- Title(s): Thief; Fortune Hunter; Rogues
- Author: Ava March
- Series: Brook Street, Books 1-3
- Genre(s): Historical, M/M
- Publisher: Carina Press, March-May 2012
- Source: Thief: Free from publisher via NetGalley; Fortune Hunter: Amazon, $3.03; Rogues: Amazon, $3.03
- Trope(s): In the Closet. Regency England
- Quick blurb: Mayfair men and the men they love.
- Quick review: Despite a sanitized setting, the focus on passionate relationships makes this series work.
- Grade: B (Thief: B, Fortune Hunter: A-, Rogues: C+)
Regency London – where polite manners and spotless reputations reign supreme. Yet behind the closed doors of three elegant town houses along Brook Street, passion and lust reign as gentlemen dare to risk scandal by falling in love…
During my first reading of Ava March’s Brook Street novellas, I found her Regency Mayfair world to be sanitized and idealistic – especially compared to the claustrophobic atmosphere of secrecy and urgency and impending doom that characterizes many other M/M historicals.
All six main characters in this trilogy accept being gay without hesitation.* In Thief, the first novella in the series, youngest son Benjamin simply makes up his mind and never falters with his decision:
Before the not-so-subtle nudges from his brothers and sisters started anew to find a wife among the bevies of young ladies, he would know the truth about himself. And either way, he would accept it.
None of the Brook Street heroes are asked to deal with the pressure for an heir, nor do they confront threats of being disinherited or shunned. All are estranged, or nearly so, from their families for reasons other than their homosexuality, which feels like an easy cop-out avoid external conflicts. For these heroes, there’s no emotional trauma – or even angst – about the risks of loving another man in 19th-century England:
“Discretion is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.”
However, as I was reading more closely a second time for reviewing, I realized that by focusing on relationships rather than societal pressures, March gives her historical gay characters not only the happy endings they deserve, but the dignity they deserve as well. In the Brook Street world, we’re allowed a more intimate view of the heroes’ day-to-day lives, especially the importance of friendship in establishing and sustaining the “confirmed bachelor” façade.
Grading the stories individually…..
In Thief, a lord intent on his first decadent night with a man finds love when he picks up a thief in a gambling hell.
Hero Ben comes across as overly noble and trusting, and his immediate “live with me and be my love” jump into being gay seems too early and too easy. Cavin, the Seven Dials pickpocket, shoulders all the conflict, and the menace of the Bill Sykes-esque crime boss is eliminated much too conveniently.
But in spite of the rushed pacing, the passionate writing really brings out their desperate need for intimacy and connection:
As his hands roamed over Cavin’s back, his hips, his firm arse, Benjamin reveled in the blunt honesty of their kiss. The stark, unbridled lust, the voracious need. Nothing tempered. Nothing held back.
I think the premise of Thief would have worked better as a full-length novel. Ben needs more time and more conflict to appreciate his HEA.
Also: That cover? Oooooh yeah, baby.
In Fortune Hunter, a man determined to gain a fortune by marrying an heiress instead falls in love with an obscenely wealthy young gentleman.
Julian and Oscar were my favorite Brook Street heroes – I understood and felt their motivations from beginning to end, and I loved seeing their friendship turn into romance:
…a slow, sinful smile that had made Oscar just want to…sigh last night. One of those yes, please sighs.
For me, this relationship was the most believable and HEA-worthy. Oscar and Julian are equally needy and vulnerable, and they both have to work through significant internal change before they’re reunited. And it’s such a lovely, lovely reunion:
Oscar held on tight, held on to the man who had dragged himself across the countryside for him, who had worked himself into the bone, who wanted him for him, who had become a better man for him…
…A man who loved him in return.
And in Rogues, two of London’s most notorious rakehells discover if their friendship can withstand the test of turning into something so much more.
Because they’ve been together for so long, and because they’re so much alike, Linus and Rob have the most the volatile relationship – in a good way, because their hunger for each other jumps off the page:
But just the thought of never again having Rob beneath him, to never hold him close again, to never again lick the sweat from his skin, to feel his panting breaths rush across his cheek, to never again kiss him….
His heart screamed in protest.
However, even after a second reading, I really never liked Rob or Linus; I felt both of them were smug and shallow. Linus appears in the preceding stories as the resident smarmy dickhead who makes snide comments that cause his “friends” to doubt their lovers, and he expects his conquests to drop to their knees whenever he raises an eyebrow. Rob is a manslut who decides on a whim he’s going to give up his widows and whores for his best friend – then stalks him for weeks when the response is “thank you but no.”
As a few other reviewers have pointed out, this novella needed another round of editing. There’s a bit of post-rimming squickiness, phrases like “he slanted his mouth” were used multiple times, and the “aha!” moments were pretty heavy-handed compared to the other installments.
The “friends with benefits, but maybe more” plot redeemed this story a little bit, and I’m glad the heroes ended up together instead of permanently inflicting their selfish arrogance on others, but it wasn’t enough to bump this one up to a B.
*Note: I also read the prequel My True Love Gave to Me, first published in the December 2011 anthology Men Under the Mistletoe. In that story, recurring Brook Street characters Alexander and Thomas get all the drama and trauma missing from the trilogy. Thomas literally leaves Alexander on the doorstep because he’s terrified of crossing the threshold – both literally and figuratively. I gave My True Love an A-.