Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Queer Principles of Kit Webb #1
Published by Avon on June 8, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
Critically acclaimed author Cat Sebastian makes her trade paperback debut in a stunning historical romance about a reluctantly reformed highwayman and the aristocrat who threatens to steal his heart.
Kit Webb has left his stand-and-deliver days behind him. But dreary days at his coffee shop have begun to make him pine for the heady rush of thievery. When a handsome yet arrogant aristocrat storms into his shop, Kit quickly realizes he may be unable to deny whatever this highborn man desires.
In order to save himself and a beloved friend, Percy, Lord Holland must go against every gentlemanly behavior he holds dear to gain what he needs most: a book that once belonged to his mother, a book his father never lets out of his sight and could be Percy’s savior. More comfortable in silk-filled ballrooms than coffee shops frequented by criminals, his attempts to hire the roughly hewn highwayman, formerly known as Gladhand Jack, proves equal parts frustrating and electrifying.
Kit refuses to participate in the robbery but agrees to teach Percy how to do the deed. Percy knows he has little choice but to submit and as the lessons in thievery begin, he discovers thievery isn’t the only crime he’s desperate to commit with Kit.
But when their careful plan goes dangerously wrong and shocking revelations threaten to tear them apart, can these stolen hearts withstand the impediments in their path?
From an author who writes, and I quote here from her Twitter bio, ”Marxist tracts with boning”, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb is a queer romance that definitely has radical and liberal underpinnings – at least by 18th century British definitions of both – but mostly only one kind of boning. The sexual kind and not the foundation of ladies’ corsetry. And not quite enough of it.
Well, some of the secondary characters undoubtedly are wearing undergarments with whalebone or something similar, but our protagonists are a bit too fascinated with each other and fixated on their revenge to give anything remotely resembling a damn about it.
Kit Webb, formerly an infamous highwayman and currently the bored-out-of-his-mind but fairly successful owner of a London coffeehouse, misses the adventure of his days on the roads, forcing the rich and snooty to “Stand and deliver” at as many opportunities as possible.
Those days are done for Kit. His last job resulted in a jail sentence, the loss of his best friend and partner, and a bullet wound in the arse that got infected during said jail sentence. It’s clear that there are still plenty of days, even a year into his forced retirement, that he isn’t certain which pain is greater, the loss of his partner or the debilitating pain in hip and leg that forces him to use a cane.
And he’s bored, bored, bored with the straight and narrow life he’s reduced himself to in penance.
Until Percy, Lord Holland, saunters into Kit’s life with a proposition. Actually, two propositions, both illegal. Percy needs a highwayman to rob his utterly rotten father, and Percy wants to take Kit to bed. Or any other conveniently flat surface. In spite of their mutual desire being just as utterly against the law in 1751 as the highway robbery that Percy rather desperately needs to have carried out as soon as possible.
While he can still afford to pay someone to help him get back at his father. Before he’s disowned. Not for anything that Percy has done. But for something his father did long ago that Percy is going to be the one to pay for. Not that the Duke of Clare hasn’t done plenty of things that many people – including Kit Webb – want to make him pay for. As painfully as possible..
Percy just wants to make his bastard of a father pay for making him one on his way out the door.
Escape Rating B: For a book named for one character, it feels like it’s much more about the other. Not that Kit and Percy aren’t both interesting and surprisingly well-rounded characters – at least separately – but Kit holds all his cards very close to his vest while Percy is absolutely a fountain of both internal and external dialog. He talks more, he reveals more and he ends up stealing more of the scenes by doing both those things.
My favorite line from the whole thing, “I used to think that revenge was about defending one’s honor, but it turns out that honor is just spite dressed up for Sunday.” But Percy says that from a position of privilege, a privilege he knows he’s going to lose. Which makes his later thought that he “realized he had had it wrong when he told Kit that honor is just spite dressed up; spite was honor when it was the only weapon you had against someone more powerful,” all that much more profound and poignant, especially as those opposite thoughts are both powerfully true.
Kit, on the other hand, while plenty intelligent, isn’t nearly so fascinating to listen to. It’s possible that he’s just so damn bored that he’s boring himself. He’s certainly ripe for the promise of adventure that Percy drops in his lap. As well as ripe for Percy to drop in his lap.
But the story alternates its point of view from Kit to Percy and back again, and they are a study in contrasts. And not just because it seems impossible to get Kit to start talking, and equally impossible for Percy to stop.
It’s particularly impossible to get Percy to stop worrying over the doom that is about to fall on his head, while just as difficult to get Kit to open up, even inside the confines of his own head, about the doom that he feels like fell on his.
On the other hand, one thing that they have in common is a hatred for the same man, Percy’s father, the Duke of Clare, even if neither will admit to the other what lies at the root of that hatred. A secret that very nearly drives them apart.
Some things did niggle at me during the course of this story. The first was that the doom that Percy is facing is the same thing that powers the entire Westcott series by Mary Balogh – a series that I have mostly loved. It’s not fair that my familiarity with the consequences that ensued in that 9-book series made Percy’s dilemma fall a bit flat. But it still happened.
Telling half the story from Kit’s point-of-view left a big chunk of things in the head of a character who isn’t talking much to himself or anybody else. He’s a hard nut to crack and he doesn’t for a significant chunk of the story.
There’s not nearly as much about the heist as the blurb leads the reader to believe. This story is a LOT more talking, thinking and pining than it is action either on the highway or in anything even vaguely resembling a bed. It was terrific watching these two inch closer to each other and get to know the real person behind the assumptions they begin with, but there’s a lot more UST than one expects. The 80/20 law is in play here and perhaps not in the best way, as the romance is 80% UST and only 20% RST (which would be resolved sexual tension rather than its unresolved opposite).
This is all in the way of saying that I had fun reading this book, just not as much fun as I expected, and not necessarily the kind of fun I expected, either.
In the end it is revealed that this is the first book in a series – which is honestly a bit of a surprise from where it began, but by the end it’s a welcome one. While I’m glad that Percy (and Kit) have found something as close to a happy ending as seems possible in this time and place, Kit is kind of a great stone face of a character for much of this book. Marian, Percy’s childhood best friend and about to be ex-stepmother, on the other hand, is even more voluble than Percy and MUCH more adventurous. I already have an eARC of The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes and I can’t wait to see how she gets out of the fix she is most definitely in!