This is the first book in a series called A Society of Gentlemen, a Regency set trilogy about the lives and loves of a group of young men. The first one is somewhat of a take on My Fair Lady, with Harry Vane being plucked from the gutter to take his place in society as an heir to a fortune. His parents were radical reformists, and died for the cause, leaving Harry on his own. HIs grandfather had disowned Harry’s father for his marriage and his views, but now searches Harry out when the other heirs passed away. The only problem is that Harry has no clue how to act in polite society, or how to dress the part. To this end, his cousin Richard steps in to suggest that his friend, Julius Norreys, could be the man to tutor Harry.
Julius is one of those characters that I enjoy reading about – he’s gorgeous, witty, out-spoken and as fashionable as rakes can be during that time period. He’s also a man who has been to war, and now keeps his emotions tightly leashed, seemingly more concerned about the cut of his coat or the polish on his boots. He accepts Richard’s invitation to turn Harry into a proper ton gentleman, thinking he could use the challenge to amuse himself. What he doesn’t expect is the sexual attraction that starts to simmer as soon as they are together.
Harry is a complete opposite to Julius – he’s eager to please, exuberant and optimistic. He quickly learns to enjoy the comforts money can bring, as he tries to keep thoughts of his past firmly locked away. He and Julius are alone together on Richard’s country estate during the tutoring, and it leads to all kinds of erotic fantasies on his part. Harry has been with women in the past, but the attraction he feels for Julius is far greater than for anyone else.
Unfortunately, his grandfather Gideon has a plan for Harry – marry Verona, another cousin, and inherit the money. No marriage, no money. Verona has recently lost her father, and is under Gideon’s thumb as well. She first comes across as snippy and unwilling to go along with the marriage as much as Harry, but she has her own reasons for this. Along with this, the unrest of the time period is causing Harry to feel like he doesn’t belong in high society but he can’t go back to where he came from either. There’s almost too much of the political side of things going on in the book, along with everything else however. I did enjoy Harry and Julius together, and the way that Julius was able to let go of the past and move on. Harry started out as rather naïve, but also progressed a lot during the book. The ending seemed to be a rather easy way of wrapping things up, and not really what I expected after all the turmoil. I’m definitely reading the next two books in the series – the third one about Richard and his valet Cyprian sounds especially decadent!