My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Claiming Mr. Kemp is the book 4 of Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series. The theme of the story is a bit different than the author’s usual style because this is a M/M romance. Her first one as far as I know, but it was well-written no doubt about it.
The Baleful Godmother is a Regency-set series based on female characters who have special “gifts” or powers. But if you want to start from the very beginning, you can with The Fey Quartet. These are a set of novellas listed as “prologue” to this series. Set in Medieval-era England, this series explains exactly how our unique heroines came to inherit their “gifts”. Books 1 and 2, Unmasking Miss Appleby and Resisting Miss Merryweather had something common in them apart from Bale Tongue, our dubious Fairy Godmother. Heroines of both of these books, Charlotte and Merry 1. Were bestowed their gifts at the age of 25, which I thought was THE age they were supposed to have their wish fulfilled and 2. They were cousins so the stories were linked that way. But that changed in book 3, Trusting Miss Trentham. Tish, the h, had her wish fulfilled at 21 instead of 25. She’s also a distant cousin to the previous heroines but they didn’t know until later in the story so the book could be technically read as a standalone.
Charlotte had no idea about her gift because she was orphaned at an early age, so Bale Tongue took her by complete surprise. She was living quite miserably with her mean uncle’s family and this gave her the opportunity to get out of there and earn money on her own. She chose shapeshifting and transformed herself into a man to get the lucrative job offered by Marcus, Lord Cosgrove, our H, in a newspaper advert. Merry, on the other hand, wasn’t introduced in book 1 but she was already aware of her Fey inheritance. She knew she’d be visited by Bale Tongue but was ever unsure about which gift to choose. She was also an orphan by the time her story began so she was living with Charlotte and Marcus when she met Sir Barnaby Ware, who is also Marcus’s closest buddy. His visit to Marcus’s estate brings Merry and Barnaby together. Something closer to a tragedy later in the story prompts Merry to choose the gift of healing to save people’s lives. By the time book 3 began, both girls were happily married and expecting.
Tish was one of the wealthiest heiresses of England. She was also quite sick of suitors who were the worst kind of fortune hunters. Because of her gift, through which she could discern truth and lies, Tish would discover it all. And because of that she was still unmarried at the age of 27. She wanted to marry, but she will only marry for love. Tish thanked her gift everyday that she had not fallen prey to the first fortune hunter’s sweet nothings because they all equivocally claimed to ‘love’ her. *SMH*
When she met Icarus Reid, a gaunt, pale looking retired soldier bend on some type of vengeance, Tish knew she had to take care of this man. Icarus looked like a man on the verge of giving up on life and living. The only thing, it seemed, got him going was his need for revenge done by a traitor in the battle of Vimeiro. It left his men killed, and him almost dead. Icarus wanted Tish’s help cause he’s heard of her gift. People generally thought of it as a ‘knack’ she had since her birth. Of course, no one had any idea about the her Fey inheritance.
It was while investigating that traitor is how we were introduced to Lucas Kemp, Tish’s cousin and Tom Matlock, an army officer, whom Icarus was acquainted with as well. In fact, Tom was on Icarus’s list for investigation but with Tish’s help, he clears Tom from it. Lucas and Tom were best of friends since childhood and Tish had often been a part of their group. There was another person, Julia, Lucas’s twin, who recently passed away. Her death still casts a shadow on everything.
The physical side of Lucas and Tom’s relationship wasn’t visible at all until one scene later in the story where Tish and Reid discover them together rather suddenly. In her innocence, Tish was shocked but Reid sternly admonished her to forget about it, knowing the type of trouble Lucas and Tom would be if they’re discovered by someone less understanding. Because she had known them for so long, Tish, though a bit baffled, accepts Tom and Lucas’s relationship as something natural. She could imagine no better person other than Tom offering comfort to Lucas after Julia’s death. Lucas was suffering, and Tish wanted him to be happy.
Even though book 3 ends with Tish and Reid’s HEA after the many storms they had to weather, Lucas and Tom’s fate was left hanging. I wasn’t troubled by it but I did want to know more about them. I’d say Claiming Mr. Kemp is an extension of book 3, rather than a ‘new’ installment cause the first 60% of the story goes simultaneously with the story of book 3, only from Lucas and Tom’s POV. After that you get some more of Tish and Reid, even Marcus-Charlotte and Barnaby-Merry making a cameo in the end. So if M/M romance is not your thing, you can skip this installment. BUT, if you’ve been intrigued by Lucas and Tom like me and would wanna know more, I’d recommend Claiming Mr. Kemp to you.
Lucas, Julia, Tish and Tom were inseparable when they were children. But Lucas and Julia, being twins, seemed to complete one another even though they were more like the opposite of each-other; Lucas, shy, reserved with a steady head on his shoulders while Julia, a tomboy, vivacious but extremely reckless. From Tom’s POV, you will get a bit of reminisce of their relationship and how that recklessness had ultimately been Julia’s downfall. It also shattered everyone who loved Julia, but Lucas felt the most of it. He was a wreck after losing his twin. And even after a year of her death, he was not himself. He cooped himself up inside his townhouse, living as a recluse and a drunk, which is how Tom finds him when he gets back from the Army after getting a vacation. Noting and no one seemed to be able to help him.
Seeing Lucas so miserable and out of sorts, Tom is determined to take care of him. Along came the realization and an even stronger determination not hide his feelings for Lucas any longer. The world might view it as something abnormal and quite wrong but it’s what it is. Tom’s been in love with Lucas for a long time and it killed him to see Lucas so depressed. He even starts demonstrating his affection soon and, quite often, but it was Lucas who had a hard time accepting Tom’s ‘administrations’. He would push Tom away, his only concern someone might see. He was scared. It was wrong! But no matter how much he tried to hide, the fact was Lucas felt the same about Tom. Yet he’d not been able to fully work on his feelings because of the stigma surrounding gay men and what the punishment involved if found. Lucas was torn and even more miserable yet he couldn’t resist Tom. He made him happy in a way no one ever has... But how long will they continue to play hide-and-seek? Is there even a solution for them?
Over the course of the story, a few important things are revealed. One was the fact that Lucas wasn’t attracted to women at all, which is why he had been a virgin. Even Tom didn’t know about that. He, on the other hand, had a healthy interest in women. Tom had been with many over the years, never knowing his best friend had been so lonely. Not knowing what to do, Lucas never confided in Tom either. And he definitely couldn’t tell Tom how he felt about him. Now that it was all open and out between them, it seems they’re determined to go about as a couple in secret. Tom preferred Lucas over anyone so there was that. :D Neither one of them needed to marry for an heir because their elder brothers got it covered.
For obvious reasons, this story doesn’t have a traditional HEA but Lucas does come to terms with his feelings for Tom, knowing it does him a world of good. He is happier than ever when he’s with Tom so how can it be wrong? Even though I found it a bit hard to believe that the very people who suspected their relationship took it totally in stride seeing it was the Regency-era, I’m just glad they did. Things would’ve been so difficult for Lucas and Tom otherwise. :(
Though personally M/M is not my thing, I enjoyed Claiming Mr. Kemp. This was my first full-on M/M romance, though while reading, I may or may not have tried envisioning Lucas and Tom with a h... involved maybe from Tom? I think it would’ve been so interesting. ;) I have read rare historical ménage romances where I loved the chemistry between the Hs and theirs with the h. I believed that they loved each-other enough to risk it all and be together. Tom and Lucas were both hot guys, so don’t blame me. :P So, even though I enjoyed their romance, without a woman, the relationship seemed a bit empty for me. But that’s just my personal opinion.
Claiming Mr. Kemp can be read as a standalone because it largely revolves around Lucas-Tom’s relationship. You get to see the usual ‘magic’ of the series working around them but they couldn’t decipher what was happening. The next installment in the series, Ruining Miss Wrotham, will be out in May. Not yet sure about the h and the H of that story but I can’t wait to find out! This is what I love about this series; you don’t know what to expect and how the author will connect the original plot of Bale Tongue’s gifts from one book to the other. And it never fails to entertain me. 4 stars.
Complimentary copy courtesy of the author, thanks Ms. Larkin!