You might have heard of her – I hear she’s been the talk of Tumblr, among other things, lately – but you haven’t been sure whether it would be worth the effort to try something from a new author. The accounts which follow are just a few of my humble hints and nudges to help you get over the tipping point and go for it.
#1 Her editing experience
She used to be an editor, and at a romance press, to that. Even if you never journey into the wonderfulness that is her blog – which I would definitely suggest anyway, especially if you’re a writer, too – you’ll reap the rewards of her many, many years editing romance fiction in her books. Even though her novels sometimes go over to a very dark side, they’re still romance novels, and – I’d dare say – some of the best the genre has had to offer, so far, in the 21st century.
#2 Her minority characters
She’s constantly proving that not belonging to a minority in no way means you need to ignore the existence of said minority in your novels. And she’s a member of a historically extremely forceful colonization culture who writes about members of one of the most opressed cultures, historically speaking, by said colonizating force. And then she shares, on her Goodreads page, many a resource which she pored over while trying not to mess it up too much. While writing historical fiction. With socially exclused people. Who happen to be queer.
#3 The scene which gave the title to Think of England
Spoilers, duh. It was my first novel by her, if I remember correctly, and I’ve re-read it several times so far, with the utmost enjoyment.
#4 A Brit writing about the British landscape
I grew up watching Sunday morning TV programming with my family, which – in my time, in Croatia – meant British detectives of all ages and walks of life. An then I discovered Gosford Park. And Easy Virtue (the 21st century version, thank you very much), which to this day remains one of my favourite movies. (I don’t even mind the Keira Knightley Bennetts that much.) Reading some of KJ Charles’ novels feels like watching my favourite scenes all over again – this time in queer technicolor (my absolute favourite). And she does it in a curious palette of scenery – you’ve got your pitoresque countryside manors (Think of England, Band Sinister), your gritty and grimy London (basically everything else, but most notably Sins of the Cities), and then there’s the kaleidoscope of A Charm of Magpies and the pure weirdness (and remote setting-ness) of the castles in The Henchmen of Zenda and Any Old Diamonds.
#5 The amount (and scope!) of research she does
Reading about her research finally made me realize that I don’t need to know it all, and not right now. At least that’s the issue with my own historics – I just need to keep adding to my general familiarity with a certain period, and hope it leads to a deeper understanding of a historical setting. The trouble with writing history is that, at least from my point of view, you’re never able to really know what any period’s people’s opinions on everything actually were. But you can still, at least after a few months’ (khm years) worth of research, make a good guess. Writers dabbling in historical eras by definition need to take certain liberties, and the best we can do is make an educated guess – something I feel KJ Charles does splendidly. (Just an example – she’s decidedly not writing about the many grave consequences of being queer in 19th century England, similarly to my deliberate not writing about the many ways being a woman made you, legally, less off a person in 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire.)
#6 The humour in her writing
For an author whose characters tend to suffer more often than not, she certainly writes mean humour, to my great satisfaction. Since her novels vary greatly in tone (from said Think of England, which is as goofy as goofiness gets, for her – to A Seditious Affair, which almost ended up being to heavy for me, simply because the writer made me care about the characters too much), it’s a wonder she manages to keep up the healthy dose of humour in them, but she does. Sometimes it’s a darker type of humour, but – all of the time – it’s the humour which leaves you grinning to yourself, settling comfortably in your couch, and reading on.
#7 Because of This Post
#8 Her ships work
Yes, she has a “pattern” of sorts – a dynamic she prefers, one that took me several books to notice – but one that still doesn’t diminish the fun I have with her characters. In all the ways shipping can go – when they’re too stupid to see they’re great together; when they’re great together, but the rest of the world is trying to sink them; and when they’re trying to fullow their secretive agenda too hard to notice they’d be great together (but they do notice it once they finally acknowledge their mutual UST) – KJ Charles makes it work. I have never once met a ship of hers which I didn’t condone with all my heart. (The curious exception might be The Henchmen of Zenda, which falls under the category of Characters I Dislike Because I Hate Looking in the Mirror. See: Stark, Anthony E.) For a romance writer, there are not many gifts as great as being able to make your characters and relationships ring true.
And, if even these where not enough to finally give it a go…
You can choose for yourself where you want to start with her writing – yay, backlist! – and she’s taken great care to make most of her novels enjoyable both as standalones and loosely connected series. (She even has a post on possible ways to make it work.) If you want urban fantasy, start with A Charm of Magpies – probably her most famous series. If you want kinkiness, Any Old Diamonds is the way to go (one of several, I’m pleased to note). If you’re interested in day-to-day life in 19th century London, pick up An Unseen Attraction or Unfit to Print. And if you’re a “Lost in the British countryside” person, like me, go with aforementioned Think of England and/or Band Sinister. (The latter would be best suited for people who can name the Bennet sisters. Although, I’ve loved the book even though I call them Keira, Rosamund, Jena and Talulah, thank you very much. And I’ve even forgotten Carey and had to go and google her.)
She’s been publishing her own work for a few years now – even re-issueing novels from publishers which have since gone under, like Samhain, one of her first houses – and, when you buy her (newer) work online, you know most of the proceeds go directly to the author. Working as a librarian has basically made me stop buying books – GASP – several years ago. (It comes with being something of a minimalist, too, and with having hobbies, like cosplaying, which require me to actually have at least some free space in the apartment.) But, I am more than pleased to hand over my money to KJ Charles – of course, for her ebook editions – because I know it will literally keep her writing on and on and providing this addict with more and more characters and storylines to fall in love with and write blog posts about them. She’s a part of a smallish niche – the only writer in said niche I’m currently reading, to be honest – and I’m honestly excited to be living in this wonderful new era of being able to purchase severals hours worth of quality, historical, queer entertainment from an artist such as her.
And she has a cat who’s, by all accords, almost as mean as mine.