Trigger warning for mentions of violence against women. (Not graphic.)
Book reviewed from an ARC supplied by the author. This review contains spoilers for Provoked.
Yeah, yeah, I know I said I was going to read a Bujold for B. I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least for now, I really just don’t want to. And the idea is to read books I want to read; I have enough reading homework. Also, October is Queer Romance Month, which is an excellent excuse.
Set in Edinburgh in 1822, Beguiled is the second in a literal trilogy — that is, you need to read all three installments to get the full book. It’s a historical love story between two men who couldn’t be less alike. A farmer’s son who’s risen in the world as a lawyer, David Lauriston is very uncomfortable with his homosexuality and tries to suppress it, yet is far too ethical to hide behind the sweet woman who loves him; the hedonistic Lord Murdo Balfour sees nothing wrong either with having male lovers or with marrying and continuing to have male lovers. (Although he has yet to take his own advice to David and get married himself.) They parted in anger at the end of the first book.
Beguiled opens with them reunited after two years and quickly discovering the main thing they have in common: neither could forget their first experience of sex that was more than merely slacking a need.
“I just–never knew it could be like that, between two men.”
“Neither did I.”
While David and Murdo are getting reacquainted, several threads from the previous book are progressing. David is very concerned about Elizabeth, his mentor’s daughter, who married in haste when David rejected her and is clearly being abused by her new husband. Hotheaded Euan MacLennan, now a radical journalist, is also very concerned, and determined to help Elizabeth escape — a challenging proposition in a time when wives were literally property, and Elizabeth is guarded like a prisoner. Of course the caring and noble David has to help, no matter how dangerous a task it might be.
But the story is more romance focused than the first book, less about David’s coming of age and more about him falling in love. Two years of separation have made a huge difference in his heart, where he’s been both tormented and comforted by his memories of Murdo and what he offered:
The possibility of tenderness and affection. The possibility of being known by another. Things he’d ruled out for himself. Things that were too painful to hope for.
David’s essential character doesn’t change, but he no longer feels damned for his desires. And Murdo too is becoming aware of David as more important than a pleasurable fling. Although David is more obviously the character being “enlightened,” there should be interesting growth coming for both of them in the third book.
The background of the story is King George’s visit to Scotland, the first visit of a British king in over two centuries. It was an opulent, ridiculous pageant organized by Sir Walter Scott, and the excitement of the Scottish people, often bordering on riotous, is palpable. The unfolding of the character driven love story against the rich, authentic-feeling historical setting — not to mention some very hot, emotional sexytimes — is just about everything I could ask for in historical romance.