REVIEW: The Boxer and the Blacksmith by Edie Cay
Can London’s lady champion fight for love?
As London’s undefeated women’s boxer, Bess Abbott has the scars-both inside and out-to prove it. But when one of her boxing students, Violet, needs protection, Bess Abbott’s rock hard heart cracks open. And when a handsome blacksmith comes along, giving her compliments and treating her, well, like a woman, Bess doesn’t know what to do. She’s on the ropes in the face of love.
Os Worley was a child when he became an accidental stow-away. He grew up not knowing the family or the island that inflected his accent. His only memory of his mother is a head bent, hands working a stitch, a voice humming a melody. Now that he has his own foundry, and his own apprentice, he’s come to London to find the woman attached to this memory. His heart is already tempered and quenched, focused on his goal-but a lady boxer threatens to recast his love in her own image.
As Os and Bess face off, will they toe the line or retreat to their corners?
The second installment of Edie Cay’s When the Blood Is Up, The Boxer and the Blacksmith is a standalone historical romance focusing on the less glamorous portion of London’s Regency population.
CW – violence against a child, boxing violence
Dear Ms. Cay,
At first I wasn’t sure if this book was about an m/m relationship. Then I had my preconceptions upended when I read the blurb and realized that the boxer is a woman. Well alrighty then. This sounded interesting and reading your author’s note (at the end of the book – but read it and the glossary first) assured me that you’d done your research as well as got sensitivity readers to vet it as well.
Bess Abbott is on her way to get something when she’s accosted on the street by drunken louts looking for a quick tumble. They’re drunk, lewd, and insult her looks then think she’s going to acquiesce to being gang raped. Nope, not our Bess who grew up hard and mean as an orphan in London before being taken on by a boxing trainer on account of her size and physical ability. It’s not until she’s dispatched the four of them that she realizes that a man has been watching from the shadows.
Os Worley heard the set-to begin and hurried from his blacksmith forge with a hammer that would make most men think twice about messing with him only to find that Bess Abbott – his favorite fighter – has everything in hand. A bit tongue tied in her presence, Os offers to walk her wherever – which she politely turns down as she can take care of herself and isn’t used to men offering – as well as inviting her to his smithy.
When Bess finally arrives there – to the delight of Os’s French Huguenot apprentice who senses that Os might be love struck – it’s to ask him to help her find one of the young girls Bess has been training whose drunken father beats her. As they begin to help keep Violet away from her father’s fists, the two slowly begin to get to know each other. The physical attraction is immediate but as a tall, plain woman with boxing injuries (Os is almost obsessed with her “cauliflower ears”) Bess isn’t used to any man being interested in a long term relationship while Os is a quiet, introverted man who isn’t sure Bess would be interested in him. Theirs is a two step forward and one step back courtship.
Bess might finally have a chance at a well publicized mill – and the prize money that accompanies it – with a female boxer who actually trains as much as she does but she still has to train hard and protect Violet. Os has been looking for his mother, whom he hasn’t seen since he left Barbados as a child, for years and has come to London based on scanty information that she might be there and is now faced with putting all his efforts into finding her or continuing his relationship with Bess. Can they obtain their goals and manage to forge a relationship?
I had a great time reading this book. It’s a Regency but a working class one! Bess is no blushing maiden or virgin. She’s a bit loud, is proud of what she does, and aims to be taken seriously even though most men come to women’s matches to see their dugs. She never knew either parent, escaped from the workhouse, and grew up rough and fighting for every crust of bread or scrap of affection. Her confidence falters in the face of a man who professes to be interested in her as she was badly hurt in the past. Her motto is a good offense is the best defense so she tries to never be weak around anyone. Yeah, that leads to some bone headed decisions on her part but given her childhood, I could understand her thoughts and actions.
Os was born in Freetown, Barbados before unintentionally stowing away on a ship bound for Manchester. As a five year old, he was taken in by a local Lord (but his upkeep was paid for by the local Abolitionist Society) to be a childhood companion for his heir. Os might have been fed, clothed, and housed but from an early age he realized he was on his own. He also wanted to find his mother of whom he had only a few memories. Though Lord Chitley tried to get Os to go into service – Black footmen could earn a good salary – Os insisted on learning a trade. Used to depending on himself, Os tends to keep to himself until he’s sure of his reception among strangers.
Watching these two – carefully in Os’s case and uncertainly in Bess’s case – dance around each other was a teensy bit slow at times but that also made sense based on how their backgrounds were written. Each thinks the other might not be truly interested due to things neither can change and for which they’ve received harsh treatment in the past and present. But due to their lack of families, they’ve made their own and are fiercely loyal.
Some characters and events from the first book (which I haven’t read), are referenced or present in this story but enough is explained that I didn’t feel lost. There are a lot of scenes of Bess training – maybe a bit too many – and Os working the forge – which I’d like to have seen more of – with Jean, who is a delightful secondary character. Bess and Os’s relationship quickly turns physical which they both enjoy and seek more of. After a particularly intense encounter, I chuckled when Os tells Bess that if he were a younger man (he’s about 35), he’d quickly show her again how much he desires her. Most romances would have the MCs at it all night with unending vigor so it was nice to see a bit of reality.
Little touches along the way show how neither Bess nor Os are totally accepted by society. They do have a small cadre of people who care for them but have always felt like outsiders looking in. When they finally let their guards down, it’s lovely. I hope that there will be more of them in the final book in the series and I enjoyed watching them find each other here. I’m bumping up the grade to B+ for the sheer novelty.