Exclusive Cover Reveal + Q&A: The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen

Books Features KJ Charles
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Exclusive Cover Reveal + Q&A: <i>The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen</i>

If you’re a fan of historical romance and you’ve never heard the name KJ Charles before, allow us to correct what is sure to have been a massive oversight (we’ll let you thank us later). The former editor and now full-time author is behind some of the most well-loved books in the histrom genre, many of which are often paired with a degree of fantasy—a delectable combination that makes it a book that can only be described as a KJ Charles title. From her Charm of Magpies series that infuses the world of Victorian London with magic and action of all sorts, to last year’s sharp-witted and delightful standalone The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting, readers who hop into a KJ Charles book know exactly what they’re in for: adventure, humor, heartbreak, but ultimately romance that delivers.

Now, fans both new and returning will be excited to learn that the award-winning author is about to embark on an entirely new historical romance series through Sourcebooks Casablanca! The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen is the first book in Charles’ Doomsday Books, and revolves around a proper gentleman named Sir Gareth Inglis who inherits his estranged father’s estate and all of the headaches that come with it… including the clan of smugglers who live on the land itself, led by Joss Doomsday. Through an unlikely instance of mistaken identity, blackmail… oh, and murder, Gareth and Joss might actually find love in the last place they were looking for it.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story:

Abandoned by his father as a small child, Sir Gareth Inglis has grown up prickly, cold, and well-used to disappointment. Even so, he longs for a connection, falling headfirst into a passionate anonymous affair that’s over almost as quickly as it began. Bitter at the sudden rejection, Gareth has little time to lick his wounds: his father has died, leaving him the family title, a rambling manor on the remote Romney Marsh…and the den of cutthroats and thieves that make its intricate waterways their home.

Joss Doomsday has run the Doomsday smuggling clan since he was a boy. His family is his life…which is why when the all-too-familiar new baronet testifies against Joss’s sister for a hanging offense, Joss acts fast, blackmailing Gareth with the secret of their relationship to force him to recant. Their reunion is anything but happy and the path forward everything but smooth, yet after the dust settles, neither can stay away. It’s a long road from there—full of danger and mysteries to be solved—yet somehow, along the way, this well-mannered gentleman may at last find true love with the least likely of scoundrels.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen will be released on March 7, 2023 from Sourcebooks Casablanca, but we’re so thrilled to be able to exclusively reveal the cover to you right now! Read on below for an interview with Charles, who can preview what’s to come from her new series, which real-life figures inspired the story, what sort of feelings she wanted to evoke with the cover, which type of historical romance she’s writing next that she’s never tackled before, and more.

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Paste Magazine: This is the first in a new series for you called the Doomsday Books, which follows a clan of smugglers made up of a particularly close-knit family. How many books are currently planned in the series overall (if you’re allowed to tease any details along those lines)?

KJ Charles: There’s a second book set some 13 years after the first (A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel). I don’t have any more contracted, but there’s a couple of stories I would like to tell, so…we’ll have to see about that!

Paste: Were there any real-life historical figures who inspired the members of the Doomsday smugglers? Or do you take more of a kernel of an idea from history rather than relying on any real people to draw ideas from?

Charles: There were plenty of real-life smugglers. It was a big source of income along much of the east coast. Some of it was deeply villainous (there were terrible incidents of brutal torture and killings) but in many cases, it was basically a shadow industry, a way for the local population to cope with unjust taxation and swingeing trade restrictions during the Napoleonic Wars. I start the book with a quote from the 18th-century economist Adam Smith who pointed out at the time that smugglers were being unfairly barred from natural and established trading arrangements, and that if you impose laws that go against human nature, you create criminals where none need exist. (Which is, of course, relevant in a historical queer romance too.)

Smugglers are very often portrayed as unalloyed villains, taking gold and information and escaped prisoners to France along with goods. That happened—but there were also people forced onto the wrong side of the law because wool needed to be sold, and who cared a lot more about their families and neighbours than they did the game of thrones going on in Westminster and Paris. So I thought I’d write about that kind of smuggler!

Paste: What can you reveal about Gareth and Joss’s romance and what’s in store there for readers? The course of love definitely does not run smooth with these two.

Charles: Gareth is a downtrodden lawyer’s clerk in London, who has struck up a no-names intense affair with a handsome visiting Kentishman. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end well. Fortunately, Gareth finds himself unexpectedly inheriting a baronetcy, plus a house on the remote Romney Marsh in Kent. Unfortunately, guess who else lives there… and turns out to be the acting head of the smuggling Doomsday clan…

Joss already has a lot of problems, managing his unruly family and their smuggling business, evading the law, and dealing with a threat to his position. When the new baronet is about to testify in court against his beloved sister, he has no choice but to act fast and hard. But despite all the problems and the dangers, he can’t seem to leave Gareth alone…

Paste: How much feedback were you able to contribute to the cover design process? Were there any specific feelings or impressions you wanted to evoke with The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen’s cover?

Charles: It was a great process, with lots of discussion and feedback! Gareth becomes an amateur naturalist, and Romney Marsh (which is an odd, remote stretch of land) is a very strong presence in the book so we really wanted to give a sense of the atmosphere and the natural world. Beautiful, wild, and just a little bit dangerous if you get on the wrong side.

Paste: Are you currently working on any other projects at the moment that you can talk about?

Charles: I’m about to embark on edits for the second Doomsday Book. And I have two projects underway: a late-Victorian Christmas book that will link back to an existing series, and—for the first time—a duke book. I haven’t written one of those before: it’s not my usual thing. But I was rereading Georgette Heyer when I was down with Covid, and an idea popped into my head, so here we are.

Paste: What books have you read lately that you can’t stop thinking about, romance or otherwise?

Charles: The Movement by Ayisha Malik. A woman author decides to stop speaking or writing, setting off a wave of Non-Verbalism across the world. Wonderful concept, wonderfully explored, with all sorts of different contrasting viewpoints, plus it’s bitterly funny.

After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang. A haunting novella about post-climate change China with bird-sized dragons, plus a sweetly melancholy queer romance.

After Hours on Milagro Street by Angelina M Lopez. Contemporary romance with Mexican-American heroine. Pairs an initially angry, aggressive (hurt and self-protecting) woman with an emotionally vulnerable and needy man, and gives both of them a terrific arc that brings out the best in them both. Also, very hot.

Radical Victorians by James Hobson. Tells the stories of some of the more out-there thinkers of the era. An excellent corrective for anyone who says things like “Victorian women would never have done that!”

Carly Lane is an Atlanta-based writer who considers herself a lifelong Star Wars fan, newbie Trekker, diehard romance reader, nascent horror lover, and occasional live-tweeter. She is the senior TV editor at Collider, a former contributing editor for SYFY FANGRRLS, and has also written for Vulture, the Boston Globe, Nerdist, Teen Vogue, Den of Geek, The Toast, and elsewhere around the Internet.