This was an ARC from NetGalley.
There still aren’t nearly enough queer historical romance novels out there, although things have definitely improved in the past several years. So I was thrilled to see this title by Entangled, one of my favorite romance publishers.
The story takes place in Paris, as the triumph of the Revolution segues into the chaotic period of Robespierre’s Terror. Citizens are being denounced and summarily executed without so much as a hearing, the people are still starving, and there’s a general atmosphere of fear and mistrust among the populace.
Perrin de Vesey, an English-born aristocrat, has spent the year following his lover’s execution in hiding. He’s finally lured out on the anniversary of Julien’s death by a note from his club, Crimson Rose. More specifically, the note is penned by the mysterious Scarlet Crest, who is leading efforts to counteract the injustices perpetrated by Robespierre’s Committee for Public Safety. Crimson Rose itself is a club for men (and, as we see later, some women as well), a safe place for them to express their gender identity and sexuality. Along the way, Perrin is almost swept away by a mob chasing a group of fellow aristocrats. He’s shielded by a handsome stranger, Henri Chevalier, who turns out to be a zealous Committee officer tasked with investigating the club.
From that first encounter, there’s both attraction and rejection between Perrin and Henri. Each has a damning opinion of the other based on their outward identity, and they do everything possible to foil each other’s missions. In true enemies to lovers fashion, though, they gradually start to see beyond each other’s social trappings.
My favorite aspect of the story was the fact that neither man is presented as a superhero. Perrin is out of shape after a year of idle moping, which he regrets as the Scarlet Crest’s missives put him in increasingly dangerous situations. For his part, Henri is revolted by the sight of blood, and his one past heroic deed as a revolutionary soldier was a fluke. In fact, he’s a terrible spy whose plans are foiled again and again. This adds a bit of lightness to what are otherwise very suspense-filled scenes; and the fact that he’s usually caught out by a bewildered and often amused Perrin adds to the chemistry and increasing romantic tension. Their interactions are a joy to read. Perrin’s own repeated attempts to rescue a pair of imprisoned friends also backfire, until he joins forces with Henri and some new allies.
I also enjoyed the non-romance elements of the story, in particular the mystery behind the Scarlet Crest’s identity and the scenes where our heroes infiltrate offices and prisons. As Henri’s loyalties shift, he also becomes the subject of his ambitious colleague Luc’s suspicions, and must be increasingly careful in his investigations.
I really hope this is the start of a series, since there are several secondary characters that really deserve a story (especially Quill, Ashford, and Philippe). And I hope Entangled continues to publish historicals featuring all diverse pairings (or more than pairings!).