I pick my way through relatively little-known books in the hope of finding gems like this one. Wicked Gentlemen is two novellas that work as one. In the first, Mr Sykes and the Firefly, we are introduced in the first person to narrator Belimai Sykes, who is a Prodigal, descendant of fallen angels who came out of hell three hundred ago for redemption on Earth. He’s a bit of a tortured soul (literally), what with his addiction to ophorium and his self-destructive tendencies. Then he’s hired to find a missing high-society wife by her husband, and more importantly, her brother, Captain William Harper of the Inquisition, the religious-based police force. In the course of solving the mystery, Belimai and Harper become prickly ‘drunk fuck’ lovers.
The second novella, Captain Harper and the Sixty Second Circle, picks up about two months after the first, and is third-person from Harper’s perspective, which is nice to see. He’s about to leave the capital for a much-deserved vacation (a little hurt that Belimai appears indifferent to his departure) when he’s drawn into trying to save a girl — too late, she’s been murdered and his own Abbot is involved in the cover-up — and is trying to frame any Prodigal (Belimai being an obvious target) and Harper himself for the deed. Harper must keep Belimai safe while seeking justice…or revenge.
It’s not without its flaws; this is one of the rare occasions where I would have liked a little more world-building and just a little more detail on the back stories of the two leads (though what there is is nicely woven in) — the shortness of the book meant it on occasion lacked a certain depth; the dialogue tags could be a touch distracting; and the use of Harper’s name to describe what he was doing (in the sense of ‘Harper did this. Harper did that. Harper did something else’ when there was no one else around to differentiate) was so extensive that I suspect there was a find-and-replace from ‘I’ to ‘Harper’ at some point during writing or editing that wasn’t quite cleaned up enough.
However, the two main characters are a delight; they’re well matched in their flaws and play off well against each other — the one who doesn’t want to be saved, the one who wants to save him — with those little touches that make characterisation much realer, the world is interesting and the minimal world-building merely served to leave me intrigued, the descriptive passages are lovely, and in general it was a great read that I immediately wanted more of.
And the bit where the boys finally admit they kind of sort of might actually mean more to each other than just sex is beautifully sweet.
An interesting approach to steampunk that makes me want to read more in this world, especially about these two characters.
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