It’s 1816 in Regency London, and sodomy is a hanging offense. This is a world in which gentlemen who prefer the company of men rather than women may walk their own path if they maintain a low profile and show a modicum of discretion. Enter our protagonist, Brandon Townsend, the son of a nobleman, and his Oxford roommate and sometime lover, Tony Hillyard, who wouldn’t understand the meaning of discretion if the ever-cautious Brandon shoved a dictionary under his nose. As the story opens, in Brandon’s presence Tony engages in some spectacularly outrageous sexual behavior in a private men’s club—onstage—that lands Tony in a world of trouble when the club owner, Dick Dobson, blackmails him: Tony must repeat his raunchy performance at the club or Dobson will tell Tony’s father about him.
For help, Tony calls on the good-hearted and loyal Brandon, who, while beginning to regret his liaison with the other man, agrees to try and find a way out of the dangerous situation Tony has created for them. Enter now the admirable and older Major Philip Carlisle, a widower and friend of Brandon’s family, who guesses the truth about Brandon’s sexual persuasion, agrees to help him, and eventually becomes Brandon’s lover and soul mate. While Brandon and Philip are likable characters and their romance is an engaging one, I felt some disconnect with the story overall, largely because Tony—who, as Brandon admits to himself, is reckless and has a total lack of common sense—is such a weakling he hardly seems a worthy complication in Brandon and Philip’s lives, which includes a satisfying subplot involving smuggling and murder.