J.A. Rock

Books: Mystery | Romance | Queer | Historical

The Lords of Bucknall Club: A Case for Christmas (2021), A Sanctuary for Soulden (2021)

The Lords of Bucknall Club

A Case for Christmas (2021) J.A. Rock & Lisa Henry

A Case for ChristmasSet in an alternate England during the Napoleonic Era.

The only thing that makes this a fantasy is this bit:

In 1783, the Marriage Act Amendment was introduced in England to allow marriages between same-sex couples. This was done to strengthen the law of primogeniture and to encourage childless unions in younger sons and daughters of the peerage, as an excess of lesser heirs might prove burdensome to a thinly spread inheritance.

Not only does that remote the illegality of same-sex unions in historical Europe, it does so in a way that is clever and quite logical.

Lord Christmas Gale does not like people. But now that he has started finding solutions to conundrums and mysteries, society is quite interested in him.

Lord Thurston wondered in a low voice whether making people disappear— as opposed to finding them— was a service Gale offered.

The Honorable Benjamin Chant is back in society (despite rumors of madness in his family) and is drawn to Lord Gale not for his mental prowess but because he sees something in Gale that interests him.

Gale drew another uneven breath and muttered, "I do not like people. At all."

Chant smiled, though Gale wouldn’t be able to see it. "Ah. I like nearly all people, it seems. Generally speaking."

Gale cast a glance at him, then stared out across the lawn once more. "I have no choice but to conclude there is something gravely wrong with you, sir."

When a poor drunk who had asked Gale to search for his daughter’s missing dog–and then is found murdered only hours later–Gale decides to investigate. And not being good with people, asks Chant to come along to deal with the child.

There are a lot of things this story does that I absolutely loved.

First, the child (who is taken in by Gale’s mother and sisters) is not a beautiful waif that everyone falls in love with.

Her hair was an ashy blond and hung in tangles around a face that seemed wider than it was long. Her eyes were set rather far apart, and were a mix of dark blue and brown. Her smile showed tiny, peg-like teeth that made her look a bit like some mischievous fiend from a fairy tale. She’d been cleaned up, but her skin had faint grey and yellow tones, likely from exhaustion and malnourishment.

Gale’s family still falls in love with her, but she is definitely a child of poverty–which is something a LOT of historicals gloss over or ignore completely. (Such as the man who spent his childhood on the streets but somehow managed to grow to six feet with muscles and good hair.)

I also like how although they have same sex marriage, the other elements of society at the time were left.

As he had just proposed an act of grave indecency with a fellow to whom he was not married, it seemed rather shortsighted of Chant to call him decent merely for withdrawing that proposal.

Gale’s family was wonderful. He speaks as if they are a terrible burden and he can’t stand any of them.

"It will be loud," Gale cautioned him. "I have sisters. At least four, and possibly as many as seven."

But through his actions, clearly loves his family–even if he is terrible at showing it.

The characters were amusing, the mystery was decent, and I love the world building.

February 2020 | Rating: 7.5/10

A Sanctuary for Soulden (2021) J.A. Rock and Lisa Henry

A Sanctuary for SouldenSet in an alternate England in the early 1800s.

Philip Winthrop, Viscount Soulden is easily bored. But you wouldn’t guess that if you saw him out on the town, where he presents himself as a fop, concerned with little other than clothes and games, to cover his secret work in intelligence.

"You are a rake and a cad, sir!" Soulden sipped his port. "You are not the first to mention it, it’s true, so there may be something in it.

Edmund Fernside is a surgeon who does his best to learn from the dead to save the living. To do that he must have dead bodies, which he tries to source as ethically as possible.

He is more than a little surprised when one of those bodies sits up and tries to leave.

Important note: the description makes the story sound light and fluffy.

Philip Winthrop, Viscount Soulden, is a fop. An idle popinjay with nothing more on his mind than how to best knot his cravat. He definitely doesn’t spy against the French. Or arrange hasty weddings. Or occasionally commandeer the navy. And he certainly doesn’t seek out mortal danger in order to combat his pervasive ennui. It’s all just a big misunderstanding when he’s shot by a French intelligence officer during a merry riverside chase.

This book is many things, but light and fluffy it is not.

Philip throws himself into danger in order to distract himself from the past, which is full of blood and loss and grief.

"My father wears a set of false teeth. Expensive things, wondrously made. Do you know what they call them? Waterloo teeth. I asked him once if he ever wondered if it was my brother’s teeth rattling around in his skull now."

Fernside may present himself as a misanthrope, but (like Lord Christmas) he does so to hide that he does care about the world and those who populate it.

Fernside drew a long breath. "After Waterloo, there were so many injured. So many men who desperately needed medical treatment. And there were not enough doctors, not enough by half. Medical students did not have enough cadavers on which to learn. I saw many things that summer, and beyond, that I shall never unsee."

So: dark, with damaged characters, and a mystery: my favorite!

As with the previous book, the only fantastical element about this story is that it’s an alternate history where same-sex marriages were legalized to help preserve the wealth of the ruling class. The mystery was interesting, the characters were both deeply damaged by their pasts, but still try to better the world, in their own ways.

March 2020 | Rating: 8/10