Welcome to the latest work from K.J. Charles and as ever, we have historical accuracy, fantastic writing, and the occasional naughty bits.
Band Sinister centres around Sir Philip Rookwood and his ‘hellfire club’ known just as ‘The Murder’. These hellfire clubs did exist around the eighteenth century; they were secret societies among the elite and as suggested by their name were thought to be meetings where sex, Satanism and orgies took place. Being secret, not a lot is truthfully known about whatever shenanigans their members got up to, but what a lovely setting for a romance novel.
The Murder holds its meetings every few months at Sir Philip Rookwood’s country mansion outside the village of Yarlcote. Gathering his dearest friends around him, Sir Philip can attend to his lands and tenants whilst enjoying convivial company. A local scandal concerning Philip’s family ensures that apart from his intelligent and loyal steward, no one from local society bothers them. This notoriety is further guaranteed by the attendance of Sir Philip’s best friend, Viscount Corvin – dubbed The Devil’s Lord – whose sarcasm, amoral attitude and vague history of ill repute I adored.
Also living near Yarlcote and the Hall are brother and sister, Guy and Amanda Frisby. We begin the story as Guy is reading, in a state of horror, Amanda’s recently published scandalous gothic romance, written under a pseudonym of course, but the characters are easily recognisable as the residents currently at the Hall. Guy is an innocent, virginal countryman and the siblings are poor, due to circumstances connected with the Rookwood scandal. He adores Amanda who, in my opinion inherited all the personality in the family, and is in a permanent state of torment over keeping up appearances and not upsetting the aunt who supports them. The formidable Aunt Beatrice married nobility and ekes out charitable monies to her sister’s children, Guy and Amanda so they exist just above the poverty line.
In addition, Guy and Amanda cannot leave their less than exciting situation due to an unfortunate incident that occurred during Amanda’s one London Season. Amanda was returned home in disgrace never to be allowed to leave Yarlcote again, if Aunt Beatrice was to continue to support the siblings.
We hurtle into the country mouse and town mouse trope when Amanda goes horse riding and is badly injured. This of course means she is taken to Rookwood Hall to be attended to whilst surrounded by the gathering of reprobates and deflowerers of young girls. Amanda is looked after by one of the group who is a doctor – and a knowledgeable one, thank goodness. In order to preserve Amanda’s reputation she must be chaperoned by a suitable woman, or at the very least in the meantime, her brother. Thus, our country mouse, Guy, is ready for his awakening and maybe an improvement in his life and situation.
As I said the writing is, as ever, very good and full of razor sharp put-downs:
Then you should exert more control of your metaphors.
In addition, the author offers up some subtle and not-so-subtle glimpses into the gender identities and sexual natures of the members. Guy’s eyes are truly opened and for a lot of the novel it is all too much for him, but his feelings for Philip and his amazement at Philip’s feelings for him, helps him through.
Why have I given Band Sinister a B when I can rarely get away from A grades regarding this author?
K.J. Charles has definitely channelled her inner Georgette Heyer and for me that is not necessarily a good thing, as I think I’ve really enjoyed only one Heyer book. I found Guy too insipid, which I know this fits the country virgin trope, but I preferred feisty Amanda, which is in itself another rare thing for me. As my major issue with it is the novel’s similarities to Georgette Heyer, it may well send many romance lovers running to buy Band Sinister in their hordes!
If this is a series and we will learn more about the other members of the The Murder including Lord Corvin, I’ll be queueing up for it!