REVIEW: A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel by KJ Charles
Readers please note: some spoilers for The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen follow.
Dear KJ Charles,
I read and loved the first book in the Doomsday series, The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen earlier this year and looked forward with anticipation to the second book (and alas the last from what I can tell) A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel. The first book was set in 1810, this one in 1823. While it is possible to read the second book as a stand alone, it does contain spoilers for the first book and the reading experience is richer for knowing the history. Both books are a delight and I recommend reading both in order for maximum enjoyment.
Luke Doomsday was mostly called “Goldie” in the first book (to his dismay). The son of Elijah Doomsday, a no-good man who got what he deserved but not before doing much damage, especially to his son, Luke was abused and mistreated in various ways. What’s more, the Doomsdays did not see it, or if they did, they did far too little about it. It took Sir Gareth Inglis to really notice and take steps to change Luke’s life. Luke was (and is) very smart. Gareth arranged and funded his education and, after 13-year-old Luke’s face was slashed with a knife by his father, he also gave him love, shelter and a home. Now 26, Luke has returned to Romney Marsh as he’s between secretarial posts. He stays at Tench House with Gareth and hasn’t been back to the Revelation (the Doomsday pub/family hangout). Luke has complicated and not at all positive feelings about the Doomsdays in general.
In book one, there was mention of the local nobility, the D’Aumesty’s, led by the Earl of Oxney. Gareth didn’t think much of them, for good reason. Rufus D’Aumesty, formerly a major in the army, is, as it turns out the new earl. Raymond D’Aumesty, second son of the former earl, married a (too young) girl who gave birth to Rufus and then promptly abandoned them. The old earl had disowned Raymond for the the sin of marrying a draper’s daughter and wanted nothing to do with his grandson after Rufus’s mother asked for help. Following the death of Raymond, Rufus’s mother remarried (a draper) and Rufus was raised happily in that family with various half-siblings. Even though the old earl knew full well of Rufus’s existence, he didn’t share it with anyone else. Following the death of the heir, Baldwin, the third son, Conrad, believed the earldom was coming to him. Imagine his great disappointment to find, on the earl’s death, that the new earl was in fact Rufus. Conrad (and his awful wife, Matilda) were determined to be the new earl and countess. Rufus has been forced to spend the prior seven months in court proving his claim to the title. Conrad pulled no punches before the Committee for Privileges, asserting that Rufus’s mother was a liar and a whore and that Rufus was therefore illegitimate and unable to inherit. The Committee found in Rufus’s favour but Conrad and Matilda are #notoverit.
Conrad becomes aware that Raymond may have been married already when he married Rufus’s mother. Enter Luke. Luke explains he has no claim on the earldom but that his mother’s father, on his deathbed, asserted that there was a marriage between her and Raymond. Luke was left at the Revelation when he was only a few days old; Louisa Brightling had been raped by Elijah Doomsday. She left the child for the Doomsdays to raise and walked away, never to be heard from again. If Louise was married to Raymond at the time of Luke’s birth, notwithstanding that he is definitely the biological child of Elijah, he will be the rightful earl. Conrad has an ill-considered scheme in two parts; oust Rufus from the earldom by proving Louisa and Raymond were married and then (somehow) oust Luke from it too such that he, Conrad, will finally take his “rightful” place.
Rufus, who is an honest man, is content for the truth to be the arbiter. He invites Luke to stay at Stone Manor (the family seat) and search for any evidence which may prove the prior marriage.
Luke is meticulous and organised. He’s horrified by the mess the earldom’s books are in. While it is clear early on that Luke has an ulterior motive for wanting access to the manor, he also very quickly likes Rufus and regrets any deception. He determines to help Rufus as much as possible so that when he leaves, he will leave Rufus with something good. Luke takes over from Rufus’s cousin Odo (who is very ill-suited to secretarial work but is an excellent archivist) and begins to sort out all the paperwork. Rufus very quickly comes to rely on him.
Apart from the secretarial assistance Luke gives Rufus, he is also an ally in a house where Rufus has precious few. The servants are mostly #TeamConrad and Conrad and Matilda are constantly making trouble. Rufus is very black-and-white in his thinking and honest to a fault. Luke’s ethics are more… flexible. He’s a Doomsday after all. Luke makes clever suggestions which assist Rufus greatly in managing the estate and his family.
Rufus has what seems to be dyslexia and struggles to read. This is something he’s ashamed of and which Conrad and Matilda use to sneer at him. Luke, who knows what it is like to be sneered at for something he can’t change (his face is badly scarred by the knife his father wielded), notices (because he notices everything) and sets about finding ways to make it easier for Rufus to read.
Luke made things clear. That was what he did.
And, there is a physical attraction too – immediately on Luke’s part and a little later for Rufus. While the term itself is not used, Rufus is demisexual.
Rufus didn’t lust where he didn’t like. But he liked Luke Doomsday so very much, and now lust was flooding him in a way he’d never experienced in his life.
Rufus is big and broad and very shouty – used to bellowing orders in the military and frustrated by the machinations of the D’Aumesty family, upset by the state of the tenant farms and the books. But he’s kind and generous. He gives people second chances. He even gives grace to the Conrads, blaming the old earl for much of how current affairs came to be. He empathises with them being in expectation – for years – of inheriting only to have that hope dashed. He also is fully aware of his position as Luke’s employer and he’s not going to impose on Luke no matter how attracted he is.
He wasn’t going to think about what might happen if Doomsday welcomed his advances, because he wasn’t going to make any. It would be wrong, and stupid, and there were more important things than fucking, although he was having difficulty remembering what they were.
But Luke has other plans and Rufus is helpless against them. They have a frank discussion about power and privilege and Luke is able to convince Rufus he is not being taken advantage of.
I loved Rufus. Not being raised in the nobility, he didn’t look down on others. From his military experience, he well understood the duty of those higher in rank to look after those for whom they are responsible. He is naturally disposed to in any event. He takes his role as earl seriously but doesn’t fuss about formality. He’s kind and caring and, until Luke comes along, within Stone Manor, no-one is doing any taking care of Rufus.
I liked Luke very much too (although I admit to a preference for Rufus – I’m pretty literal myself and not good at subtext). He is wounded and the scars he bears are not all on his face. He is struggling with the events which took place in The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen and the abuse he suffered even before 1810 at the hands of his father. There is a big part of him who is still a boy who isn’t seen – how could nobody notice how his father abused him?? He’s angry with the Doomsdays and at the same time longs to prove himself to them – he is worthy and better than they are and he’ll show them. He also has a bit of tunnel vision (I related to this myself) which leads him to continue on his planned course despite any number of indicators that it is a bad idea which will hurt others he cares for. Over the course of the book, Luke has to deal with the heavy baggage he’s carrying, face the consequences of his own actions and try to make them right.
I opened the book with little idea of what to expect. I hadn’t even realised the second book takes place 13 years after the events of the first. I was immediately immersed and delighted. There are some horrible characters of course and ones who start off a bit awful but who grow and change but the book itself charmed and engrossed me. There is something about the way the words on the page are put together which was a constant source of pleasure for me; turns of phrase, word pictures and the like. I’ve read many KJ Charles books and am always impressed by how skilled a wordsmith you are. I loved how Rufus played on Luke’s surname in his pet names for him “my end of days”, “my apocalypse”, “end of my world”, “my doomsday”. It spoke of how thoroughly Luke wrecked him in all the best ways.
Rufus and Luke were so well suited to one another, their strengths and flaws complement one another perfectly. They are both, in their own ways, caretakers. I quoted earlier that Rufus realises that Luke makes things clear. “That’s what he does.” But Rufus, in turn, makes things clear for Luke too. What is really important, worth holding onto and what it is time to let go.
There is wonderful humour in the book too. The dryness of it suits me very well.
Rufus had many times heard the phrase ‘he came out swinging’. It generally referred to a boxer’s fists, but there was a lot to be said for an axe.
Basically, I enjoyed everything about this book. Recommended.