Something Spectacular
Grade : B

Like its predecessor (Something Fabulous), Alexis Hall’s Something Spectacular is a delightful read with some very pertinent observations to make while being a witty, laugh-out-loud funny, campy, over-the-top and unabashedly queer romance that takes place in a very modern “Regency” setting. As with the previous book, “basically everyone in it is LGBTQ+”, the author (in his own words) “plays rather fast and loose with history” and uses modern language, yet it’s a story that wouldn’t work so well as a modern setting. Despite the “fast and loose”-ness, the themes of gender identity, of how to be oneself when not completely sure exactly who that is, what it feels like to inhabit your own skin in a way that makes sense to you, and the restrictive – for women, especially - social norms – play out against a backdrop of societal expectations and attitudes that, while different, are also very familiar.

Peggy Delancey has been the best friend and on-and-off lover of Arabella Tarleton for years. She knows her love is unrequited and has accepted that Belle will never love her back, but Peggy has been in love with her for so long that she doesn’t quite know how to be not in love with her. In a strange way, this in-love-but-not-loved-back is a nice, safe option; this way, Peggy doesn’t have to think about the difficult stuff, about what being in a relationship means, either for her, her partner, or anyone else. But Belle is still looking for The One, and has decided she’s going to fall in love with the famous and flamboyant opera singer, Orfeo. She begs Peggy - who insists she doesn’t ‘art’ - to accompany her to the soirée where Orfeo will be performing and Peggy, although she really isn’t wild about the idea, hasn’t yet learned how to say ‘no’ to Belle about anything, so agrees to go with her.

The trouble really starts when a sceptical Peggy first sets eyes on Orfeo, who is absolutely nothing like she’d expected. They’re absolutely stunning with a look and a style all their own, and their voice is merciless in its power and perfection like nothing Peggy had ever heard before.” Peggy is completely and utterly captivated, not only by Orfeo’s beauty and incredible talent, but by their uncommon mix of arrogance and vulnerability and by the way they make her feel truly seen. Peggy is also, she realises by the end of the evening, completely and utterly screwed. Not only does she fancy the person her best friend fancies, it appears Orfeo is interested in her and barely noticed Belle at all. Alarm bells start ringing when Belle begs Peggy to visit Orfeo the next day and put in a good word (well, several good words) on her behalf – Peggy desperately wants to see Orfeo again, but how can she even be thinking of spoiling her best friend’s plans for romance? Well, she won’t. Peggy has always been the sensible one, the one who thinks things through and has spent years curbing the worst excesses of the impulsive Tarletons. She is quite capable of paying a visit and speaking to Orfeo on her friend’s behalf, and if they’re not interested in Belle, then that will be an end to the matter.

Although of course, it is no such thing. Talking with Orfeo again only serves to enthrall Peggy even further – and to her surprise it seems that Orfeo is equally smitten. She’s never been anyone’s centre of attention in quite this way before; she’s used to living on the fringes of whatever drama the Tarletons are in the middle of, to being the sort of person who is simply ‘there’, so Orfeo’s desire to really know her is very unexpected.

I liked Peggy from the moment she appeared in Something Fabulous (and if I’m honest, felt sorry for her for having the misfortune to have fallen in love with someone as self-absorbed and reckless as Arabella Tarleton!). She’s definitely the sensible one in this friendship group (the Tarletons, Valentine, Sir Horley), but she has yet to really find her place, to work out that she wants to be the hero of her own story and then to go about becoming that person. Peggy identifies as female although she doesn’t always feel comfortable in her female body; she exists in the world exactly as she is, and I loved that. But she struggles with her desire to be accepted for the entirety of who she is (as what we would today call a non-binary person) while also wanting things – marriage, children – that are more heteronormative. Wanting a home and a family are the only things society expects women to want – how can Peggy have those things and still be her truest self?

The author talks briefly about the presentation of Orfeo – a castrato – in his foreword, explaining that while some castrati did identify as men, others preferred not to and, as Orfeo does, identified in a way that we now recognise as non-binary or genderfluid. Opera singers like Orfeo were the rock stars of their day and Orfeo certainly fits that bill – flamboyant, outrageous and unattainable but tolerated (even exploited) because of their talent. Like Peggy, they live in the world on their own terms, and also like her, they’re something of a prisoner of circumstance. But where Peggy’s prison is more one of her own making because of the role she’s fallen into of being the voice of reason in the lives of others, in Orfeo’s case, the prison is that of the artist needing a patron, and of being lured into believing that they can never have a life outside of music and that an ordinary life and love are beneath them. I liked them and really felt for their situation – caught between (as they see it) great art and great love – but because we never get into their head (Peggy’s is the sole PoV in this book) they’re a bit… remote, so I found it harder to connect with them and found the romance a bit lacking in chemistry as a result.

Mr. Hall’s sense of humour always resonates with me, and his sense of the ridiculous is alive and well, especially in the scene in which Peggy and Orfeo somehow manage to turn a very insipid poetry reading into an orgy (I will never look at a hyacinth in the same way again!) This might be a very un-historical historical romance, but the author clearly knows and understands the genre, taking affectionate side-swipes at its conventions here and there - and I love the way he doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as keep tapping it, checking for weak spots:

"So everyone in the neighbourhood,” put in Bob, “can get excited that Hadwell Hall is let at last?”

"I don’t think they’ll be that excited when they discover it’s been let by me. But,” Peggy offered, “I’ll do my best to insult a young lady at a country dance.”

There’s a great secondary cast; I loved the way Peggy’s parents accept her just as she is, Bonny is as fabulous as ever, Valentine is adoring and long-suffering, and although Arabella is still irritating, she’s been toned down a bit, and I was pleased when she began to realise that perhaps there isn’t anything wrong with her, and to acknowledge her possible aromanticism. Sir Horley is a terrific addition to their found-family unit with his world-weary witticisms and obvious affection for the group, and I really hope his story will be next.

The romance between Peggy and Orfeo is a lovely mix of tenderness, heartbreak, hope and joy, but I can’t deny that it’s a bit ‘insta’, and that the chemistry is a bit lukewarm. That said, these two complement each other really well - Peggy, down-to-earth, pragmatic and generous, is the perfect foil to dazzling, proud, dramatic Orfeo.

Something Spectacular is lively, thought-provoking, funny, heartbreaking and unashamedly silly, and even though the romance didn’t quite hit the spot for me, I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next in the series.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : B

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : April 11, 2023

Publication Date: 04/2023

Recent Comments …

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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