I really enjoyed this book. Langley creates a truly original premise that might sound ridiculous or dumb, but instead is wonderful and funny in the best way. Regelence society is dominated by an all-male aristocracy consisting of gay couples who have only gay sons. The clever part is that unmarried males under 25 years are raised in an extremely sheltered, protective manner in order to protect their virginity. They are not allowed out without chaperones, and are about as ignorant of sex as the average “well-brought-up” Regency or Victorian girl.
The reversal of expectations, with young men treated like the blushing virgins instead of girls, consistently yields comic fruit. It’s charming and funny and makes for a great set up for the romantic travails that follow, but it is also insightful. The reader is forced to confront and laugh at expectations and assumptions about gender and sexuality that we may not have even realized we had.
Obviously, all romances hinge on the main characters, and Aiden and Nate do not disappoint. I really loved both, and the erotic scenes are fantastic. Equally welcome was the host of great secondary characters. Far from tapping my foot waiting to get back to the main couple and the sex, I really enjoyed the scenes with Trouble, all of the brothers, the two fathers--even Jeffers (the computer butler). It gives the story a lived in feeling--I was surprised at how refreshing and pleasurable it was to read about such a warm, affectionate family. The fact that it was both gay and royal seemed oddly irrelevant. I also admired that the larger intrigue involving spies and stolen weapons was not the usual perfunctory excuse to put characters in peril, but was actually essential to the larger plot and is building into a grand conspiracy that will require the sequel volumes to unravel.
I had one hesitation: a lot of MM fantasies seem to be set in places where male couples are the norm, and for whatever reason there are almost no females at all. Fair enough--I strongly admire the goal of imagining a world where gay marriage raises no eyebrows or controversy. Regelence goes further, however: it has literally bio-engineered the society so that there are no females, at least in the ruling class. The charm and wit of the books makes it a little too easy to forget what an ugly idea that is, fully as ugly as anti-gay bigotry. Given that such engineering exists in various parts of the world, it made me uncomfortable to see it just glided over. The presence of Rexley’s adopted daughter Muffin leaves room for more critique of the society--perhaps it will come in a later book. (And the second book introduces the wonderful Drusilla, so the author is thankfully not afraid to have strong, clever female characters in her books).
As I said, that aspect made me uncomfortable, but it really was a minor issue in what was otherwise a very enjoyable read. I loved the second book almost as much as the first, and I have already ordered the third volume, due October 2!