Their love was a death sentence.
Deacon, Viscount Carlisle, was aware of the slums and gin-lanes of London. Just as he was aware of the underground traffic that furnished the brothels and bath houses with human innocents. He was also aware that the so-called justice system would hang the accused without much of an attempt at a defense, unless the unfortunate had deep pockets to pay for it.
He just hadn’t expected to be directly involved in any of it.
It started with a plea for help and ended with forbidden love, the love between a Viscount and a stable-boy. An impossible love and a guarantee of the hangman's noose.
Will Deacon fight for Tom? Will he risk the death sentence and take that fight from the stately halls of his English mansion to the horrors of Newgate Prison and the slums of London?
Or will he realize that if he doesn't, death will be a welcome end to the loneliness of the sentence he is already living?
"Their love was so forbidden that their very touch could wrap a hangman's noose around them. The very reason they had come to London should send a warning racing through his veins, but it wasn't fear that warmed his blood, it was desire that snaked such a salacious path."If I have to describe "The Innocent Auction" by Victoria Sue in a few words: passionate, intense, forbidden and well plotted.
This is a story about forbidden love between a Earl and his stablehand that would have never happened if not for circumstances, or a fine writer's hand pulling the strings. The story begins with an innocent auction, a private sale of young "virginal" boys to molly houses. Caught your attention? Let's get the triggers out the way: attempted non-con, death (minor character), kidnapping. This tale mixes grit, some realism and snapshots of the persecution gays faced in the Regency era - imprisonment, pillory, hanging. Horrific.
Deacon is a rescuer. He is the heir to an earldom that is up to its ears in debt. But he will fight for what is right. He is kindhearted to his staff, he truly was a good man. A rarity in the gentry. Know what else he is? A closeted homosexual. He didn't acknowledge that part of himself until later in life, late twenties. It was a young man, eighteen year old Tom, whom he rescued from the innocent auction nearly five years ago, that gets him to finally realize something. The reason why he was perfunctory (if that) with hetero sexual relations, had to close his eyes to get hard...was because he was attracted to the same sex. And he is very attracted to supple, blonde Tom. For Tom, it was likewise.
The attraction happens very soon in the book, like before 20% kind of soon. When that usually happens in books, I get nervous. Can the author have enough talent to carry the story for a novel length? I had nothing to worry about. The Innocent Auction had twists, turns and action. And it's also not a PWP, it has plot for days. Some subplots got a little indulgent and angst happy (my biggest quibble is the last action/suspense subplot in the the final 10% before the epilogue - how could that happen so easily?) But the intensity of Deacon and Tom's attraction was the main plot pushing this story.
"How had it got to this? [...] That feeling that there was something missing. That everything you wanted in life was condemned as a sin. Who were other people to judge?"The story alternated in POV, it waited a little long in the beginning to get to Tom's POV but it improved somewhere toward the middle, it's not a 50-50 but it definitely gets the points and subplots across. Tom had a harsh life, at first I thought his attraction was just misconstrued gratefulness from being liberated from the evil pimp, Samson. But thankfully his POV finally kicked in.
In between the harsh realities for both characters, fighting their feelings though it's apparent they're made for each other, Tom not thinking he is good enough, Deacon trying to rebuild through an unwanted marriage proposal (he needs cash that bad) and trying to save his family and their reputation, the romance is yummy, a little quick especially for two men who have never acted on their attraction to men before. It could be considered insta-love but they had the depth of feelings to back it up.
"I want you desperately. I want to feel your skin, naked, beneath me. I want to hold you in my arms while I taste every inch of your body. I want to sleep in your arms. I want yours the last face I see tonight, and the first one I see tomorrow. I want to wake up in the middle of the night and be able to kiss you while you sleep, because I can. Because tonight society doesn't judge us. We owe nothing to no man, except to each other."When the sex did finally happen, it was hot - erotic, great dirty talk...delicious.
What kept this from being a 5 Heart Read for me? The neat ending and insta-love (hey it's a double edged sword). The men struggle and at a few points, I could not see how a HEA could ever happen (it does) but after all of that, it felt like the chips got stacked pretty easily for that epilogue. There were a few editing mishaps for me like how one prisoner's sentence changed from hanging in one chapter to deportment in the next.
The story does a very good job of convincing the reader about Deacon and Tom's intense connection. They have a brief history where it was instrumental in making Tom into the man he became. His ending would have been far different and sad. I think the story's strongest points are the way the research didn't read like an info dump. We're taken to Newgate prison, we get to see the harsh realities for the poor and working class. We get to glimpse Regency London's underbelly.
Victoria Sue is a new to me author. And after reading The Innocent Auction, it most certainly won't be my last. I do love finding good MM Regency when I can, I think Regency period lovers might need to check this out...soon.
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