Review – The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

The Henchmen Of Zenda coverTitle: The Henchmen of Zenda
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Self-published
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: May 15, 2018
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Adventure/Retelling
Length: 232 pages
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Review Summary: An adorably fun, swashbuckling adventure with hot swordplay, retelling The Prisoner of Zenda.

Plot Summary/Description

This is a retelling of a classic swashbuckling story from the 19th century, The Prisoner of Zenda, told in the same timeframe and following the same events, but from a different point of view which makes the heroes of one the villains of the other.

There’s a struggle for the throne of Ruritania in Eastern Europe. Jasper Detchard is hired as one of six henchmen by the king’s half-brother Michael who imprisons the king (in Michael’s castle at Zenda, hence title) and aims to take the throne. Jasper has his own reasons for taking on this job, but finds himself distracted by another of the six, the handsome and reckless Rupert of Hentzau.

The Henchmen of Zenda Review

The original Prisoner of Zenda is a short, easy read. I think it was aimed at children of the 19th century who (if they had enough time and schooling to read for pleasure at all) tended to have a higher reading ability and greater powers of concentration than today’s kids, due to having zero screentime.

So, while the sentence structure may be more complex than the average Harlequin romance, it’s much simpler than something like Dickens (and way shorter). I say that because I think it’s worth reading the original first, and I wouldn’t want someone to be put off just because it was written in 1880 or whatever. I found it a lot of fun, and it’s only like 150 pages and very fast-moving.

So then the first thing I will say is that if you hate the Prisoner, you may not like the Henchmen, because despite the fact that Jasper and Rupert are hot and lovely, the main focus is on the adventure, not on the romance. Also, for me, a lot of the fun of reading it came from seeing how K.J. Charles had turned things around, making the heroes the villains and reinterpreting events.

The whole thing she did with the French woman was just brilliant. Also the Princess. The female characters have a lot more life and power in Charles’s version. In fact, the characters are all round better developed and less stereotyped, while still saying and doing most of the same things. And I’m sure I’d still have loved it if I hadn’t read the Prisoner, so that’s not a requirement. It just added a little something.

But be warned, this isn’t a soft fluffy read with a conventional ending. Jasper and Rupert are both strongwilled, adventurous guys and while that leads to some hot sex, it also leads to a fair bit of conflict, including murders. They don’t kill each other, but they may come close.

It’s heavy on plot and sassy humor, light on hearts and flowers. For me that’s the perfect gay “romance” so I adored it.

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Review – The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by J.T. LeRoy

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things coverTitle: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Author: J.T. LeRoy
Publisher: Little, Brown
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: 2002 (new edition August 4th, 2016)
Genre: GLBTQ, Short Stories
Length: 280 pages
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Review Summary: A very powerful set of linked stories about a boy whose teenage mother pulls him from his foster home and goes on the run with him. Gritty and hard-hitting.

Plot Summary/Description

Jeremiah has spent his life in foster care, until his young mother comes to get him and they go on the run. Life with Sarah is not easy, involving drugs, motels and truckstops, a succession of boyfriends who are often abusive, and constant chaos and confusion. Somehow, Jeremiah has to learn to survive, and find his own identity.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things Review

This is an immensely powerful episodic narrative. Terrible things happen to Jeremiah over and over. He’s snatched from any secure way of life again and again – usually moving from one kind of abuse to another. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t grow up with much sense of self-worth, but he does develop a strong bond with his drug-addicted mother. He also grows up gay/transgender/queer – I don’t think he ever specifies how he identifies.

I found it very painful to read, because it’s so vivid. Are there really kids living like this? I guess there are, even though this book and the author’s other novel, Sarah, became notorious when it was revealed that the author, who claimed to be a young man whose work was based on his own life, was in fact a middle-aged woman using a family member to act the part of J.T. LeRoy for interviews and such. There’s no problem in authors having pen names, and there’s a long history of women using male names because they know their work will be taken more seriously (George Eliot springs to mind), but using an actor to convince the world the stories are based on real events and the young genius actually exists is another matter.

This edition was published to coincide with a movie about the author, Laura Albert, and her questionable marketing tactics, Author: The JT LeRoy Story. I believe she said that she felt she was “channeling” J.T. and that she didn’t feel like the author of the books at all, so it all seeemed okay. I wonder if she found a way to “channel” the royalties back to him… Whatever, I find the whole story fascinating and have no problem with it.

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Review – A Gentleman’s Position by K.J. Charles

A gentleman's position review ebook coverTitle: A Gentleman’s Position
Series: Society of Gentlemen, #3
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Loveswept (a Random House imprint)
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: April 5, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Regency UK
Length: 246 pages
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Review Summary: A Lord used to getting his own way – and his valet, who won’t allow *any* of his services to be taken for granted. A hot romance where tempers are high, and stakes too.

Plot Summary/Description

Lord Richard Vane is the go-to person when anyone in his circle has a problem – and most of those problems, he passes right on to his valet, David Cyprian. The tension between them is hot, and rife with misunderstandings. Can Richard see past class barriers to the man who wants him so badly? Can David lose the chip on his shoulder that keeps him in the subordinate zone?

When the situation becomes too painful, David leaves to save his sanity. But then a letter falls into the wrong hands, and Richard needs him more than ever. Will he be able to convince David that the need runs deeper than wanting his fixer back?

A Gentleman’s Position Review

K.J. Charles is rapidly becoming one of my auto-buy male/male romance authors. I’ve inhaled the Magpie Lord series, and now I have another one to bask in.

This is book #3 in the series but it was my first introduction to the gentlemen who make up the Society. It stands alone fine, and made me rush out and grab the others. Definitely wanting more of these guys.

What I loved about this was that they didn’t get together too easily. This relationship would have been a huge deal. Even without the class barrier, Richard has been treating David a certain way for a long time and they’re both used to that. What happens to David’s job if they get together on a more equal basis? Richard wants to fix the issue in a certain way, but he’s forgotten to consult David – because he’s used to telling David what to do. And yet that’s the problem…

All of this is handled sensitively, and step by step. Richard would do anything to get back his hot red-headed Mr. Fox – but at first his efforts only make things worse. He has to become humble, and learn to listen.

At the same time there’s blackmail, and a real threat hanging over the whole way of life of this group of friends, who could be punished with death if they’re caught. The danger mounts along with the sexual tension, and the whole thing makes for a thrilling read.

I loved the whole thing with David’s hair, and Richard having him powder it. When the reason for that comes out, it’s the sweetest thing 🙂 I only wish he could have been more red-headed on the cover.

Unlike the Magpie Lord series, these are historical without the paranormal element. Regency rakes – but with men in their sights. It’s published by an imprint of Random House – so good to see the mainstream publishers taking gay romance seriously. Bring it on!

This book is swoon material – grab it!

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