I almost feel like I don’t want to write a review of this book, just maybe sit with it a while, scroll through and read some of my favorite parts again. But in short, I really liked it and it’s a more than worthy trilogy ender. Even with the lackluster first book, I would still recommend this series, but you definitely need to read all of them, as the central plot would be pretty confusing if you didn’t.
This book wraps up the plot started in book one with the murder of the ex-clergyman who turned out to be blackmailing an earl over being a bigamist, and which snowballed into a series of murders and lots of people searching for the secret lost heir of said earl. Our lost heir is Repentance Godfrey, aka Pen Starling (his twin sister was christened Regret Godfrey, but goes by Greta). They are acrobats. Pen has absolutely no desire to become earl, so when enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz shows up and tells him about his inheritance, he rejects the idea entirely. Being the earl would mean not only giving up being an acrobat, the one place he feels he can truly be himself, but also taking on responsibility he is in no way ready for. But mostly, Pen is probably what we would identify as gender fluid today, but of course he has no vocabulary for that in 1870s England. (I’m going to use the pronouns “him” and “he” because that’s what the narrative does; Pen states he’s not a “she” or an “it” in the book, and “he” seems best out of his limited options.)
Being the earl would mean dressing like a man all the time. It would mean no more face paint or earrings or silky bright colored clothes, and it would mean cutting his long hair. It might also mean public trial and shame, if events in his past come to light. The whole thing is a nightmare for Pen, and he wishes it would just go away. Unfortunately, it won’t. People are dying, and Pen might be next. To makes things worse, he and Mark the enquiry agent (who was in the previous two books as well) end up falling love. Mark also doesn’t have the vocabulary, but he appears to be pansexual. But Mark is also very practical, and he ends up making a decision that could cost Pen everything.
I really liked Mark and Pen together. They have some great banter, and really seem to like each other right off the bat. It’s not just a lust thing. They get each other’s humor, and understand each other’s personalities. And both Pen and Mark really felt like fully fleshed out characters, and their stories were more than just the thing they were “repping” (in Pen’s case, gender fluidity, and in Mark’s, his disability as he only has one arm). Charles was very good here in milking all the tension out of the situation, giving Pen his worst nightmare twice over SPOILER the earldom and its consequences, and Mark’s betrayal END SPOILERS and giving Mark an impossible decision between giving the person he loves what he wants, and keeping that person alive.
I will definitely be revisiting this series in the future and I hope K.J. Charles releases her next book soon.