Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of reading Behind These Doors by Jude Lucens. This Edwardian polyamorous romance is one of my favorite reads of 2019 thus far.
Here’s a bit of an open secret of many authors, me among them: when we’re deeply entrenched in own stories, it can be hard to wrap our heads around other books in the same genre. I tell you this because – as I finish writing my fourth historical romance in a row and am about to start the fifth – for a book in the genre to turn my head right now, it has to hit all my HEA buttons. And, boy howdy, Behind These Doors does that. Here are the top five reasons I fell in love with this book.
Exquisite historical detail, deftly rendered. The Honorable Aubrey Fanshawe and Lucien Saxby meet in London in 1906. These men are from different classes and lead very different lives. Part of their journey is observing and learning about these overt and nuanced differences in each other’s lives, and understanding the fraught nature of being bi/poly men in that time and place. Of course, as these characters make these observations, so does the reader, which immerses us in this specific time and place.
There are other evocative details woven into the story fabric, from Saxby’s workaday world, his bleak rented rooms, and the women’s suffrage meetings he attends, to Fanshawe’s leisurely life, difficult social obligations, and history of abuse at boarding school. So much great character is revealed through these details without ever hitting an anachronistic note. (Not to mention, it’s a nice change of pace to read about the Edwardian era when so much of historical romance is set in the British Regency and Victorian eras, says the Victorian romance writer.)
“I will happily call [Behind These Doors] a masterpiece. …Holy hell that book is gorgeous.”
-Talia Hibbert, Romance Author
Showing, not telling, in the best possible way. One of the challenges of writing historical fiction, romantic or otherwise, is getting the modern-day reader to understand and identify with the bygone era that is the story’s setting. Adding another new-to-most-readers element like polyamory to explain is a daunting task. While the main love story in Behind These Doors that evolves into the HEA is a m/m one, there are also m/f and m/m/f relationships that already exist in these characters’ lives.
Lucens tackles the challenge of showing them without getting too explain-y by putting us in media res in the existing relationships. She shows the characters interacting in ways that make it clear they have emotional and sexual bonds. In addition to being good writing that keeps the story moving, this technique also puts us into the heads and hearts of people who might have very different love relationships from our own, thus exhibiting one of the superpowers of well-done fiction.
A community of people who care about each other. While readers invest most deeply in the primary relationships in romances, we also come to the stories for the sense of community so many of them engender. The polyamorous couples in Behind These Doors aren’t able to share their love openly out in society, or even, in many cases, with their own families. But the characters in the story do form their own families of choice, small, safe communities of people who will take care of them in their time of need and will cheer them on when they triumph in love.
An honest and realistic HEA. London in 1906 was not an easy place to have a nonconforming sexual orientation. Lucens does not look away from the reality of just how dangerous and terrifying that place and time was for LGBTQ+ people, and has threaded it convincingly throughout the narrative. To remain true to the story and history itself, the HEA, then, could not depend upon standard romance tropes such as marriage, living together, or otherwise presenting as a couple to the world. Giving the characters any of these HEAs would have rung false. Instead, Lucens presents an ending (not to be spoiled here!) that is in keeping with the realities of the time and place of the story.
“A nuanced story about queerness and class and misogyny… the polyamory representation was deeply compelling and felt very real. One of my favorite historical romances I’ve read this year.”
-Corey’s Book Corner
A love story through and through. At the end of the day, I read romance for one reason: to watch characters fall in love in a believable way. The other elements I loved about the book set up this story to provide exactly that catnip. Behind These Doors is not a “boy meets girl” story and it’s not about the “typical” m/f couple many romance enthusiasts are used to seeing. It’s more universal than that. At its core, this historical romance is all about love, and our current world could use a whole lot more of that.