Wow! So, it turns out I haven’t done a book review around here since, uh, September. Yup, just about five months ago. Well done, me. Part of that is because when I finally drag a review out of my brain, my instinct is to post it to Nisaba Be Praised, since that’s primarily a book blog and this is primarily a style blog. Buuuut I know not everybody likes to click through to my NBP posts, so we’ll see if I can’t get up off my arse and post reviews both here and there, more often.
(Quick question: does anybody click through? Like, anybody? I know Laura does–and bless your heart, Laura–but, short of being an actual smart blogger and going to look at the NBP stats on days that I link over, I’m not sure if anybody ever bothers.)
Anyhow! This particular review is dedicated to Tia, because I bought this book on my Kindle recently after reading about it ages ago on Dear Author–and I picked it up at least halfway because it sounded like something Tia would enjoy. I wasn’t wrong!
“Belimai Sykes is many things: a Prodigal, the descendant of ancient demons, a creature of dark temptations and rare powers. He is also a man with a brutal past and a dangerous addiction. And Belimai Sykes is the only man Captain William Harper can turn to when faced with a series of grisly murders. But Mr. Sykes does not work for free and the price of Belimai’s company will cost Captain Harper far more than his reputation.
From the ornate mansions of noblemen, where vivisection and sorcery are hidden beneath a veneer of gold, to the steaming slums of Hells Below, Captain Harper must fight for justice and for his life. His enemies are many and his only ally is a devil he knows too well. Such are the dangers of dealing with the wicked.” (via Goodreads)
If I may paraphrase the above summary, Wicked Gentlemen, by Ginn Hale, is many things: an urban fantasy/paranormal/Alternate Universe, a suspense/thriller, a gay romance. Putting it like that, it sounds busy and disjointed, but the elements actually flow together seamlessly and create a rich, interesting world–one that I’d really like to see more of.
Essentially, there are people in the world called Prodigals, who are descendents of demons repented and left Hell. Prodigals are treated as second-class citizens; they aren’t allowed to leave the capital city of Crowncross and mostly live in an underground ghetto called Hells Below. They’re looked down upon by humans and are often hauled off by Inquisitors, priest-police who deal with both criminal and religious matters and who often use any excuse to bring Prodigals in and torture them for information. Belimai Sykes is one such Prodigal, who spent time under the terrible prayer engines that left him addicted to the opiate ophorium and who is a reclusive, sardonic shell of his former self. When he finds Inquisition Captain Will Harper at his door, willing to pay Belimai to help hunt down Captain Harper’s missing sister, neither of them realize what will come of their pairing.
The book is actually split up into two novellas and an epilogue. The first, “Mr. Sykes and the Firefly,” is told from Belimai’s first-person perspective, while the second, “Captain Harper and the Sixty Second Circle,” comes from Captain Harper’s third-person perspective. From what I understand, a lot of readers preferred Belimai’s POV and were disappointed by the switch; not so with Mia. While Belimai’s snarky, descriptive tone is darkly funny and compelling, I also really enjoyed seeing things more from Captain Harper’s position. He’s not as immediately charming as Belimai, but I got a very distinct sense of the private, duty-driven kind of person that Captain Harper is, and I liked him quite a bit. I will admit that I didn’t realize (read: remember) that the book was split into two parts, and was quite surprised when the story arc of “Mr. Sykes and the Firefly” wrapped up quite a bit more quickly than I was expecting. The endings of both stories are a bit abrupt, but I do think that the world and characters are well fleshed-out, and mostly I was just left wanting to know more.
I was also quite impressed by the balance between the romance and action parts of the stories; the world the characters live in is quite dark and grim (many reviews describe it as being steampunky, which I don’t really buy, other than the arrested-technological-development aspect), and Belimai and Captain Harper spend a lot of time running around and shooting people and trying not to get caught, but the romance never felt shoehorned in, and the pacing is pretty smooth and exciting. It’s a different kind of romance than what I’m used to, although admittedly I’ve only read a handful; Belimai’s and Captain Harper’s relationship is very private, a love story between two introverts, and I found it quite touching. The non-het nature of their relationship is never really called into question, and non-het relationships in general don’t seem to be an issue–other than one line where two side-characters are called “faggots” by the somewhat one-dimensional villain–which was somewhat refreshing; it’s not really a coming-out story for either character. When Captain Harper struggles with himself, it’s more about his relationship with Prodigals than his relationship with men, and Belimai’s personal growth comes more from forgiving himself for the things he’s done in the past. There’s one graphic sex scene and one other (I think) fade-to-black, and a million other little things that show us how the two go from having casual sex (or “a drunk-fuck,” as Belimai calls it) to really caring for one another.
In the cons column, there were more typos than I generally approve of in a finished product, and the prose gets a little clunky at times. It took me a little while to really get into the story, as the beginning didn’t really draw me in, but after a while I found that my mind kept coming back to the book when I wasn’t reading. For a few days after I finished, I kept going around thinking, “Oh, cool, later I can pick up Wicked Gentlemen again and see what–oh, damn, no I can’t, it’s over!”
All in all, if any of the genres involved sound up your alley, I’d say give it a go. The ebook is only $5.99 on Amazon, although I’m thinking of picking up a paperback copy so that I can share it out to friends. I’d love to read more quality LGBT fantasy romance like this, and in fact, I want my own lesbian fantasy story to reach this quality (though it won’t get there if I’m sitting around wishing it to be so!). Although, sadly, it doesn’t look like Ginn Hale has written any other books about Crowncross or Belimai and Captain Sykes, there are a couple other novels listed on her site, and I think I’m going to look into tracking them down. If the characterizations are as well done in her other works as they are in Wicked Gentlemen, I won’t be sorry.
(As a bonus: I don’t know if it’s the “Captain” part, or the fact that Crowncross seems to be a London analogue, or what, but I kept imagining John Barrowman as Captain Harper:
Let’s just say it didn’t hurt.)