I discovered KJ Charles in March 2019 – a friend had raved about The Henchmen of Zenda, and when someone whose taste in books allies very closely to your own, you listen to their raves. I actually began with a few other books first, but five books later I was ready to be a lifelong reader. The Henchmen of Zenda – a brilliantly entertaining take on The Prisoner of Zenda, only with the sympathy firmly in the henchmen’s camp – convinced me, if I needed any further convincing. Which I didn’t.
In the 18 months since being introduced to Charles’ work, I’ve read almost everything she’s published. I keep meaning to write about each of her series and standalones, but I’m not sure what I’d say beyond “another bloody brilliant book by K.J. Charles!”
Which brings me to The Sugared Game, the second in The Will Darling Adventures trilogy. I could just say “another bloody brilliant book by K.J. Charles!” but that’s hardly helpful. So.
The first book of the series, Slippery Creatures, introduced us to Will Darling, a returned WWI soldier trying to adjust to civilian life, who has just inherited a bookshop from his uncle. He meets Kim Secretan, a very posh fellow with a difficult past who, it seems, can never be entirely trusted. Their sexual attraction is undeniable, but so is the fact that Will has fallen into a thick and deadly plot involving a criminal gang, the War Office, some even shadier goings on that Kim seems to be part of.
The Sugared Game continues the fabulously outré pulp fiction adventures that began in Slippery Creatures: the Zodiac gang with its code names and ruthless cohorts are still operating, despite the distinct blows delivered by Will and Kim in the previous book. The gang’s head, Capricorn, is still out there, though the focus this time is on the Aquarius.
Kim, as slippery a creature as ever tied an exquisite suit, has not been in touch with Will for a few months as the book opens, and Will is hurt and furious in equal measure, despite no declarations having been made. His best friend Maisie, however, has made fast friends with Kim’s fiancée, Phoebe (it’s complicated) and Maisie’s genius for clothing design is giving both women new opportunities.
Celebrating the new business potential at the High Low night club, however, Will is thrown unexpectedly into Zodiac dealings once more, and vulnerable, shifty, unreliable, gorgeous Kim is suddenly back in Will’s life. Inevitably, Will gets tangled up in this ruthless game – which he wouldn’t mind so much if Kim didn’t keep on hiding so much and lying the rest of the time. Their fragile intimacy – their mutual attraction and desire – could easily be the making or breaking of these men and the vicious gang they’re trying to dismantle (or just survive).
Charles once more delivers a cracking adventure story populated by gritty, really real people, despite the fantastical pulp/007 style plots. When Kim and Will clash, it’s not some silly misunderstanding that would be cleared up if only they would talk. (Though, yeah, Kim’s incapacity to do that isn’t a help.) The obstacles they have to overcome for the adventure, and for their personal lives, are real, embedded in personality, values, motivations that make sense and forces both internal and external. This makes the resolutions to both adventure and love story incredibly satisfying.
Slippery Creatures resolved one story line and took Kim and Will on a step forward in their relationship. The Sugared Game brings them on another step, while the Zodiac storyline is addressed in more detail along with consequences for Kim and Will as well as Maisie and Phoebe.
I’m eagerly looking forward to the third in the trilogy, Subtle Blood, due out later this year. I have no doubt that Kim, Will, Maisie and Phoebe will be tangled up in deadly adventures once more, facing believable and difficult personal issues, and that the conclusion will be as hard-fought-for, and as deeply satisfying, as everything she writes.
Buy The Sugared Game
Buy Slippery Creatures