Monday, 19 September 2022
CBR14 Book 22: "The Queer Principles of Kit Webb" by Cat Sebastian
Rating: 4.5 stars
CBR14: Rec'd (this has been recommended by multiple Cannonballers and pretty much every romance review blog I can think of)
Edward Percival "Percy" Talbot, Lord Holland, returns to England after several years abroad in Europe to discover that his mother died in his absence, and his deeply unpleasant father hastily remarried, to Percy's best friend from childhood, Lady Marian Hayes, who also had time to birth Percy a baby sister. Furthermore, Marian reveals that a blackmailer has contacted her with proof that the Duke of Clare was already married when he married Percy's mother, and subsequently Marian. Neither Percy nor the baby Elizabeth are the duke's legal offspring and Marian has unwittingly married a bigamist.
It's not as if Percy or Marian have the funds or any intention to pay off the blackmailer, but Marian hatches a scheme that involves robbing the duke, to steal the journal of Percy's late mother (which the duke apparently keeps in an inner pocket at all times. The journal would give them enough material with which to blackmail the duke themselves to secure financially independent futures for all three (Percy, Marion and baby Eliza).
To assist them in their outrageous plot, Percy is tasked with recruiting Christopher "Kit" Webb, formerly (allegedly the highwayman 'Gladhand Jack', now a respectable (and seemingly rather boring)) owner of a coffee house. Nevertheless, on his many trips to the coffee house to observe Kit, Percy begins to find him rather fascinating.
Kit has retired from his life of crime, crippled by a leg wound and rather disillusioned once his partner in crime died on the job. Now he runs a respectable coffee house along with his former fence, Betty, a formidable young woman who not only makes sure he takes care of himself but keeps him from slipping too far into depression and self-pity. Kit wants nothing to do with the hare-brained plot of some bored aristocrat until he finds out who Percy actually wants to rob. Due to his leg, Kit can't actually do the job himself, but he offers to train Percy to do the robbery himself. Initially, Kit assumes that a pampered nobleman like Percy would have no fighting experience, and this proves true when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. When it comes to fencing, on the other hand, Percy is way more proficient than Kit expected.
A soon-to-be disgraced noble and a working-class former highwayman might not have a lot in common, but even in their early meetings, there's palpable chemistry between Percy and Kit. One of the reasons the Duke of Clare has always been so disapproving of his son is Percy's obvious disinterest in women altogether. Kit doesn't seem to have felt desire for men before Percy, but spends more time being conflicted about being a class traitor (and later, when he discovers who Percy's father actually is, about falling for the son of the man who ruined his life).
While Percy and Kit are busy trying to prepare for the heist on the duke of Clare, it's obvious that Marian, Percy's best friend, is up to schemes of her own. She keeps showing up in Percy's bedroom late at night, dressed in breeches, and handing him bags full of small items to fence to get them money. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious to Percy that she seems to have kept corresponding with their blackmailer, as well, for reasons that are opaque to him. The identity of the blackmailer is revealed over the course of the story and said person has ties to Kit and Betty, which is not exactly surprising when one considers their criminal pasts (and Betty's ongoing source of income - working for Kit at the coffee shop is clearly her side-hustle). I'm very glad I waited until both this and its companion novel about Marian was out, so I didn't have to wait for Marian's story. I had originally rated this five stars, but after starting The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes, which I found almost painful to have to put down and stop reading, it became clear that that novel has the edge for me.
Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed this (I don't think I've come across a Cat Sebastian book yet that I didn't really like). I can now join the throng of people who have recommended this book.
Judging a book by its cover: I obviously love the beautiful minty green of the cover, it's one of my favourite colours. However, I must admit, the cover artist could possibly have done a better job at making both of the characters a bit more masculine-looking. When I first saw this cover, I assumed it was a f/f romance, with the women in breeches, because both the people look so feminine to me.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.