Quickly on the heels of reading Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material last month I requested Something Fabulous from the library keen to see how Hall’s voice translated from contemporary romance to historical. The verdict: mostly quite good with moments of brilliant, but also moments of not good at all. I’ve gone with a 3.5 rounded up for this one.
We’ve got the story here of Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, and his twin problems: Belle and Bonny Tarleton. Operating under his deceased father’s desire for Valentine to marry Miss Arabella “Belle” Tarleton, he goes about a rather perfunctory proposal, but unfortunately for him Belle has decided she will not have him and flees into the night determined never to set eyes on Valentine again. Belle’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton expects Valentine to ride out after Belle and to prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted scoundrel he seems to be. A hungover Valentine finds himself pursuing Belle to Dover with Bonny by his side. During their time together Valentine finds Bonny to be unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.
Hall is very good at what he does and we are shown the things that we need to know to unpack the neuroses, inhibitions, and things that make his leads feel othered, or afraid to hope (those last two often the same). This is the second romance with a demisexual lead I’ve read in the past six months (the other the glorious The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian) and I thought Hall handled it beautifully, the slowly dawning realization for Valentine the longer he spends in the company of Bonny worked for me. As did the pacing of their developing relationship, and the crux of being asked, being chosen. While the chase through the countryside had its highlights, it was the time at the hunting lodge that firmly rounded this one up for me.
The things that don’t work for me all circle around Belle, Bonny’s quite awful twin sister. The book opens with Belle absolutely loosing her mind about the terrible and oppressive proposal by Valentine… which left me immediately concerned about proceeding with the book at all since the reader is dumped into this dramatic overreaction with no background, and spends the rest of the book, some 350 pages, wrapping our minds around what exactly her problem is. And its… something that makes sense at the end, and I can see Hall picking at the need to view all people as just that, but the ever-increasing histrionics and lying that Belle does make her loathsome as opposed to a character we can find any reason to care for and left a bad taste in my mouth reminiscent of Sarina Bowen’s The Fifteenth Minute. This book is without a villain – Belle is the antagonist, and Valentine seems uniquely committed to getting in his own way – but Hall writes her in a way that is just too close to irredeemable and as she is crucial to Bonny we almost must care about the final part of her story and I simply didn’t want to, nor did I want her to have the good turn she receives.
I’ve received an ARC of Hall’s next queer historical romance, A Lady for a Duke, and am looking forward to seeing how Hall moves from this book with possibly an entirely queer cast (seriously, so much it was great) to the story with a trans heroine and her Duke next month.