and very comfortable with that. I happen to love “pretend kiss” situations (I.e. For whatever reason said couple has to pretend to kiss so as not to be caught but then it becomes something they actually enjoy) and this first scene is...rather a bit more than just a kiss haha! So I’m predisposed to enjoy it a bit, but the second encounter threw me for a bit of a loop. It was...a bit violent and sudden, and while it ended up with them at least discussing the situation it was certainly not intimate. But even though this second encounter took me aback, I’m definitely aboard this ship!


Y: Plot-wise, it’s a bunch of snooping right now and I like that. I like that da Silva and Curtis have to work together. Obviously, it gives them a chance to learn about each and that was not a euphemism, stop that da Silva! Mostly, I wish they would stop saying Africa. Just. No. You don’t mean all of Africa! It also really annoys me when people say dago to refer to da Silva, or refer to his being Jewish is terrible ways, or his being dandy-like. BUT! I accept this is how annoying Regency-era English people were, so, fine. Fine. *flips a table* I am just fine. (I do love everytime Curtis mentions da Silva’s tight pants, though. It makes Curtis uncomfortable and makes me wheeze with laughter.) I also think Curtis’ disability was well-written. He’s not quite used to it, and even if he is, the presence of people around him makes him uncomfortable. I mean, obviously, as an able-bodied person I am not the best judge. So, maybe I should say that I feel it is well done. If anyone who has read the book and understands how disability and ableism works in literature, please let us know in the comments!

E: Well, this definitely moved very differently than I had thought - the mystery is uncovered (or rather confirmed) in the first few chapters and I had thought it was going to be the base of the plot. Instead it seems it’s focused primarily on how they are going to keep their covers (especially Curtis - the poor dear is a terrible liar) and how they plan to make it out of their situation alive, uncompromised, and with the evidence. It’s definitely not a bad thing that this is how the plot is laid out - it certainly ramps up the tension (and ohhhh the tension between these two is quite delightful). I did hesitate on the plausibility of the set up - for the sake of not spoiling things I’ll simply say that I’m not entirely sure how far the technology used for the said set up had advanced at that time, and that I honestly just can’t picture logistically how it worked - were there just very thick walls with hidden passageways inside? Did I just miss some detail that made the operation all very obvious? Otherwise though the plot makes a perfect set up for our two lovebirds to get up to all sorts of midnight shenanigans and a way to get around the other characters who, with their racist and homophobic comments, would ruin the atmosphere of any romantic setting.


“No, thank you.”
“It’s a jolly good one.”
Da Silva blinked, slowly, like a lizard. “I dare say, but I fear I haven’t converted since we last spoke.”
“Con--Oh, I beg your pardon. I quite forgot you were a Jew.”
“How refreshing. So few people do.”
I don’t know why this exchange kind of reminded me of this moment in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I think it’s Season Two, when Captain Holt mentions something about his old partner who was homophobic but not racist--something that was rare to find in those days. And I wonder if da Silva would agree. Which makes this moment sadder, but also clever--in just a line, we get a wealth of information about da Silva and what he has to put up with all the time.

E: Bah! Yash stole my favourite line! *frantically rifles for another favourite*

“All his previous encounters had been with chaps like himself: soldiers, sportsmen, good fellows. He had an unformed but definite idea that being queer entailed doing something different, womanish, something like the rouged men in those London clubs. Like da Silva, with his perfectly shaped brows and tight trousers and mannerisms. 
Curtis wasn’t like that. He simply didn’t feel queer, whatever that might feel like. He felt like a normal chap who, now and then, enjoyed encounters with other chaps, that was all.”

It’s just so relevant even today where being gay is significantly more expected than in the Edwardian era - it’s not that Curtis ever really actively suppressed believing he was gay - it just never occurred to him that he was because his idea of what that meant was something else entirely (and it's the norm to assume one is straight).  And I definitely still see that attitude today, on both sides of the sentiment.

And that's it for the first half!  Join us tomorrow where we wrap up the book!

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