Review: Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

This book surprised me. I’d been considering buying it for a while, but as I had so many historicals I wanted to review (and knew that I couldn’t do this one on Speak Its Name) I kept putting it off, even though the reviews I’d seen had been praiseworthy.  So when a kind friend sent me a copy I jumped in eagerly.

The writing impressed me from the firstThe night hung in tatters.  Gas streetlamps chewed at the darkness. Candles cast dull halos through the dirty windows of the tenements..” as it thrust you immediately into the world, and without even knowing where you were, you could see it, feel it, smell it. So many “helpful” authors pooh-pooh the descriptive narrative as a waste of time, but I’m an immense fan. Anything that starts with lush description is going to sucker me in.

What I liked most of all, though, is that the writer doesn’t talk down to her readers – this world isn’t ours – or if it is, it’s very dangerously different – but she doesn’t spend pages info-dumping the societal arrangements and political structure on us, and I appreciated that immensely.  I have read a good few fantasy and sci-fi books where there’s so MUCH information in the first few chapters that I just throw the book across the room because there’s too much set up and no STORY.  This starts in our protagonist’s house and the author drip feeds us details with such delicacy that we are hardly aware that we are being told more about the world, because it is all by now, part of the plot.

The Americanisms put me off a little, only because the world seemed so very AU English – but I put that behind me; this city could be anywhere, in a world where “gotten” stayed as a term of speech. It’s not our world. Crowncross is not London.

Belimai Sykes is one of the best protagonists I’ve read for a long while, drug-addicted, bitter – living in world that neither accepts him nor wants him, but cannot openly act against him. I’ve said before that I chose not to “see” him as the illustration on the front showed him – but that’s a personal choice, you may – you may not. When you find out what happened to him, it makes his position all the more pitiful. He’s talented, but frail – powerful in his own way, but he’s no Mary Sue – he’s ham-strung and living in fear, and part of that is fear of living.  I warmed to him immediately. Who needs heroes?  However, there’s seemingly a hero on his doorstep. Captain William J Harpert – the strong, virile, handsome and “perfect” Inquisitor who interrupts Belimai’s life and helps to rip it apart.  I say perfect because, like Belimai – Harper is a man who is also beset with his own troubles, can say no more without spoiling you.

The book itself is officially two novellas, one leading on from the other with the plot leeching from one to the other.  The first story (Mr Sykes and the Firefly) belongs to Belimai, the second (Captain Harper and the Sixty Second Circle) is Harper’s.  I found that I enjoyed the second less than the first-perhaps because it was in a very different POV, and I prefer the dark place that is Belimai’s head.

However – the main reason that I liked this book – with its intriguing Theocracy that we only learn a very little about, the Prodigals, Hells Below and the fascinating and mysterious Nicholas Sarial (with his past connection with Belimai) – is also the reason why I came away screaming in frustration.  I’m the last person to beg an author for a sequel, as I know how irritating that can be if you’ve written all you need to write about your characters’ stories. But SURELY Hale can’t leave her readers like this? I’m quite convinced that I’m not the only one who wants to know more about this world, these characters.  This – to use a comparison – is like having George R R Martin’s Hedge Knight – with all the hints of the Seven Kingdoms, but for some reason, George never wrote “A Song of Ice and Fire”.  These novellas are like an addition to some huge saga that’s already been written, a tantalising glimpse into a much larger world – and all I can hope is that Hale is writing that saga as we speak, because I will be first in line to buy it. 

A big thumbs up and a most decided four stars.more please…..

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