Researching and writing an LGBTQ historical romance:
Researching a same-sex historical romance isn’t much different from writing an opposite-sex romance, as long as you start with the assumptions that 1) there have always been queer people, and 2) people fall in love. We have plenty of historical data supporting both those assumptions, so the next step is figuring out how same-sex couples could find a way to fall in love and be together, while staying largely off the radar of a society that didn’t accept them (and, in the case of men, criminalized sex).
Once you have a handle on how people lived in the past, you can see where a same-sex couple could build a life together. Friends could share lodgings; unmarried women often lived together; people paid extended visits to one another. Secretaries, governesses, companions, and other servants lived in. You can put the pieces together and see how a couple might come to a discreet arrangement. You also start to wonder if that’s why so many people had their letters burnt after they died.
The last thing in the world I want to do, as a writer or as a human with morals, is to sugarcoat the reality of queer life in the past. The fear of being hanged or pilloried for sodomy is horrible. So is the threat of being ostracized, disowned, fired, etc. But people have sex and fall in love even when it’s dangerous. One thing I get to do, as a romance writer, is come up with best case scenarios for my couples. I can arrange things so (fictional) people have health, wealth, and happiness, even during a time when those things were in short supply. And I get to populate the (again, fictional) past with stories that place queer people front and center, even though they’ve often been erased from history.
Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.
A scoundrel who lives in the shadows Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London’s slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.
A soldier untarnished by vice
After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman’s life-one that doesn’t include sparring with a ne’er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack’s pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they’re together.
Two men only meant for each other
Jack absently skimmed his finger along the surface of his desk, tracing a swirl through the sand he had used to blot his notes. Another case was solved and done with, another gentleman too drunk on his own power and consequence to remember to pay servants and tradesmen, too dissipated to bother being faithful to his wife. Nearly every client’s problems were variations on that same theme. Jack might have been bored if he weren’t so angry.
A knock sounded at the door, a welcome distraction. His sister always knocked, as if she didn’t want to interrupt whatever depravities Jack was conducting on the other side of the door. She did it out of an excess of consideration, but Jack still felt like she was waiting for him to do something unspeakable at any moment.
She was right, of course, but still it grated.
“Come in, Sarah.
“There’s a gentleman here to see you,” she said, packing a world of both disapproval and deference into those few words.
Really, it was a pity she hadn’t been born a man because the world had lost a first rate butler there. The butlers Jack had served under would have been put fairly to shame.
“Tell him to bugger off.” Sarah knew perfectly well he didn’t take gentlemen as clients. He tried to keep any trace of impatience out of his voice, but didn’t think he quite managed it.
“I have customers downstairs and I don’t want a scene.” She had pins jammed into the sleeve of her gown, a sign that she had been interrupted in the middle of a fitting. No wonder her lips were pursed.
“And I don’t want any gentlemen.” Too late, he realized he had set her up for a smart-mouthed response. Now she was going to press her advantage because that’s what older sisters did. But Sarah must have been developing some restraint, or maybe she was only in a hurry, because all she did was raise a single eyebrow as if to say, like hell you don’t.
“I’m not your gatekeeper,” she said a moment later, her tone deceptively mild. But on her last word Jack could hear a trace of that old accent they had both worked so hard to shed. Sarah had to be driven to distraction if she was letting her accent slip.
“Send him up, then,” he conceded. This arrangement of theirs depended on a certain amount of compromise on both sides.
She vanished, her shoes scarcely making any sound on the stairs. A moment later he heard the heavier tread of a man not at all concerned about disturbing the clients below.
This man didn’t bother knocking. He simply sailed through the door Sarah had left ajar as if he had every right in the world to enter whatever place he pleased, at whatever time he wanted.
To hell with that. Jack took his time stacking his cards, pausing a moment to examine one with feigned and hopefully infuriating interest. The gentleman coughed impatiently; Jack mentally awarded himself the first point.
“Yes?” Jack looked up for the first time, as if only now noticing the stranger’s presence. He could see why Sarah had pegged him straight away as a gentleman. Everything about him, from his mahogany walking stick to his snowy white linen, proclaimed his status.
“You’re Jack Turner?”
There was something about his voice—the absurd level of polish, perhaps—that made Jack look more carefully at his visitor’s face.
Could it—it couldn’t be. But it was.
Loved it! Just the right blend of relationship push/pull…then relationship sweetness and angst…paired with the couple of mysteries that Jack was trying to resolve (at times reluctantly) with Oliver’s help–perfect! Cat Sebastian’s writing too was a whole lot of fun–whether the dialogue was external or internal, there were many, many snippets that I ended up needing to highlight so I could go back later and smile at all over again. Such fun!
Jack and Oliver were a great couple. Of course making your protagonists from different classes in a historical romance gives you built in conflict, but add to that the fact that their very relationship breaks the law? Yeah, that’s a whole new element. But oh goodness, with these two they had to be together, they just had to. I was all for Oliver with his sunny optimism on the prospect of their future, but realistically afraid that Jack was going to end up right all along… (Spoiler alert: he’s not–because, hello, it’s a romance. Fortunately, Ms. Sebastian manages to pull it off in a fairly believable way–I’m not totally convinced it would work, but I want it to, so I’m perfectly willing to go with it.)
I also enjoyed the two puzzles that Jack had to resolve in the course of the book. Neither one of the solutions were obvious, yet the answers came together nicely and made sense. Jack’s ability to read people was believable given his past and also highly entertaining–I loved watching him at work! Oliver was better at helping him out than either of us thought he would be; together they gave off an almost Sherlock-and-Watson-in-the-Regency-era vibe.
The secondary characters here were fun too–Jack’s brother Georgie was a hoot, and it looks like he’s due to star in book #2 (yay!). Jack and Oliver also both have sisters, so… (hint, hint! ;))
A highly entertaining debut from Ms. Sebastian–I am anxiously awaiting her next release!
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.