A SEDITIOUS AFFAIR by K.J. Charles is an epic and transformational love story. If I could rate it higher than 5 stars on Goodreads and Amazon, I would. It has definitely raised the bar for my future reviews. This is the second novel in the Society of Gentlemen historical romance series about a group of gay upper class gentlemen, aristocrats, and their lovers. Their leader is Lord Richard Vane, who has established a network that protects them in a time in England when homosexuality was a crime. This book can be read as a standalone, but would be best experienced after having read Book 1, A Fashionable Indulgence. There are some overlapping scenes and exposition in the beginning to acquaint new readers with the story so far, but the plot quickly and crisply advances thereafter.
The novel opens with a fabulous BDSM scene between the main characters: Silas, a radical democrat who writes anti-establishment pamphlets under the alias of Jack Cade, and his lover, who has a kink for pain and humiliation and aligns with the conservative Tory political party. Silas and his Tory have been meeting discreetly every Wednesday for the past year, though they don’t know each other’s names. The Tory is soon revealed to be Dominic Frey, an employee of the Home Office, which enforces British rule by investigating, arresting, and prosecuting seditionists, like Silas, who rebel against the monarchy and government. Dominic is also Lord Richard’s former lover, with whom he had split because Richard was disgusted by Dominic’s sexual needs. Dominic would then hook up in alleys and with prostitutes and random men to satisfy his kink. Worried about Dominic’s health, a mutual friend “recruits” Silas to help Dominic relieve his needs in a safe environment.
Since Silas had been flogged in prison when he was previously arrested at a riot, he refuses to use toys to hurt Dominic. Instead, Silas torments his Tory erotically, psychologically, and consensually by implying force and using restraints and fear of exposure to obtain Dominic’s reluctant submission. It is incredibly alluring how Silas, a brutish, lower class Londoner, brings the authoritative, dignified, and powerful gentleman to his knees. It is a profound, intimate exchange of power that transforms them into equals. After, replete, they lie in bed, share a bottle of luxurious and expensive wine, and discuss their differing opinions about books, philosophy, social class, and politics. Their relationship is revolutionary and seditious–a democratic and peaceful discourse and a love affair that is forbidden not only because they are gay but because Dominic is tasked with arresting Silas for sedition.
Their love story is unforgettable and achingly beautiful. Dominic is torn between his loyalty to Silas and the nation, and treats Silas with a reverence that Silas has never received from anyone before. Silas is fiercely protective of Dominic, and teaches Dominic that there is nothing wrong with and shameful about his needs. Dominic and Silas were so heroic as they fought for their lives, love, and voice. This novel really did it for me–intellectually and emotionally. The constant thread of fear and danger was intense, the plot’s twists and turns based on historical events were credible and suspenseful, and the confrontation with the villain in the end was brilliantly played out. The recurring characters were perfect in their roles, from the upper crust Ricardians to the emancipated blacks, trans in hiding, and a certain foxy valet.
Yes, the sex scenes were HOT, but more than that they were relevant and insightful–a tacit reiteration that what’s personal is political.
Considering the current state of U.S politics, the intolerance and unwillingness to compromise, this novel has a lot to say about democratic values. K.J. Charles did a wonderful job world-building, bringing her characters to life, and articulating their journey. I still haven’t gotten over how much I loved this book. I so look forward to reading the next novel in K.J. Charles’s Society of Gentlemen series.
*ARC received from NetGalley