While I’ll express mixed feelings about Something Fabulous in the following short book review, I did completely enjoy this so-called historical gay romance by author Alexis Hall. As you’ll see, my feelings are mixed in very limited ways!
On the first hand, Hall’s storyline and plot, pacing, characterizations, and descriptions made Something Fabulous very readable and appropriate for readers of all ages. On the other hand, some of those descriptions (while accurate and touching) promoted the book, in my opinion, to an adult level (the movie version will surely be X-rated without some conscientious revising)!
So, who were the intended readers? When I began reading, I felt the content was targeted to a more young-adult audience: the story is whimsical and fantastical, and it flowed very well; by the work’s end (and after skimming, somewhat uncomfortably, over those few detailed, more “colorful” scenes), however, I feel justified in categorizing the story as an adult read. In my opinion, none of those scenes are integral to the story and they could have all been left out—or treated with less graphic detail (or sarcastically sidestepped as in another situation)—making Something Fabulous an enjoyable gay manuscript for all ages. But that is just my personal opinion.
Speaking of the gay theme, I admire the step-by-step-by-step approach Hall took to breaking down and following main character Valentine’s transition from straight (actually, it would seem, more of an ignorance about the possibility of an alternate life) to fully gay; but I’m not sure that pacing still didn’t move a little too quickly. Still, Valentine’s thought progression and the development of that angle of his personality is a primary part of the story, and I applaud that measured approach as he finds, literally, his love for protagonist Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton.
Early in the novel, when an innocent, duty-bound Valentine Layton, Duke of Malvern, is first introduced to the existence of sexual options, his response is, in addition to confusion, predictable and familiar:
“What is . . . the purpose? . . . You can’t conjoin property or procreate or unite your families.”
Tarleton’s look was almost pitying. “I know you think me a fool, but those all sound like terrible reasons to spend my life with someone. At least the man I choose, I will have chosen for himself alone.”
“Isn’t it”—Valentine swallowed—”wrong, though?”
“By whose reckoning?”
A shrug. “When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they learned what was good, and what was evil, and how to tell the difference. I believe we know when we do wrong. We feel it. In our hearts, our souls, our conscience. And nothing I have ever learned or known or felt has taught me to believe that love is wrong. So no, . . . it’s not wrong.”
“Oh,” said Valentine.
Later in the novel, Valentine has evolved to the following midpoint:
“I used to be in better command of myself.”
“Did you, though?” Something of Bonny’s amusement remained, but his voice had softened. . . . “Or did you just ignore your feelings until they exploded out of you?”
Valentine offered the coolest look he could manage in the wake of his weeping. “Dukes don’t have feelings, Bonny.”
And before Valentine could dispute the topic further, Bonny had taken his hand and brought it to his lips—as though Valentine had fallen into some medieval fairy tale where, far from being the noble knight, he was the damsel in the tower. But then, perhaps if knights had spent more of their time kissing other knights, being kissed would not be solely the purview of damsels in towers. “I don’t like having feelings,” Valentine muttered.
Except he was lying again. Because some of his feelings—the ones that moved across his skin like moonlight over water in response to the brush of Bonny’s mouth—were . . . enticing. Extraordinarily enticing.
“You can’t live without feelings,” Bonny told him.
“As it happens, I managed perfectly well.”
Finally, towards the novel’s end, Valentine is skirting the issue of his love with his more-worldly mother. When he hesitates to discuss his love with her, she prods for more information . . . “Is she unsuitable?” she asks.
“Is she impoverished? A bluestocking? Older than you? A governess? A courtesan? French? A cat burglar? An actress. A—”
“Mother,” Valentine yelled. “She’s a man.”
A split second of silence. “Well,” said his mother, the faintest squeak in her voice. “That’s certainly unusual. But do tell me about him, won’t you, darling?”
Valentine was momentarily frozen. “How can I tell you about him? He’s a man. Didn’t you hear me? He’s a man. I’m in love with a man.”
“Well, yes. I did hear you . . .” She searched his face in some confusion. “Vali, you seem very upset about this?”
“And you aren’t?”
“What would that accomplish?”
“I don’t know,” snapped Valentine. “But it would be normal.”
So, still Valentine struggled with his position in society and the expectations of others, but he was coming around—and doing so at his own pace.
As for classifying this story as historical (as done in several online bookstore listings but which, I suggest, is a bit of a stretch), the book is set in turn-of-the-19th-century England and, in addition to descriptions of a realistic countryside and travels of that era, it does seem to portray the rights and responsibilities of “dukedom” along with revelations regarding the property rights of the aristocracy and depictions of the respect expected of such a title in an accurate way for the time. Plus I did learn what a curricle was. So this might be a moot argument.
Please don’t get me wrong: Something Fabulous, which is the first volume in a series, is a great book. It reads quickly; involves humor and lots of quick, pointed dialogue; shares some laugh-out-loud moments; and explores character growth as a primary theme. In addition, the editorial errors were minimal and did not interfere with comprehension. I only wish I could recommend the story for all readers.
Get yourself a copy!
Buy a copy of Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall for yourself through the-gay-editor’s online bookstore. If you need more convincing than I’ve done in my short review of this book, take a look at some of these independent reviews (some of which also introduce and discuss Bonny’s twin sister, Arabella, the main antagonist—I chose not to even mention her bothersome presence):
- with a short synopsis, at CannonballRead.com (CBR), a memorial reading challenge
- with a more detailed plot description (though the reviewer got the time setting incorrect) and some public comments courtesy of Beware of the Reader, a book blogger from Belgium
- with even more details and opinions, provided by SmexyBooks.com
- with a very well-rounded summary and list of characters, provided by All About Romance (be sure to read the comments here, too)
And, read on . . .
the-gay-editor has compiled a number of other titles for your reading pleasure, and all are LGBTQ+ focused. Visit our special bookstore page to find links to book selections for adults and younger readers that include these recently added titles:
- The Witch and the Vampire, by Francesca Flores
- Slippery Creatures, by K. J. Charles
- The Manor House Governess, by C. A. Castle
the-freelance-editor has also built a bookstore for writers, aspiring editors, and readers of all interests. Visit that bookstore page for an index to categories and links to those selections.
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originally posted March 9, 2023
no text revisions to date
image information: Featured image used via Montlake, an imprint of Amazon Publishing.
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