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 – An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles

An Unseen Attraction coverTitle: An Unseen Attraction
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Loveswept from Random House
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: February 21, 2017
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Mystery
Length: 209 pages
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Review Summary: A strong historical gay romance/mystery, with a convincing Dickensian feel.

Plot Summary/Description

Clem Talleyfer is the keeper of a lodging house in Victorian London. He doesn’t own the house but works as a kind of glorified janitor for his wealthy half-brother He runs it well, and it’s much appreciated by the lodgers including the attractive taxidermist Rowley Green, who gradually becomes a closer and closer friend.

But the house has its oddities, too, including an abusive alcoholic tenant whom Clem isn’t allowed to kick out. Then the alcoholic is murdered. Could Clem and Rowley’s lives be in danger, as well as their livelihoods and their budding relationship?

An Unseen Attraction Review

This has a lovely Dickensian London feel to it. I loved the descriptions of rainy streets, bizarre characters, and smoggy nights. The characters are well-rounded and feel real.

Clem needs everything spelled out, and it takes him forever to figure out that Rowley is interested in him. Add that to the prevailing Victorian morality and you get a slow-burning romance rather than high heat levels. I liked that, I found it realistic and I don’t mind waiting for characters to be sure of each other.

So why not 5 stars? I don’t like the cover, but I wouldn’t mark it down for that. (When you read, you do find out that his suit isn’t meant to fit well, but that doesn’t explain why his head is so small, or why he looks to me more like the “neat, precise” Rowley Green than my idea of Clem Talleyfer.)

It’s more that somehow the story didn’t stick with me. I loved Clem and liked Rowley, and I was rooting for them as a couple. But the reader is always several steps ahead of the characters in figuring out that something odd is going on, and wondering why Clem is allowing himself to be exploited to the extent he is. Plus I think stuffed animals are gross…

There’s a local gay pub from which I imagine future couples will be drawn, since this is a first in series. I’m pleased about that and I’ll be looking forward to the rest of the series.

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