REVIEW: The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter (Lilywhite Boys) by KJ Charles
Music-hall singer Miss Christiana is in serious debt, and serious trouble. She owes more than she can pay to a notorious criminal, and now he plans to make an example of her. There’s no way out.
But Christiana has an admirer. Stan Kamarzyn has watched her sing for a year and he doesn’t want to see her get hurt. Stan’s nobody special–just a dodgy bloke from Bethnal Green–but he’s got useful friends, the sort who can get a girl out of trouble, for a price. Christiana’s not sure what it will cost her…
The two slowly reach an understanding. But Christiana is no criminal, and she can’t risk getting mixed up with the law. What will happen when Stan’s life as the fence for the notorious Lilywhite Boys brings trouble to his doorstep?
A trans f/m asexual romance novelette
Taken from the book – Content warning: the story opens with a scene of misgendering/ transphobia and threat of violence.
Dear Ms. Charles,
Several reviewers here love your books but since I prefer historicals without paranormal aspects, Kaetrin suggested I try books other than the Magpie series. Something about this cover and title caught my interest and as it’s a novella (or novelette, as it’s described in the blurb) this seemed a perfect place to start.
I like how the story kicks straight off in media res. Christiana nervously awaits her date with pain at the hands of men who enjoy doing this kind of thing. She failed to do what a crime lord wanted and now she knows she’ll be made a public example because that’s what happens. She debates whether or not she should dress nicely and put on face paint – meet her fate looking good, or if this might make things worse. Turns out nothing would have changed things except what actually happens.
Sauntering into her dressing room comes salvation in the form of a large pair of men who ooze “You wanna fuck with me? Go ahead, try it.” vibes. After the dust settles (more emotional than physical at this point), Christiana doesn’t quite know what to make of her situation. Having lived under threat for so long (and not just because of her recent debt to a crime lord), she finds it hard to believe what she’s told. Finally she blurts out the questions she has which improve what Jerry and Temp think of her.
“Oh, that’s much better.” Templeton sounded pleased. “I didn’t think Stan would be a fool just for a pretty face. Rational thought, that’s what we need.”
When she meets the actual source of her saviors, she still takes the time to make sure Stan understands who she is and what she isn’t as well as what she decidedly won’t do. Stan’s horrified denials and shyness reassure Christiana and their conversation drifts to families – Stan would do anything for his immigrant family which bewilders Christiana who shocks Stan when she says hers would do nothing to help her – and their dreams. Slowly they begin to see more of each other.
For all that this is a novella, the expansion of their relationship is slow and gentle. As miraculous as they find it, Stan and Christiana appear to have found their perfect other half, in a Victorian world that doesn’t allow for openly stating preferences that aren’t cis-gendered, hetero-normative.
“She could see the light in Stan’s eyes, the kind you got when you discovered you weren’t, in fact, the only one in the whole world.”
There is a final scene of unrestrained violence which shows a bit about the nature of the Lilywhite Boys and how dangerous the criminal underworld is. It also gives Christiana the chance to be a heroine – though she doesn’t see it that way. I also found it realistic that Stan has his moments of terror and needs some time alone for a quiet breakdown afterwards. We’re not all of us brave in the face of danger. It’s also nice that the story title is explained using a music hall song that Christiana enjoys wowing her audience with from the stage. B
Also note – both Stan and Christiana identify as asexual as far as interest in sexual activity but do engage in other non-sexual physical activity such as cuddling and hand holding.