I’ve only read two books by this author, but she’s already on my auto-buy list. Traditionally published LGBTQIA historical romance novels are hard enough to come by (like, I don’t actually think I’ve ever seen one before??), but so far both of the books I’ve read by Cat Sebastian have been some of the best romance novels I’ve read, period. They’ve both had everything I look for in a romance novel: interesting characters who get under your skin, indulgence in romance tropes without becoming cliché, plots that don’t make me roll my eyes, good sex scenes (and they are really good), actual chemistry and a believable developing relationship between the leads, and a willingness to try out stuff that romance novels usually don’t (in the case of this book, it’s a character with a severe anxiety disorder). This book also has the added side benefit of actually feeling like historical fiction, which a lot of the times, these books just do not, instead resembling fantasy versions of history (which is fine, by the way).
The titular Lawrence Browne is also known as the Mad Earl, the latest in a line of Mad Earls that also included his father and his brother. Lawrence has locked himself away in his crumbling estate, and all but two of his servants have quit. The local vicar writes to a friend in London (the hero from book one) for help when he believes that Lawrence is in danger of being declared legally incompetent, and his heir and lands taken away from him.
The answer is Georgie Turner, who is there nominally to be Lawrence’s private secretary and help him with his work (he’s an inventor–Sebastian definitely plays with the traditional image of the mad scientist), but is secretly there under orders to find out if Lawrence is really mad. But also secretly secretly he’s there because he’s hiding from some former associates he wronged. Georgie is a con man who tipped off one of his marks they were being conned, and now he’s running from the man he used to work for. He figures he can do this favor for his brother Jack (the vicar’s friend), and then make off with some valuable items, which he will use either to buy his way back into good graces, or to make off for parts unknown.
Of course, they fall in love.
But it’s really satisfying getting there! Georgie is so good for Lawrence. He’s utterly unashamed of who he is, and gradually teaches Lawrence not to be, either. He helps Lawrence cope with his anxiety, and begin to live like a person instead of a barely sentient cave dweller. And Lawrence gives Georgie a reason to finally put down roots. He feels useful and purposeful, and for the first time he allows himself to develop a real connection to another human being, which of course is problematic if you are wanting to rob that other human being blind.
Ugh, I can’t even explain it, it just satisfied me on a deep level. The side characters are great, too.
Also, the cover on this book is sooo much better than her first book, which honestly made cringe it was so bad. I could probably write 10,000 words on the plight of the romance novel cover. It is a topic that makes me lose my mind, so don’t get me started.
I have the third book in this series ready to go and I’m super pumped about it. My Thanksgiving reading plans are all set.