Thanks to Netgalley and Avon for the ARC. It hasn’t affected the content of my review.
For some reason I thought this was a f/f historical? Like, for a very long time. I requested it on Netgalley just to see if they would give it to me, and they did! And then when I got it I realized those weren’t ladies on the cover, but dudes, and this was about a highwayman and a lord falling in love! In an 18th century coffeeshop. My disappointment over it not being about ladies quickly fell by the wayside because I love a good historical featuring capers and radicals and anti-establishment criminals.
This one actually has quite a bit of plot, which I appreciated. It’s set in the mid-18th century, a welcome change from Regency-era historicals. Our two heroes are the titular Kit Webb, a former infamous highwayman (who went by the name Gladhand Jack) who is now retired from the life due to a job gone wrong that left him with a bum leg and a dead partner. His coffee shop, once a front for criminal activity, is now his life in entirety. And then we’ve got Edward Percival Talbot, Lord Holland, who prefers ‘Percy’, thank you very much. Percy has returned from a few years on the continent to several pieces of terrible news. His mother has died, his terrible father married his childhood best friend Marian (seemingly against her will), and now a blackmailer has surfaced with proof that his father is in fact a bigamist, making himself, his mother, Marian, and his new baby sister Eliza on the brink of social and financial disaster. If they don’t take action, within months they could be facing dire circumstances.
It’s Marian’s idea to hire ‘Gladhand Jack’ to hold up the Duke, but when Percy approaches him, it’s clear that Kit’s leg will make doing so impossible, so instead, Kit is persuaded to teach Percy to do it himself. The two men are drawn to each other as Kit teaches Percy to Do Crime. Percy, who has never been close with his father, is pretty open about his deviancy (aka only being attracted to men) and finds himself a bit of a challenge in Kit, who appears to be one of the rare demisexuals currently populating fiction at the moment. They slowly open up to one another, Percy reluctantly following Kit’s lead in making their affair one of the heart rather than just a roll in the sheets.
My one criticism of the book is that I actually wanted more conversations between them during the falling in love/getting to know you stage. Mostly, Percy hangs around the coffee shop making a nuisance of himself and burrowing into Kit’s affections against his will, but there are a few interesting exchanges between them. I wanted more of that. This is a step that Cat Sebastian as an author does sometimes skip or shorten, and I never like it when she does. The rest of the book was so good I really felt it this time.
I loved the ending, though, and this is going to sound weird, but there’s this scene with a spider that just did me in. I already liked these two characters quite a bit but after that I was just feeling so much affection for both of them.
This book does also leave A LOT of room for a sequel, indeed it’s practically begging for one, involving Marian. She gets up to a lot of shady shit on the sidelines that we can piece together based on what ends up happening, but there’s clearly more to the story, and it involves something spoilery. I would really like Sebastian to write that book, because Marian as a character fascinates me. She is a mother, but a reluctant one, and SPOILERS at the end she basically abandons her baby to be raised by Kit and Percy (something both of them are happy to do because Percy clearly loves his baby sister, and Kit loves babies and wants badly to be a father). There’s just a really interesting mix of trauma and independence in Marian that I would like to see explored. I also think she was a lot more close to the blackmailer—who is Kit’s old partner Rob, very not dead by the way, and also Percy’s secret half-brother and the real Duke of Clare—than we are led to believe. Also a great hook for a book: A Highwayman who hates lords who turns out to be a lord! So many possibilities there END SPOILERS. Anyway, do it, Cat Sebastian! I will buy that book!
All in all, a very good book for Cat Sebastian’s trade paperback debut. I will be buying myself a copy.