On Accuracy in Historical Romance

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Adam and Immanuel from The Winter Garden.

Back in April, I presented a paper at Ithaca College’s feminist pop culture conference From Pippi to Ripley on the issues surrounding the perceived “inaccuracies” in historical romance, especially queer historical romance. Since this issue has reared its ugly head again, I thought I would share my paper with you.


 

Queer Historical Romance and the Reclamation of Identity and Power

 In recent years, as media has become more diverse, from Star Wars to romance novels, critics have claimed that portrayals of marginalized characters are historically inaccurate or done to pander to political correctness. What these critics fail to understand is that historical “accuracy” is often far from accurate. As with all wars, to the victors go the spoils and that includes the historical narrative. The narratives found in modern historical romance novels are by and large white supremacist, Christian, and upholding of colonialist values. Following the expansion of LGBT rights and the acceptance of queer characters in media, queer authors have fought to reclaim the history of those who have come before us, whose voices were lost to puritanical scholars and censors that twisted the public’s perception of the trajectory of LGBT lives. By writing historical romances to fill in the missing gaps in queer history, queer writers strengthen the modern community by asserting a history of sexual and bodily autonomy. Modern queer historical romance novels aren’t meant to be a revisionist history but a re-enlightened one that seeks to capture on the page the people and communities that had previously only lived in the margins of history.

If you’ve ever looked at the reviews of any piece of diverse media, you have come across someone spouting that the diversity present is forced or that it was impossible for a homosexual relationship to be semi-public given the time period. Questions of “realism” and “historical accuracy” have been the greatest hindrance to diverse media, but this begs one to consider what is truly historically accurate. In her essay, “Reclaiming Historical Romance,” Elizabeth Kingston posits that often what we, as readers, consider to be historical fact is actually historical fantasy that has been passed down by previous historians and repeated until it morphed into “fact” (Kingston 1). History has been overwhelmingly written by the “victors” or those who have maintained imperialist or political control. For most of the modern Western world, that has been white, Christian, heterosexual men who have espoused white supremacist views in their writings. As Bronski states in A Queer History of the United States, “The writing and reading of history is always, consciously or not, a political act of interpretation” (xiv).

Until the last few decades, queer history has been relegated to the periphery, and those queer figures who appear in the past are seen as aberrations or were viewed as deviants. The language surrounding queer stories in mass media was tainted by white supremacist political views. Despite a large portion of the queer community, especially in the seventeen to early nineteen hundreds being white, they were viewed by the community at large as going against the white supremacist view of sexual purity. This stems from Puritanical Christian views and was widely adopted after the Second Great Awakening (Bronski 89). To deviate from the heteronormative family structure was to go against the entire structure upon which evangelical and puritanical society was built (10). To many, this would mean that queer populations were nonexistent or were so afraid of persecution that they wouldn’t dare act on their feelings, but this is exactly what white supremacists want us to believe. To make a person who is not like them feel isolated or that they should be ashamed of their differences, is a way to keep them powerless. For if they hide who they are, they are less likely to find others who sympathize or understand their situation.

Developing communities of support and creating public sympathy through shared experience is how marginalized populations gain a foothold on power and social autonomy. In the mid-nineteenth century queer communities began to take root in cities and gained visibility. Due to the anonymity of city life and the ease for single people to find same-sex housing, queer relationships could blossom in relative security. Nowhere were these queer communities more visible than in the arts’ districts. Many places we think of as queer communities now, were the same over a century ago. Greenwich Village, Harlem, and Bloomsbury in London became hubs for the arts, which were often dominated by queer voices. Queer voices were consumed by the masses in vaudeville shows, plays, novels, and the visual arts, but as these voices grew stronger, political institutions stepped in to “protect” the public from what they deemed to be dangerous or deviant behavior in flouting their views of sexual purity and gender norms.

As we can see from the Oscar Wilde’s trial, art could be used as evidence against the creator if it contained homosexual or homoerotic themes, but this didn’t stop authors from publishing “scandalous literature” in America and France. While it was illegal to mail sexually explicit material through the mail, it happened and books regarding sexology and those with homosexual themes were increasingly popular well into the first half of the twentieth century (Bronski 126). History has shown that trying to stop publications is like a game of Whack-a-Mole. It was near impossible to stop people from distributing written material, especially since it was protected by the First Amendment, but the government could stop Hollywood from promoting queer or sexually progressive stories, such as Morocco, which featured the first on-screen lesbian kiss. After the US government threatened to create a censorship board, Hollywood adopted the Hays Code (or the Motion Picture Production Code) and began enforcing it in 1934. Among other things, the Hays Code stated that immorality had to be punished on screen, only “correct standards of life” could be portrayed, sexual behavior could not be shown, and “perverse” behavior could not be shown (“The Hays Code”). All of this combined to make it impossible for queer characters or relationships to be portrayed on screen without heavy coding or a tragic ending. The “bury our gays” trope sprung from this code as those who acted “immorally” according to puritanical Christian beliefs had to be punished and in many cases killed as penance for their behavior. Despite that the Hays Code stopped being enforced in 1968, the damage had been done. The general public had internalized years of anti-queer propaganda to the point that fiction became reality and the myth that queer characters could not have happy lives was solidified in Western culture.

Over the past decade, a new genre of romance has solidified itself as a rapidly expanding subset of historical fiction: queer historical romance. These stories seek to fight against the tide of historical myth that has painted queer relationships formed in the past as impossible or filled with strife. Authors such as KJ Charles, E. E. Ottoman, Joanna Chambers, and Cat Sebastian have sought to not only create works of fiction that uphold the idea that queer characters are entitled to a happy ending but have produced scholarship that upholds that what critics believe is historical fact is truly a political agenda to ignore what doesn’t fit their narrative. The question some of you may be asking is, “Why focus on romance?” Historically, romance as a genre has been treated with disdain by academia because it is portrayed as a genre filled with shirtless men and trope-laden stories about love. Bodice-rippers, as historical romances have often been called, are generally women’s fiction. They are stories written for women by women and act upon the desires and fantasies of women that have largely been ignored by society. The Western canon, despite rising scholars’ best efforts is still largely misogynistic, so the stories that are seen as feminine, such as romances, are shelved as drivel for the masses when in reality, romance strikes at the heart of what oppressed populations truly want: autonomy and power over their own destinies.

In her blog post “Historical Romance: Who Gets the HEA,” KJ Charles explores why readers get hung up on supposed historical accuracy in diverse historical romance. She writes, “And yet there is a powerful strand of opinion that holds that any m/m histrom must reflect the fear of legal persecution,…that marginalised people simply cannot have happy endings,…because history was too cruel” (Charles, “Historical Romance”). We see this on a 2 star review for Cat Sebastian’s A Ruin of a Rake. The reviewer states, “It’s extremely difficult to suspend my disbelief about the relationship between Lord Courteny and Julian Medlock as in 1817, Homosexual relationships were illegal and there were very serious consequences if they had been exposed” (Rodriguez). The reader is correct in that there were sodomy laws on the books in England, but the rate at which people were prosecuted for being in a homosexual relationship is far lower than many modern readers realize. Furthermore we must explore the idea of the legality of something being a hindrance for its occurrence. Gambling, graffiti, and jaywalking are all far more visible than the private lives of two people and are all illegal, yet they occur unpunished with alarming frequency. Readers of historical romance rarely complain that a story is lacking lice, a healthy fear of venereal disease, or the stink of chamber pots, but queer or interracial relationships occurring during earlier historical periods are remarked upon. As Kingston states, “Historical Romance is a shared, collaborative fantasy” that has shut out more people than it has let in (Kingston 4). The greater issue is that the trends within traditional historical romance send the message that “only straight white Christians deserve loving relationships” (4). No matter the amount of privilege the characters have, like Lord Courteny who is titled, rich, and already seen as a rake, it is impossible for certain readers to believe that alone could have afforded him the privacy and social standing to not be prosecuted for sodomy.

A key flaw in historical romance, as a genre, is the definition of a happily ever after disproportionately favors straight, white, cis couples. Generally a happily ever after in romance involves the couple courting, getting engaged, married, and often books end with a pregnancy or hint that a family will follow. For queer historical fiction, there are very few instances where that stereotypical happily ever after is possible. The assumption from romance writers and readers that queer love stories can’t be romances because they don’t follow that formula is inherently homophobic, but the greater question is, do we want that ending? The traditional familial model of date, marry, mate, follows a formula endorsed by the social purity movement. The forefathers of that movement, the Puritans, believed that anything outside of the family unit is forbidden and that to ensure society’s stability, partners must be monogamous and make matches in order to procreate. This “traditional” mode of living has gone relatively unquestioned for centuries, and what queer historical fiction offers is a precedent for more complex social and sexual relationships.

Inherently, the writing of romance stories is the private made public. The lives of those who came before us were often obscured for safety reasons or were written over by scholars who chose to ignore or not see what was truly before them. What romance allows us is to speculate how couples came to be and how they navigated the public and private spheres to find their own version of happily ever after. Queer historical romance deviates from the “norm” out of necessity, but it allows readers to explore how a relationship that doesn’t follow the formula of date, marry, mate was still able to thrive. Further, these stories uphold that women’s lives are not “made whole” by children or a husband to support them. Often, Sapphic historical romance involves women who are working to support themselves through a trade. For male-male couples in historical romance, we see how two individuals can live separate lives and without cohabitation still manage to be a long-term couple.

That isn’t to say that all queer historical works involve monogamy. In KJ Charles’ Band Sinister, we meet a group of friends who are for the most part queer, ranging from gay or bisexual to transgender. Three of the men in their hellfire club have had an ongoing relationship with each other for decades. When Sir Philip becomes involved with his new lover, Guy, he makes certain Guy understands how deeply he feels for his two friends. Philip states, “that may not be the kind of love about which the poets write, nor the kind I feel for you, but it’s still real and true as anything in the world” (Charles, Band Sinister 3010). Queer historical fictions allows for greater exploration of different types of love, especially those that have generally been seen as lesser in modern society. We see this blurring of queer/quasiplatonic relationships in many other queer historical works, including KJ Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series, Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series, and Cat Sebastian’s A Duke in Disguise.

Within queer romance, we’re given an intimate look at love that defies labels. Queer stories are “places for individual and collective explorations” that allow us to “[understand] the self through the larger fabric of culture and history and relationality” (Royster). Writing inherently requires us to pull from our own experiences and fears, and by writing within a historical setting and with characters who don’t fit our exact specifications, it allows writers to navigate the difficulties of their own world in a controlled environment and through a lens that allows enough distance and difference for exploration. In a way, we get to know “the self as other and the self as same” (Johnson 429). It is often through writing queer romance that people discover their sexuality or gender identity is more complex than originally thought, and for those who know, it allows a deeper exploration of queer identity than is often possible in real life.

Ultimately, writing is a performative act, and through the creation of images, action, and insertion of the self onto the page, the writer has self-actualized a moment in time (Rogerson 3). Much like photography, writing seeks to create and suspend moments. For queer writers, the images created are somewhat speculative since much of queer history has been erased, ignored, or purposefully left off the page for their own protection. By putting the actions and feelings of queer characters in queer relationships on paper, that missing history is being reasserted and physically actualized where there had once been a gap. Just because that moment or those people didn’t truly exist doesn’t really matter. The perception of history is itself as much fantasy as reality, but what is true is that no matter the rules, people have acted upon queer desire and others have been complicit in affording them a peaceful life. In an age of renewed fervor in the social purity movement, queer writers are digging in their heels and reasserting their sexual and bodily autonomy by reweaving the roots of history that were torn asunder decades and centuries past. By writing the past, they cement themselves in the present.

Queer historical romance aims to blow the dust off history by uncovering those who lived in the margins and reassert that history has been far less heteronormative than it has been portrayed to be. In recent years, queer historical romance has grown into a major subgenre of romance novels, and this assertion of sexual autonomy through the written word has come as a counterstrike against the white supremacist ideology dominating politics and romance novels. Despite what detractors might believe, queer relationships have always existed in America, and queer historical romance is not fiction in the way they think. Romance novels are the private made public, and queer historical romance is a reassertion of identity and sexual autonomy, a reminder that, no matter what social purists might say regarding queer relationships or non-heteronormative relationships, they have always existed and will continue to flourish.

 

 

Works Cited

Bronski, Michael. A Queer History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2011. ReVisioning American History.

Charles, KJ. Band Sinister. E-book, KJC Books, 2018.

—. “Historical Romance: Who Gets the Happy Ending.” KJ Charles, 10 Oct. 2018, kjcharleswriter.com/2018/10/10/historical-romance-who-gets-hea/?fbclid=IwAR2wHOz1DzIW2gP9IFfRcSRSXS9GQgEjjmcCFbh4cbbm8CYSTv7SDyXQ5s4.

Johnson, E. Patrick. “Queer Epistomeologies: Theorizing the Self from a Writerly Place Called Home.” Biography, vol. 34, no. 4, Summer 2011, pp. 429-46. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

Kingston, Elizabeth. “Reclaiming Historical Romance.” Elizabeth Kingston, Dec. 2018. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.

Rodriquez, Cecilia. “Masculine Pygmalion.” Review of A Ruin of a Rake. Amazon.com, 16 Mar. 2018, http://www.amazon.com/Ruin-Rake-Cat-Sebastian/product-reviews/0062642537/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_hist_2?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=two_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.

Rogerson, Stephanie. “Without Words You Spoke: Early Snapshot Photography and Queer Representation.” Afterimage, vol. 36, no. 1, July 2008, pp. 10-13. EBSCOhost. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

Royster, Francesca T. “Introductory Notes: Performing Queer Lives.” Biography, vol. 34, no. 3, Summer 2011, pp. v-xii. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

 

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Reading Rec: Gilded Cage

In Gilded Cage, we find a lady detective having to team up with an ex-flame but current jewel thief to clear his name of murder.

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Templeton Lane, part of the infamous Lilywhite Boys, is no stranger to danger, but when he arrives to steal an opal necklace and stumbles across a double homicide, he knows he is in deep trouble. On the run and trying to keep his partner in crime and associates safe, he knows there is only one person he can turn to: Susan Lazarus. Susan hates the Lilywhite Boys and especially hates Templeton Lane after he deserted her when they were teens, but when Templeton turns up needing help, Lazarus decides she must get to the bottom of the mystery, even if it does help her lout of an ex. Together they must figure out who would want to set Templeton up before the villain takes them all down.

I received an ARC of Gilded Cage in exchange for an honest review. This book is also the second in the Lilywhite Boys series, so you should read book one (because it’s damn good) but it isn’t required.

If you like characters who have hard exteriors and rather soft insides, this series is probably for you. What I love about Lazarus and Lane are that they are hardened by the jobs and lives they have pursued separately, and even though they have been separated for years and reconnect under rather tense circumstances, they still fit. These characters don’t magically regress to who they were years ago when they meet. They’re still changed people and must learn to figure out if and how they fit. Of course there’s also the frustration of miscommunication and being on opposite sides of the law to contend with that give it an enemies to lovers feel, which just adds to the dramatic tension in the story. The moments of tenderness in this story help to counterbalance the tension and the horrific nature of the murders that make up the other half of the action.

And what a good mystery it is. A room full of jewels, a dead jeweler and his manservant, a lawyer, a newly discovered nephew, and a jewel thief who never should have made it out of the house alive. If you’ve ever read KJ Charles’s other works, you know she is ingenious when it comes to writing mysteries, and Gilded Cage is no different. There are enough moving parts and gaps in the narrative to keep it interesting without getting bogged down with procedural tedium. I love how the Lane and Lazarus work outside the law and manage to be underhanded without truly being criminal. It’s a fun knife’s edge to watch them walk, especially after knowing Lazarus’s origins from an earlier series. On that same note, we get to see how three of Charles’s series are interconnected and converge in this book. Lots of characters to run into twenty years down the line from their books along with others you won’t expect to hear about.

Overall, Gilded Cage is a cracking good mystery with complex characters learning to become better versions of themselves.

Gilded Cage comes out October 23rd, so keep your eye on Amazon or your favorite retailer for a copy.

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Reading Rec: A Little Light Mischief

A Little Light Mischief is a novella that captured my heart with a blunt lady’s maid and a cast out spinster teaming up for a bit of revenge and romance.

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Alice Stapleton is newly cast out and newly a lady’s companion, but now that she no longer has her father’s vicarage to run, she’s itching to something, which is apparently something the ton don’t do. To occupy herself, she sews, writes, and studies the assets of her companion’s lady’s maid. Molly knows Alice is watching, but she’s sworn off the sins of her past unless absolutely necessary, but there’s something about the quiet woman that intrigues her. As they grow closer, Alice and Molly find they have far more in common than they thought and embark on a revenge mission to get Alice back what she lost.

I received a copy of A Little Light Mischief in exchange for an honest review, and keep in mind, I really like Cat Sebastian’s books, so I’m a tad biased. If you like your romance on the low stress side, this novella is for you. Plus, it’s f/f, which is even better!

What I love about this story is both main characters are women with jobs. We tend to think of Regency period women as wandering aimlessly through the grounds or a mother, but both Molly and Alice are take-charge in their own ways and very capable people. There is discussion of women’s work in terms of value and the unseen toll of being a woman, especially under the control of a man. I love seeing this power dynamic being discussed in a context that isn’t centering on a marriage. Both Molly and Alice harbor secrets from their past, but neither dominates their lives and they aren’t the fallen angels some authors would happily portray them as.

Molly is what I wished other “strong” historical women were like. She’s loud, she’s take-charge, she’s cunning, but she isn’t a caricature. She’s multifaceted and willing to quiet down and meet Alice in the middle. Meanwhile, Alice is drawn out of her shell by Molly and uses her new-found moxie to help them both. Women helping women is my jam and needs to be in more f/f fiction (looking at you, Sarah Waters).

Overall, A Little Light Mischief is a wonderful f/f romance novella that has characters you cheer for and villains you are more than happy to see get their come-up-ins.

Grab your copy here.

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The Wolf Witch is Out Today!

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The sixth book in the Ingenious Mechanical Device is out today! You can grab a paperback or ebook copy of THE WOLF WITCH on Amazon here.

Since returning to England from abroad, Emmeline Jardine has managed to get a place of her own, maintain a tenuous truce with her guardians, and celebrate her new found freedom by attending as many parties as she can manage. That is until a man claiming to be her father shows up.
Her father has a problem. Her half-brother, Wesley, has disappeared while investigating possible werewolf sightings, and he needs Emmeline’s help finding him. Emmeline reluctantly agrees only to find there are others interested in Wesley’s plight. When she receives a mysterious invitation to a country estate deep in the woods, Emmeline is shocked to find a familiar face there.
Nadir Talbot, Decadent, writer, and all around nuisance, infuriates her to no end, but Emmeline soon finds he is the only she can turn to as they are thrust into a world of werewolves, monsters, and secrets from her family’s past that threaten to bring the empire to its knees.

Emmeline has done a lot of growing since Dead Magic, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading her story and following her on her journey to discovering who she truly is.

If you pre-ordered a copy, it will be waiting for you on your Kindle, and if you enjoyed THE WOLF WITCH, I hope you will leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. They help small time authors like me a lot in terms of visibility.

I hope you all enjoy THE WOLF WITCH, and I will have news soon on my next project, which involves characters mentioned in THE WOLF WITCH.

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Reading Rec: Hither, Page

Hither, Page is a murder-town mystery featuring a spy, a doctor struggling with PTSD, a dead maid, and a socialist, flask-swilling, graveyard inhabiting teenage girl who may be my favorite person in a book ever.

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Dr. Sommers wants nothing more than stability and to put the war behind him, but in a country that is still picking up the pieces, that’s hard to do, even harder when his town’s peace is shattered by the death of the town gossip. In comes Leo Page, a spy for the crown whose entire life has been a series of transient identities. Page and Sommers soon team up to discover who killed the gossiping chambermaid and uncover the townspeople’s secrets, but they find more than they bargained for in each other.

First off, I received an ARC of Hither, Page in exchange for an honest review, and secondly, I’m super biased because Cat Sebastian’s books are some of my favorites but if you like romance with mystery and social commentary, then you’ll probably like it as well.

This was one of those books that was so satisfying that I was beyond overjoyed to see that it was part of a series. What I loved about this book is how Sebastian is able to take characters who might be seen as horrid people in other lights and show their humanity and goodness. The characters in Hither, Page are layered, and as you get further in the book, the layers peel away to reveal who they truly are, for better or worse. Sommers is one of those do-gooders who truly only wants the best for others while Page is great at his job as an agent because it is so easy to shed identities when you never really had one. They compliment each other perfectly, stability and flux, and their relationship is a slower burn considering the genre.

The ensemble cast and setting are what really makes this couple shine. There are high stakes in terms of intrigue, but that’s tempered by a sleepy, peaceful country town filled with children and little old ladies who make ginger cookies. To counterbalance the imagery and aftermath of war, there is so much tenderness in this story. The imagery of Christmas decorations and canned soup on a cold night are touches that make this story shine above other historical romances.

Hither, Page comes out tomorrow! Pre-order a copy here.

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Massive Series Sale!

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Need to Catch up on the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series?

Now is the perfect time to catch up on the first five books of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series before The Wolf Witch comes out July 12th.
Why?
Because the entire series is on sale from today to June 8th. Internationally (I believe), The Earl of Brass and The Gentleman Devil are free.
In the US, The Earl and the Artificer, Dead Magic, and Selkie Cove are all discounted ($1.99 or less!).
I don’t often heavily discount this series, so now is the time to jump on the later books in the series!

Grab your copies below:
The Earl of Brass (Book 1)
The Gentleman Devil (Book 2)
The Earl and the Artificer (Book 3)
Dead Magic (Book 4)
Selkie Cove (Book 5)
The Wolf Witch (Book 6)

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A Preview of The Wolf Witch

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It is 43 days until The Wolf Witch officially releases, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to post a teaser. This story takes place after the events of Selkie Cove and can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind reading a series out of order. You can pre-order The Wolf Witch on Amazon and have it delivered to your Kindle on the release day. Paperbacks will be forthcoming.


Chapter One: A Wolf and a Pinkerton

Wesley Bisclavret didn’t believe in coincidences. The fact that three gruesome murders had gone unreported in a city like London was the first clue that something was amiss. After Ripper, the press should have been all over it, yet no paper he picked up even mentioned the killings. The second was that they appeared to have been caused by a wolf, and to Wesley’s knowledge, he was the only werewolf in all of Britain and he certainly hadn’t done it. It didn’t take a Pinkerton to realize that someone with some clout had something to hide.

Snuffling along the cobbles, Wesley’s wolf lifted its head at the sound of a steamer chugging down the lane. Its ears flattened in annoyance as it pushed into the hedges again. This is why Wesley never took city assignments. The stench of so much garbage on top of thousands of bodies made it nearly impossible to track anyone, and the racket of banging and thrumming from streets over gave him a headache. Dogs could do it, but he was part man and that made things more difficult. He should have told Les Meutes to shove their assignment, but he needed to prove that he was more than just his father’s son.

The moment the cab passed, the wolf slunk out and shook the grime from its back. At least England didn’t have so many horses. The damn things seemed to know a werewolf from a dog and made a god-awful racket when they got too close. Most of his work took him to the West or up the Mississippi. At least there, he could blend into the shadows even if wolves had long since abandoned those parts for fear of running into humans. In Louisiana, he had grown up stalking bandits with his father and the  rest of the local packs, moving through the trees on silent paws as one. Wolves lived in those parts, bobcats too, but here… Here, there was nothing but the occasional scraggly stray dog and rats that looked as if they ate better than he did. Even their parks were barely more than manicured lawns. It was depressing.

When the streets fell silent, Wesley’s wolf padded down the cobbles and sniffed the air. Cologne. Expensive cologne and fancy food. French, if he wasn’t mistaken. His mouth watered at the heady perfume of beef hanging in the air, but with a shake of its head, the wolf continued on, following the familiar smell lurking beneath it. Its tail flicked as its lips curled into a semblance of a smile. They had him now. Shifting its eyes between the pavement and the road ahead, the wolf followed the smell through the city, ducking into parks or behind iron fences and trees like some feral creature whenever a human shape cut through the nighttime fog.  Trotting across the road to a row of neat red brick houses choked in ivy and with fences sharp as iron pikes, Wesley could taste the slick of paint on his tongue and the stench of flowers that had no business being concentrated into perfume. Dandies, he huffed, curling his lip as the wolf sneezed out the irritating odor.

Wesley’s wolf darted past a house alight with the clamor of a party in full swing, hoping no one spotted him through the window as he picked up the scent in the next shadow. Trailing down the alley between the two houses, his wolf lifted its head. The other wolf was here or had been recently. He was certain of it. As his wolf lifted its leg on the corner of the house, Wesley figured out his next move. Even in his human form, he could smell his way back to the house and confront the man. Squeezing past the garbage littering the back alley, Wesley’s wolf froze. Its mouth watered at the scent, and it instinctively licked its teeth as if it could taste it.

The primal part of the wolf stirred within. Blood, and where there’s blood, there’s flesh.

Shit, Wesley thought as he pushed past the mottled brown and black wolf.

Pain ripped through him as his bones broke with a sickening crunch, stretching until every ligament tore only to reform the moment he feared they would sever. Claws sunk beneath the flesh of his digits as they lengthened to form pink fingers and toes that curled against the war of natures. Fur flattened into skin, which grew and darkened to accommodate his new but all too familiar form. Keeping his head low, he bit back a scream as his face and jaw caved in before rebuilding into a human skull. Wesley staggered forward with his hand on his throat to brace against the bile that rose where a cry should have been. Leaning against the garden wall, Wesley rested his forehead against the cool brick and panted as the final reverberations of the curse passed. It never seemed to get easier. Rain pattered against the skin of his bare back, cooling the crescendo of aggravated nerve endings until he could think again. A shiver passed through him that took his breath away as the wolf curled deep within him. It was times like this that he understood why his brother refused to shift anymore. It hurt like hell even at the best of times.

He rubbed his arms and passed a hand through his chestnut hair until it brushed against the bundle of fabric draped around his neck like a yolk. Pulling the makeshift collar from his throat, he unfurled a pair of trousers and a wrinkled shirt. Somehow seeing a collar around a wolf’s neck gave people pause. The line between pet and predator was thin, and thankfully a collar led to more awkward head pats than gunshots. Quickly dressing and pocketing the leather kit he had hidden within the bundle, Wesley peered into the darkened windows at the back of the house. Through the part in the curtains, he couldn’t see a soul, but the tang of cooling blood was unmistakable. He choked down the saliva pooling in his mouth and focused on the back door. Pulling the picks from the leather pouch, he worked them through each tumbler despite his trembling hands. With a soft snick, the door yielded.

Standing on the threshold, Wesley listened for footsteps but when none came, he closed the door and crept through the back parlor. The servants must have the night off, he thought as he inhaled the familiar scent of furniture polish and something herbaceous. He didn’t know enough to differentiate the plants, but memories of following Grand-père into New Orleans to consult Madam Laveau and the other knowing queens surfaced in the gloom. Their parlors had made his nose itch with the pungent aroma of ground herbs and smoke, but what clung to his senses were the tenuous stirrings of magic. Not quite a smell or a feeling, each remnant was unique to its owner. It’s why the priestesses rarely crossed the werewolves; they could sniff out who had done them wrong. Copper, flesh, and the underlying smell of magic hung heavy as he crossed the dining room. Upstairs, the wolf nudged. Turning the corner, Wesley jolted, a growl rising in his throat at the flash of motion at the end of the hall. His shoulders sagged as he realized it was only his reflection staring back from a gilt mirror.

As he reached the base of the steps, the stench of the other wolf trailed from the door to the shadows of the second floor. It didn’t smell like the wolves back home. They smelled like nature, like leaves and sap clinging to fur. The refuse of the city clung to the other crime scenes: slobber and wet fur overlain with waste and ash. Something was wrong with this one, horribly wrong if the crime scenes were any indication of its character. Thankful for his bare feet, Wesley silently walked up the steps, pushing back the wolf inside him as it rose to flick its tongue out to taste the blood in the air. We’re on duty, he reminded the wolf as the scent grew so powerful he could barely register the other wolf anymore. At the end of the hall, a door stood ajar. Even without the lights on, he could make out papers standing starkly against the carpet and the bookcase tipped over in the struggle, its contents dumped unceremoniously on the floor atop a misshapen, bloody heap. Keeping his eyes on the shelves littering the study, he searched among the clay seals etched with cartouches and the mummies of long-dead creatures. Had it been a thief? The other crime scenes had been ransacked too, but nothing ever appeared to be taken. Not one item on the workbench across the room, littered with jars of dried spices and things so pickled he couldn’t tell if they were plant or animal, seemed out of place.

Glass littered the floor where the victim had dropped a jar of blue powder. Apart from the shelf of books that had overturned in the struggle, nothing appeared to be amiss. Collecting himself, Wesley turned to face the body. Blood soaked into the carpet, spreading away from the broken body where a pale, lined hand peeked out. Wesley tried not to breathe as he pulled the shelf back, cringing as the last of the books clinging to the shelves clattered to the floor. The carpet squished beneath his feet and stained his soles red as he looked down at the white-haired gentleman who lay twisted on the rug. He stared up at nothing, his spectacles cracked and askew, his mouth open in an anguished cry. Wesley made the sign of the cross and shook his head.

Lowering his gaze to the man’s chest, Wesley carefully lifted the lapel of his bloody tweed jacket. The gorge rose in his throat at the sight of his half-eaten liver and the rope of his intestines hanging loose from his body. Bite and claw marks scored his ribs and left what remained of his pink, wiry flesh in shreds. Wesley closed his eyes. It had been the same with the other murders. All the victims had lived in decent neighborhoods, had enough money to be comfortable without attracting attention, and all had been eviscerated. Even the most moon-sick wolf wouldn’t resort to something so abhorrent. This wasn’t simply some mutant hybrid or hot-housed wolf. This was something far more sinister, something without rules or a shred of human decency left. Perhaps the human part was the problem.

Cocking his head, Wesley noticed that between the dead man’s outstretched fingers was a clump of rough black fur. He squatted down and plucked it from his hand, turning it over in the light as he rubbed his fingers over the coarse strands. At home, he could have gone to his father or the other families for help, but here it was just him. There had to be some way he could tip off the authorities without exposing himself. Holding the wad of black fur to his nose, Wesley drew in a deep breath to commit the smell to memory. The wolf rubbed across his mind in agitation, but Wesley ignored it. There had to be some clue as to how the victims were linked. As he rose to his feet, his attention twitched to the door. For a second, he could have sworn he heard—

At the sound of a board whining in the foyer, Wesley sprang over the desk. Standing before it, he yanked at his shirt, sending a button flying, but there was no time. He called to the wolf, and the beast rose within him, bringing forth the stillness of eons past, the scent of wet earth, and the agony of evolution. Wesley’s bones tore and fur shot through his skin like hot needles, but there was no time to recover. Shaking his head, he struggled to free himself from the cloth tangled around his neck. He kicked and shook, glancing toward the door as the muffled tread approached. How stupid could he be? As he pawed the shirt over his nose, a blow hit him squarely in the side. He stumbled into the heavy oaken desk, teeth bared as two men in worn, rough uniforms loomed over him. In their hands were long poles ending in blunt metal spears with a loop dangling beneath them. The closest man pushed the tip of the pole against the flesh of his neck where the fabric collar had once been while the other pinned him by pressing his weapon into the soft flesh of his belly. The wolf snarled, but when the men didn’t retreat, it bit at the pole. As the wolf snapped, the second man lunged forward, hooking a burning chain around his neck.

Spots flashed in their vision as the chain tightened around their throat until they gagged. Wesley wanted to transform, the wolf wanted to escape, but they couldn’t. In that moment, he could see himself as man and wolf, but the fluid bridge between them had been hopelessly tangled. His paws slid against the carpet as he staggered back. Before he could try to slip from the makeshift noose, a woman appeared, her fine features silhouetted in the library’s golden glow. Her silver hair had been pulled back in a tight bun, and while her face had lined with time, her bearing gave no hint of infirmity.

“You are hereby under arrest by order of Her Majesty’s Interceptors for murder and for violating the sovereign laws governing extranormal creatures and for the murder of Alexander Lockwood,” she said, her eyes staring past the wolf to speak to the man within.

Without looking away, she raised a tube the length of a flute to her lips and blew. A hot prick of pain jolted through Wesley’s flank as the first man let go. The metal pole disappeared only to be replaced by the weight of a net. The wolf took a step forward, but before Wesley could attempt to pull the wolf back, a wave of fatigue washed over them. Their legs slid out from under them, and they tipped headfirst into the rug. All thoughts fled from their mind, except the smell of blood and the chain burning deep into their neck. Their eyes flickered and their tongue lolled under the weight of the their binds, but before they could muster the strength to rise again, the world teetered and went black.


You can pre-order The Wolf Witch here or you can grab the rest of the series on Amazon. Book one, The Earl of Brass, is 99 cents for the ebook.

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The Wolf Witch is Available for Pre-order!

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*taps microphone* I finally finished The Wolf Witch. *collapses*

If you’ve been following me for some time, you know that 2018 wasn’t my year.  I hit a mental low due to things being frustratingly beyond my control, and this poor book suffered for it. I rewrote it in its entirety (all 53,000 words of it) and then added another 37,000 words to finally finish it off. It’s done. Well, apart from final edits.

I’m super proud of what The Wolf Witch has become and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have. Here is the blurb:

Since returning to England from abroad, Emmeline Jardine has managed to get a place of her own, maintain a tenuous truce with her guardians, and celebrate her new found freedom by attending as many parties as she can manage. That is until a man claiming to be her father shows up.

Her father has a problem. Her half-brother, Wesley, has disappeared while investigating possible werewolf sightings, and he needs Emmeline’s help finding him. Emmeline reluctantly agrees only to find there are others interested in Wesley’s plight. When she receives a mysterious invitation to a country estate deep in the woods, Emmeline is shocked to find a familiar face there.

Nadir Talbot, Decadent, writer, and all around nuisance, infuriates her to no end, but Emmeline soon finds he is the only she can turn to as they are thrust into a world of werewolves, monsters, and secrets from her family’s past that threaten to bring the empire to its knees.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting some snippets from the story along with other extras. The Wolf Witch is due out July 12th. You can pre-order the ebook on Amazon, and the paperback will be available as it gets closer to the release date.

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Reading Rec: Proper English

In Proper English by KJ Charles, we get a competitive riflewoman, a fiancee who needs to use her spine, and a shooting party complete with a dead body.

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All Pat wants is a shooting party where she can relax and not think about what will happen now that her brother is to be married and she will have to move. What she thought would be a few days with the boys turns out to be a far more mixed party, but luckily, the distractions are worth it. Fenella, her friend’s fiancee, immediately catches her eye. On the outside she appears bubbly and shallow, she’s far more than she appears and is totally wasted on Jimmy. But as they grow closer, the party grows more tense with threats of blackmail that end in a murder. Together Pat and Fen must figure out who killed the blackmailer before more secrets are exposed.

It’s refreshing to have a f/f historical romance for once since typically I read far more m/m historical romance (since it’s more widely available and not nearly as expensive). I received an ARC of Proper English in exchange for an honest review and devoured it in two days. I regret nothing. Proper English is a fantastic balance between romance and mystery without either being skimped on. Both characters have gumption, in their own ways, and yet are feminine, once again, in different but equal ways. Pat is a champion markswoman who runs her brother’s house like a well oiled machine. She knows she will need to step down now that he is married, but she doesn’t know what she will do or if she should open a shooting school for women. Fen is much softer on the outside and often seen as frivolous because that is what is expected of her. Both women reveal they are far more than they appear on the outside. One of the things I always worry about with f/f historical romance is that they’ll be mean to each other or awful people (you can think Sarah Waters for scarring me there), but that isn’t a problem with KJ Charles’ work. They’re charming, flawed, and more than willing to grow and love.

As much as I liked the romance, I think I preferred the mystery more. Charles’ mysteries are always well crafted and have me guessing until the end as to who is the culprit. It’s rare that a writer can blend both genres so masterfully and manage to balance the narrative, so it doesn’t feel shoe-horned in. The suspects all have motive, and in the spirit of Clue, we all hate the murder victim and want to love the suspects. I think it makes it a little more fun when everyone thinks the victim had it coming.

Overall, Proper English is a wonderful f/f whodunit romance that gives us all we ever wanted in a f/f historical romance: two clever women, a party, steamy moments, and a dead body.

Grab a copy when Proper English releases tomorrow, May 8th.

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Reading Rec: A Duke in Disguise

In A Duke in Disguise, we get a long-lost nobleman, a saucy book about historical figures, and a woman who loves cheese nearly as much as I do.

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Verity wants nothing more than to keep her family’s paper open despite her brother heading recklessly toward the gallows with his seditious ramblings. The only thing that seems to temper him is their dear friend, Ash. Ash is adrift. His ex-guardian and dear friend is headed off to Italy to improve his health, and after moving in with Verity and her brother, he finds himself unable to maintain the distance he once was able with her. The attraction is mutual, but they fear what might happen should their friendship become more since neither has many friends or relations to spare. That is until a chance meeting sends Ash into a crash course with a family full of secrets, some that will illuminate his past.

I received an ARC of A Duke in Disguise in exchange for an honest review and have been a fan of Cat Sebastian for a while, so take that into consideration when reading this review. Verity and Ash have a special place in my heart. Both are so earnest and sweet in their own ways, oblivious to the depth of each other’s feelings in a way that makes you want to simultaneously bash their heads together and hug them.

Verity is what I love in a heroine: strong-willed, driven (to the point of distraction), and a bit messy. I particularly love a heroine who has an appetite. In this case, food and sex (and we get some bi rep!). Ash is equally endearing. He is an artist who also has to deal with epilepsy. This features into the story’s plot, but it is handled realistically and doesn’t dominate the narrative. Ash is a softer hero, which I appreciate greatly in romance and is one of the reasons I love Cat Sebastian’s stories. He’s capable, tactful, and warm without being domineering or rude. The side characters, like Aunt Caroline and Roger are some of my favorite characters in this story. I am still hoping for short stories featuring the older characters because I’m a softy and love them as much as Ash does.

Overall, A Duke in Disguise has a wonderfully strong cast filled with characters devoted to each other. If you’re looking for a romance with reluctant nobility, an examination of power dynamics, and lots of wine, cheese, and cranky cats, you’re in for a treat.

A Duke in Disguise comes out April 9th, so grab a copy on Amazon now and have it delivered to your Kindle next week.

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