A Nobleman's Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel
Grade : A

Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for any length of time will already know I’m a massive fan of KJ Charles’ work, and for some time, have regarded her as the best author of historical romance writing today. Not only does she imbue her stories with a real sense of time and place, she creates wonderfully complex characters who, while flawed, are easy to root for, fascinating and intricate plots which unfold at just the right pace, and infuses the whole thing with humour, warmth, insight and intelligence. I am quite often left in awe whenever I finish reading one of her books, and she chalks up yet another winner with A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel, the second book in her Doomsday Books duology. It’s clever and funny, the romance is heartfelt and beautifully developed, there are villains you can love to hate – and I couldn’t put it down.

We return to Romney Marsh around thirteen years after the events of The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, and are thrown into the middle of an acrimonious family dispute between Rufus d’Aumesty, formerly Major d’Aumesty and now, nineteenth Earl of Oxney, and his uncle, who believes himself to be the rightful holder of the title and estate. The previous earl – Rufus’ grandfather – was a vindictive old bastard, who let the land go to wrack and ruin during his last, lengthy illness, and who had allowed his youngest son, Conrad, to believe he was his heir. But the appearance of Rufus – previously thought to have died in battle, and the earl’s grandson by his middle son, Raymond – has put Conrad’s nose out of joint, and he accused Rufus of being illegitimate (he isn’t) of being switched at birth (he wasn’t) and being an imposter who stole a dead man’s identity on the battlefield (he didn’t), leading to a seven-month-long invesigation by the Privileges Committee – which has found Rufus to be the rightful Earl. Despite the committee’s findings, however, Conrad is still determined to oust Rufus and take the title for himself. His latest angle is to insist that Rufus’ father was already married when he wed Rufus’ mother – a suggestion apparently made to Conrad by the son of Raymond’s supposed first wife. Furious – Rufus doesn’t really want to be the sodding earl, and certainly doesn’t want to live in the middle of such hostility – he sends for the son to try to find out what the hell is going on.

Hearing the name ‘Doomsday’ immediately gives Rufus a mental image of someone shady and shabby and sinister, so he’s surprised when the young man standing in front of him proves to be none of those things; he’s smartly dressed and rather attractive – despite the four-inch, jagged scar running down the left side of his face. Luke Doomsday – whom we first met as a scared, mistreated boy of thirteen – explains that his mother left him with the Doomsdays when he was a baby and named his father as Elijah Doomsday before she left the Marsh for good. But when Luke spoke to his ailing grandfather a few years back, he rambled about a secret marriage that took place some thirty years earlier – the marriage of Luke’s mother to the Earl of Oxney’s son. There is no proof, but in order to shut Conrad down once and for all, Rufus employs Luke to track down his mother to find out the truth so he can put this behind him and get on with his new life.

Luke was brought up by Sir Gareth Inglis (TSLoCG), who sent him to school and acted in loco parentis after his horrible father died. Now in his twenties, Luke has made a career as a confidential secretary (and has a slew of good references, including one from a certain Lord Corvin!) and, seeing that Rufus is struggling to make sense of the ledgers and account books after years of mismanagement, suggests to Rufus that what he needs, while he gets to grips with everything, is an excellent secretary, someone who is good at putting things in order and keeping them there. Rufus happily – and gratefully – offers Luke the position, and together they begin to set things to rights, sorting out the finances and arranging to have vital work done on the sorely neglected estate.

The romantic relationship between these two seemingly mismatched characters is incredibly well done. They have terrific chemistry, and I liked them very much, both as individuals and as a couple, and their romance works because they really are the ying to each other’s yang. Their relationship is built on friendship, mutual respect and affection, and their interactions are light-hearted with a hint of subtle teasing (on Luke’s part) that just about toe the line of a master/servant relationship but don’t cross it. (Until they do, of course ;)) For Rufus, accustomed to being obeyed in the army, and now dealing with a bunch of people he doesn’t know but are (mostly) disposed to hate him, Luke’s cheery competence, intelligent conversation and support is like a breath of fresh air that makes him realise just how much he’s needed someone to be on his side.

Luke is a charmer who is as good at reading people as he is at organising whatever needs to be organised. He arrives at Stone Manor with a specific agenda – which isn’t revealed straight away (readers of the previous book will probably work it out, however) – and with no expectation of actually liking the new Earl and wanting to help him deal with the mess he has inherited. But he comes to like Rufus a lot – the man wants to do right by his dependents, he’s generous, big-hearted and has a compassionate nature beneath his outward gruffness and hot temper – and Luke hadn’t banked on being so attracted to him. Which is a bad thing because it will mean that when Rufus does find out the real reason Luke set out to make himself indispensable, Luke is going to have to live with the consequence of Rufus’ hurt and disappointment.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I can’t not talk about the way the author handles the fallout after Luke’s true purpose is revealed, because the eventual reconciliation is so brilliantly orchestrated. There is good grovel, but there is also character growth and acceptance of some painful truths as Luke finally learns to articulate what has driven him to do what he’s done and to accept that perhaps it’s time to let it go, while at the same time admitting what his tendency to self-sabotage has done to himself as well as those he has hurt. Rufus is deeply wounded by Luke’s betrayal; that he’s in love with Luke is not in question, but he has to work out if he can trust – and like – him ever again. It’s tough to read because these two are so obviously in love and so right for each other, but wonderful also, for the compassion and honesty they show each other as they work through it all and come out the other side.

While the story is set in the same locality – Romney Marsh in Kent – as the previous book, the location is less prominent here, as most of the action takes place within the walls of the old, forbidding Stone Manor, giving the whole thing a very Gothic-y feel. Which is very fitting given Luke’s love of Gothic novels (especially the naughty ones!).

It wouldn’t be a KJ Charles book without a villain(s) to boo and hiss at, and I’m pleased to say that they get a very satisfying comeuppance as part of an absolutely cracking finale sequence that had me on the edge of my seat.

A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel is, simply, a superb read all around, and I’m sure that, if you’re already a fan of the author’s, you won’t need any further encouragement from me to want to rush out and pick it up. If you haven’t read her before, you can’t go wrong with anything in her backlist, but if you’re intrigued by this title, I’d suggest reading The Secret Lives of Country Gentleman first, just to get up to speed with the backstory.

Easily one of the best books of 2023, this is yet another KJ Charles novel to find a place on my keeper shelf. I’m pretty sure it’ll end up on yours, too.

Reviewed by Caz Owens

Grade: A

Book Type: Historical Romance

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : September 20, 2023

Publication Date: 09/2023

Recent Comments …

  1. I read Ulrich’s book several years ago,it was excellent. American Experience on PBS did an adaptation of the book, it…

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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