The Will Darling Adventures
I’ve just finished a rip-roaring adventure/romance trilogy that I loved reading. The Will Darling Adventures by K.J. Charles is set in 1920s London. Will Darling has returned from the War and wound up running a bookshop, inherited from his uncle, as he had few other choices.
The first book, Slippery Creatures, introduces him and the trouble he falls into when competing mysterious organizations want something that had been hidden in the shop. Then the charming Lord Arthur “Kim” Secretan shows up, with his own checkered past, and the two are instantly drawn to each other, adding another layer of danger, as their relationship is illegal, and Kim happens to be engaged. (His fiancee, the Honourable Phoebe, is a hoot, a Bright Young Thing who’s a lot smarter and more considerate than she pretends to be.)
Kim is very good at lying to everyone, including himself, because of his destroyed reputation, his mission, and his discomfort with his privileged position, all of which cause problems with the straightforward, stubborn, sometimes brutal, occasionally a bit naive Will. Although disgraced, Kim is still an aristocrat, and that affects how he treats everyone around him.
Now, show me a story with a tall, thin, dark-haired posh genius with issues dealing with other people who finds a shorter, sandy-haired ex-soldier who doesn’t realize how much he misses the adrenaline of life-and-death situations, and I’m going to find that familiar. This, though, isn’t as much a mystery as a spy thriller, although the characters had a similar level of appeal to me.
Neither of these men are heroes; they’re just trying to do what seems right at the time, and learning what it might mean to trust each other. Whether or not they want to, they’ll wind up understanding more about the class distinctions that make their lives and choices very different. Also, the setting fascinates me, particularly because it realistically looks at how that kind of global conflict irreparably changes the people who went through it. Some of their motives may seem silly to the modern reader, but there’s some twisty depth behind most of these choices.
The second book gives us much more of Phoebe and Maisie, Will’s dark-skinned shopgirl friend, which makes it even better than the first. The Sugared Game starts in a dodgy nightclub and quickly spirals into trying to investigate a secret conspiracy cabal, with stops along the way at a fancy house party and breaking up a smuggling ring. It’s a roller coaster, with pauses in the action for the men to learn better how to communicate with each other.
Although I liked it as much or more as the first book, I’m saying less about it because so much of the fun is riding the twists and turns as they’re revealed.
Subtle Blood concludes the trilogy with an even more fascinating investigation. Kim’s self-centered elder brother has been accused of murder in an exclusive club. Kim’s family hates him, and the feeling is mutual, but if his brother is found guilty, Kim will have to take the title, a situation no one wants. If only the brother wasn’t such a terrible idiot. And the secret society they’re up against wasn’t so clever at manipulating people through what matters most to them.
Each book in the trilogy combines angst, feelings, sex, fighting societal constraints, and plenty of adventure. It’s an enjoyable combination with two characters I cared about, even when I wanted to shout at them.