About the Book
- KJ Charles
Sub-Genres: Historical M/M, Mysteries, Thrillers
What’s Your Type: Spies, Cozy Mysteries, 1920s Goodness, Bookstore Porn, Slow Burn Relationships
It’s week two of FYA’s Grown-Up Guide to Romance Novels and I’m so excited you’re here! I earmarked this series in 2020 for Grown-Up Guide and then couldn’t fit it in last February, so I’ve been waiting an entire year and a half to get this historical mystery M/M romance fix. No pressure, KJ!
The Will Darling Adventures series by KJ Charles
It’s the end of World War I in London, England, and the aftermath of war is still very much causing ripples throughout society. Ex-soldiers returned to their hometowns for a pat on the back and zero job prospects. If you didn’t support the war and refused to fight, then you are branded the worst kind of patriot. Will and Kim are on opposite ends of the social and ideological spectrums, but when they come together, the chemistry is undeniable.
After reading all three books, I can finally tell you that this series is like if a Sherlock story was from Watson’s perspective, and Sherlock was more of a Mycroft-Sherlock mash-up (leaning into the rich person connections and devious, duplicitous nature of Mycroft paired with the pensiveness and cleverness of Sherlock), but set in the 1920s.
From Fancy Dress to Fabio:
I totes judged these books by their covers, because the first time I scrolled past them I stopped and went, “OOOH, PRETTY”. Even though I am no Gatsby lover, I do love a good 1920s art deco aesthetic.
The Leading Man: Scrappy Soldier
Will at the start can be kind of a goober (see more below), but I can’t help but feel for him. His experiences in war are something no one should have to go through, and he’s come out of it mostly unscathed physically, but with a shit-ton to unpack in therapy, especially on the subject of his willingness to throw himself into dangerous situations. He’s pretty nonchalant about being the kind of grunt soldier who was good at taking orders and killing, but sometimes you could see the sore, tender bits under his practical attitude. He’s super loyal and tries to be a good friend, and, to me, that forgives some of his more bull-headed attributes.
The Leading Man: Secretive Scoundrel
It’s obvious why Will is entranced with Kim. He’s a handsome, wealthy, and insanely charming second son of a Marquess and his hair is full of secrets. He’s also manipulative and will do whatever it takes to get a job done, but afterwards he’s carting around an entire matching set of guilt-baggage he refuses to unpack. Charles writes him with enough hints of conflicting emotions underneath his blasé exterior that you, like Will, are willing to give him just one more chance.
Both leading men evolve throughout the series in a super satisfying way, but I’m trying to keep it as spoiler-free as possible so as not to give away the good stuff!
Mrs. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
Charles’ writing has a British wittiness and cheeky tone that makes otherwise normal observations sparkle within the context of the setting and characters. I found myself highlighting quite a bit in all 3 books when I normally don’t do that. This charming moment—right from the first paragraph of the first book—gave me some surprise feels and instantly made me feel good about spending time in Will’s head:
Will Darling was outnumbered by books.
It hadn’t always felt this way. When he’d first visited his uncle at Darling’s Used & Antiquarian, he’d simply thought, That’s a lot of books, and when he’d started helping here, they were just work. As he took over the running of the place in his uncle’s last illness, though, he became increasingly aware of them looming around him, full of knowledge and secrets and lies. So much that, when Uncle William had died, Will remembered an ancient piece of lore about bees, and he’d cleared his throat and told the books, “He’s gone.”
Slippery Creatures (The Will Darling Adventures #1)
Will Darling has inherited his uncle’s bookstore—as well as his uncle’s secrets. When a shady character comes ‘round demanding the goods, a bewildered Will tells him to buzz off, but then the War Office also comes a-knocking. Just as Will is feeling overwhelmed, in strolls Kim Secretan with a ready smile and a sympathetic ear. But is Kim’s offer of friendship too good to be true? And what is this information that people would literally kill to get?
Risqué Ranking: 8
Will and Kim don’t waste a lot of time before their very own Atonement-esque moment against a bookshelf, and things get pretty spicy throughout this fairly short novel. I generally prefer a slower-burn build-up to The Big Moment, but the kicker here is that while there’s plenty of pants feelings, the actual road to a relationship is a lot more complicated as more is revealed about their personalities and motivations. So luckily for me, there’s still some pining to be had.
Your mileage may vary, but the only thing I really didn’t care for regarding the sexy bits was the constant reference to the act of sex as “fucking”. Like, yes, that’s what it IS, but it felt so…callously juxtaposed with Will’s growing feelings. I don’t know if it’s an author’s preference thing or a because it’s two dudes thing? It’s not like I require softer terms like “making love” or “velvet-encased steel” in my romances, but it felt almost anachronistic and kept pulling me out of the setting (even though I’m sure people were saying it that way back in the 1920s and I’m probably just romanticizing it).
Was It Good For You?
This was jolly good fun! I love when a book has me stopping to look up words or historical references to see if they were real things (was not aware of the Bright Young Things). It had a great cozy-mystery setting with Will’s ramshackle, dusty bookshop and Kim’s lavish set of apartments. The mystery isn’t the most complicated, but the pacing moved along at a good clip and so kept my attention. The biggest issue I had was with Will’s naïveté—I spent a good portion of my read just dropping my face into my hands, like, what, what, WHAT are you doing, Will?? Why are you antagonizing everyone without any ability to back it up?
Special shout-out to Maisie and Phoebe, who were excellent side characters! Maisie is probably the smartest person in the book and Phoebe is one of those socialites with a heart of gold who rambles on and on but in between the lines she’s really quite perceptive. I hope we see a lot more of them!
The Sugared Game (The Will Darling Adventures #2)
Maisie and Will head out to a club to celebrate her new business venture, and what seems like a random night out somehow entangles Will further with the Zodiac crime group. Kim pops back up after two months of silence and implores Will to help him take down the club’s shady proprietor. But will working with Kim also mean letting him back into Will’s heart?
Risqué Ranking: 8
Will has a new host of reasons to be annoyed with Kim, but it all keeps going back to the same thing: Kim doesn’t like to depend on people and let them in. I liked the progression of their relationship and the tough conversations that needed to be had in order to be more than occasional bedfellows. There’s a few sexy, detailed scenes, but what I also loved were the sideways looks and the double-entendres that hinted at a new sense of intimacy between Kim and Will.
Was It Good For You?
The mystery and the stakes to our characters were way more exciting—and dangerous—in this book! The major players are already introduced and established from the first story, so now it’s just watching how everything unfolds. There was more focus on my fave characters—Phoebe and Maisie, obvs—and answers to some outstanding questions from Slippery Creatures. Some major plot points wrap up fairly neatly by the close, to a point where I do wonder where the third book will have to go.
Subtle Blood (The Will Darling Adventures #3)
OK, so I figured out where this book will go! Kim and Will have spent a few quiet months recuperating from their blow-out with Zodiac, but suddenly everything goes tits up when Kim’s older brother, Chingford, is accused of murder at his prestigious, posh gentlemen’s club. Chingford swears he didn’t do it, but he’s also kind of an asshole so no one really believes him. Despite his undying hatred for his brother, Kim is desperate to find out the truth, because if Chingford swings then that means Kim will be his father’s heir, and that threatens any plans for a real future Will and Kim could share.
Risqué Ranking: 6
This case is a little too close to Kim for him to be feeling a lot of sexy vibes; it’s more like anxiety-ridden, “I am about to puke as my life as I know it is ending” vibes, and so every sex scene has a tinge of desperation to it. HOWEVER. Can I interest you in risqué discussions on feelings? *eyebrow waggle* Because Kim and Will get a drop-trou-and-spank-my-bottom 10 for emotional honesty. They’ve grown so much from book one, even as they acknowledge they have more personal emotional hurdles to cross. I ship it.
Was It Good For You?
So much yes in, like, a murdery, your family emotionally abuses you and everything is about to blow up in your face kinda way! Will is still his stubborn self BUT his time with Kim has smoothed some of his rougher edges, and, conversely, Kim’s time with Will has had the effect on his psyche of a plant finally feeling the supportive rays of the sun for the first time. Toss in some high-stakes hijinks, class warfare, and blackmail, and, baby, you got a stew going—er, I mean, a heartfelt and interesting mystery with great characters and an immersive setting.
I have been writing this post in pieces as I finished each book in the series, and while at the start I was not ready to give out platinum-encrusted BFF charms to Will and Kim, by book three I was ALL IN on this friendship (especially if I also get to hang out with Maisie and Phoebe!). Save me a spot at our private dining room at the Savoy, darlings.
FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copies of these books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Will Darling Adventures are available now.