You like historical romance but wish it had better representation of gender identity? Of course Cat Sebastian is here for you.
Plot: Charity has been bounced around from place to place until she found work for the Selby’s, country gentry folk with two young children around her age. They became fast friends, and when Robert, the eldest died, she took on his name and appearance to protect Louisa until her future is secure. It wasn’t too difficult to pull off, since she had already attended Cambridge as Robert without difficulty. Since they’re broke, Charity is pulling on any connection, however weak, to help launch the beautiful, clever Louisa into society, which lands her in the library of the Marquess of Pembroke, who takes to the young man immediately, despite his frosty shell. Oh boy do shenanigans ensue.
Sebastian does not mess around with your feelings. Our protagonists fall immediately into instalust, even if Alistair is a little bit slow to accept this. Unlike a lot of authors who rely on instalust though, Sebastian still takes the time to deepen their connection, to forge a real friendship, mutual respect and understanding that acts as a proper foundation for a life long commitment. Pembroke’s belligerent kindness was a particular high point for me, as I like nice grumps the best.
The other piece is that, as usual, Sebastian’s work is about giving people made invisible by history and prejudice a happy ending. This is not your usual story about a woman disguising herself as a man for convenience and plot. She spends the book coming to terms with the fact that she feels right in breeches and boots. I think Sebastian handled Charity’s character exceptionally well. They would not have had our modern terminology and so if you’re expecting a straight forward narrative with Charity ending the book identifying as a particular thing, you will be disappointed, but Charity ends the book being able to live as her true self in a way that I think will ring true for a lot of folks.
Note that I’m using she pronouns, as was used consistently for Charity in the book. There is a really good author’s note at the end about that decision (and cool research about non-binary and trans people in the regency era) so I’m sticking with it, but as Sebastian notes, they/them pronouns would likely also be appropriate.
And of course, there is so much more to Charity than her gender identity. She is fun and smart and loyal and reckless as all hell. Alistair struggles with his duty to his family and their legacy, but he never struggles with his attraction to Charity. It is not that kind of book. It is a book about two lovely people learning to aim higher with their happy endings and it is like a weighted blanket on a cold day.