Last week, Liz Bourke suggested that Julian Griffith’s Love Continuance and Increasing might be my sort of thing as it’s a queer polyamorous Regency romance. Utterly unable to resist that sort of catnip, I immediately purchased it. Liz is a terrible, terrible enabler.
I read it over Labor Day weekend and just wowsa. So great. But also a bit flawed in that the ending is crap–it’s not an unromantic ending, just that the story just sort of stops. But the crap ending did not in any way diminish my extreme enjoyment of the rest of the book.
This is the sort of book where it would likely help to have a cheat sheet to keep track of the characters–I don’t know why I had such a hard time keeping track of Thorne and Rockingham’s first names, but I did.
But despite that, this book hit just about every trope required in a Regency romance while still queering it all up–there’s a country dance with matrons keeping track of how many times each girl is danced with, men in uniform, a dead older brother and an unexpected inheritance, dalliances on the terrace, a trip to Vauxhall…
But the first half of this book is a romance between two men–the aforementioned Thorne and Rockingham, the former a naval officer and the latter an army officer. Thorne comes from humble beginnings while Rockingham had his commission purchased for him before his older brother was killed in a riding accident. Their attraction is immediate and mutual, but they both move slowly because, well, their relationship is illegal. That’s one thing I loved about this book: it seemed to be extremely well-researched and the author was not interested in showing a fairyland where queer people were accepted but, rather, how actual queer people of the time would have negotiated their desires around the social and legal constraints of the time. Here’s a post where the author talks a bit about the period.
It’s just lovely. Also lovely is the relationship between Alexander and Marcus and how both Thorne and Rockingham gently let them know that they each figured out that they’re each other’s particular friend and that they don’t need to hide it from them; especially lovely is the scene where Thorne comforts Marcus while Marcus still believes that Alexander is dead (why I can keep Marcus and Alexander, er, straight in my head while Thorne and Rockingham’s first names confuse me, I have no idea).
Since Rockingham is, in addition to his army position, also a viscount he knows that he will eventually have to marry–so both he and Thorne are aware that their relationship cannot be permanent because Thorne refuses to be a party to the breaking of marital vows. So there’s a bit of foreshadowing there, but again: a this fits with what I know of the period. Marriages were a matter of contract, not of love.
But in the meantime, they have relationship which is conducted primarily in letters and in person when Thorne’s ship happens to be near where Rockingham is stationed. The sex scenes are hot but not too explicit and they are more about the emotional connection between the two men than the mechanics. There is a lot of emotional intimacy in this book which is, I think, one of my favorite things about romance.
When Rockingham eventually does marry, he marries a young woman coming out of her first Season. Caroline is exceptionally sensible and intelligent and neither of them are marrying for love and honest about it–and Rockingham also makes sure that Caroline knows that if she ever should find herself in love that she should come to him and that they will figure something out.
This being a romance novel, what happens of course, is that when Caroline meets Thorne when he comes to baby Stephen’s christening, it’s practically love and angst at first sight for them both.
And this is where the book gets awesome: everyone acts like an adult and talks to each other. And they totally figure something out and it was just, oh. Exactly my sort of thing. They’re all aware for the need for discretion because they know that what they’re embarking upon is completely unconventional and not anything that needs to be flaunted, especially since both Rockingham and Thorne have no intention of giving up their military careers. The way they negotiate the strictures on their relationship is just fantastic and I appreciate that Griffith made it explicitly clear that she was trying to work within existing social structures and not overthrow them. The result of this is a story that feels firmly grounded in time and place but which also doesn’t erase the existence of queer people.
As I said that the beginning, the only real flaw in this book is the way it just stops–it’s definitely a Happy For Now ending, but apparently the author has a story coming later this year that features these characters. And a bunch of other interesting possibilities, too! I’m so glad Liz recommended this book–I’ll definitely add Griffith to my list of writers to keep an eye on in the future.