Tuesday 6 September 2022

CBR14 Book 21: "The Sugared Game" by K.J. Charles

Page count: 292 pages
Rating: 4 stars
CBR14 Bingo - Shadow (spies and all sorts of murky shenanigans throughout the story)
This is book two in a series, and it really doesn't work very well on its own. To start from the beginning, read Slippery Creatures first.

Will Darling has settled more comfortably into his role as a London bookseller but has seen nor heard anything from the mysterious Lord Arthur "Kim" Secretan for several months. He has done his best to forget all about the man and get on with his life, agreeing to take his dressmaker friend Maisie to a nightclub, to dance and drink and forget their troubles. At the club, Will encounters an old army mate, who now works as a waiter after returning from the war. He reveals that not everything is above board at the club, and Will's observations while he's there only confirm the impression. 

It's only after his visit that Kim suddenly appears in his bookshop again, claiming to have stayed away from Will to protect him, but now needing his help to unravel and unmask yet another dangerous conspiracy. Part of Will wants to tell the handsome aristocrat to go to the devil and take his spy plots with him, but another part is pretty thoroughly smitten with both Kim Secretan and the perilous lifestyle he leads, so of course, he agrees to help, keeping the full truth of the investigation from Maisie and Lady Phoebe (Kim's fiancee), at least until the two women find themselves inextricably threatened by sinister forces.

Will is naturally very exasperated and a bit sick of Kim's proclivity for secrecy and double-dealing, but quietly running a bookstore and being a respectable citizen who doesn't end up in fights and break into places in the dead of night is also pretty boring, so when Kim comes knocking, it doesn't take long for Will to agree to help him once more. He has a lot less patience with Kim's secrecy this time around, but once the full truth of the matters Kim has been hiding is revealed, Will can understand why the man has been keeping his card extremely close to his chest, and why he's been worried about endangering others by sharing the secret. 

In Kim's absence, Will's friendship with both Maisie and Lady Phoebe has also further developed and he's come to be very fond of both women, as well as feel deeply protective of them. He thinks it's wonderful that Phoebe wants to go into business with Maisie and give her a chance to take her eye for couture to Paris, yet also worries that interacting too much with the wealthier classes will end in disappointment for his friend. As it happens, the secrets that Kim's keeping this time around very much have a chance to ruin not only Maisie and Phoebe's business plans, but could end up with one or both of them in lethal danger. 

While I found the pacing of this second book somewhat more uneven than that of the first and, like Will, had less patience for Kim's shifty behaviour, in the final third of the book, when everything is revealed (and you understand what Kim has been forced to keep entirely secret, not able to burden anyone with the terrible knowledge he holds) and there's a thrilling race to see how things are going to turn out, I was on the edge of my seat, so to speak, and very excited to see how everything would play out. The actual ending is bittersweet but very realistic. I'm decided a little bit to read the final volume of the series, mainly because I don't want to be done with these characters just yet. However, having now remembered how much I enjoyed the story when writing this review, I suspect book 3 will be moving swiftly to the top of my TBR list. 

Judging a book by its cover: This cover doesn't have me imagining that one of the characters is in a wheelchair, so that's a step up. I like the men in profile, and I very much like the silhouettes of the women at the centre (I'm assuming they're meant to be Maisie and Lady Phoebe). The art deco details are still excellent. Mainly, I find myself annoyed by the huge sideburns on our dude to the right (Will?) Can't tell you why, I just don't like them. 
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

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