Review: The Valet and The Stable Groom by Katherine Marlowe

Hardworking and ambitious, Clement Adair has his career planned out: a steady rise from a mere personal valet to the head butler of a grand noble house. When a new baby causes a split in his employer’s estate, Clement is packed off to the country where he has little hope of ever advancing his station. Clement plans to resign and return to London as soon as possible, even though it means leaving his friends, his endearingly silly employer, and the charming and kind stable groom who has made overtures of friendship... and perhaps more.

The longer Clement stays, the more complicated leaving becomes, as the estate's economic circumstances grow dire and Clement feels like he is the only one holding the household together. Somehow, impossibly, he must reconcile the future he's determined to bring to pass and the life he didn't know he wanted. Clean romance, no cheating, no cliffhangers, standalone novel.

This was a clean-romance and feel-good read. Yes, with fade-to-black scenes.

Strangely enough, I didn’t care. The love story is cute and adorable. The kind of “May I kiss you?” before daring with further actions.

What I liked the most, however, is the country life. Or, better said, Clement’s change of lifestyle when his employer’s older brother decides it’s no longer acceptable to be all living under the same roof in the house in London, as he has just secured his male heir with his newborn. That’s how Clement’s masters are “exiled” to a cottage close to the Welsh border, with all that it implies.

Clement is a conscientious valet, but full of ambitions. He hopes to become the butler of an important house one day. The prospect of moving to the country shatters his plans. He sees how his goals slip through his fingers, and he ponders resigning in order to come back to London to achieve them.

But once they reach their destiny, there is always something that has to be done. Let’s see to the employers to get settled. Let’s see to Hildebert Devereux, his master, to find a new hobby. Let’s see to his master make acquantainces worthy of his social class. Let’s see to the maintainance of the household with an apathetic butler and to reach its self-sufficiency after the new acquisitions in people and expenses.

Let’s see to that stable groom with the nicest smile he had ever seen.

Hugo is the (only) stable groom, but he also trains dogs and has some notions of herding. Since the very beginning, Clement feels a pull towards him and is anxious in his presence, wanting to become his friend and not let him down. But that’s easier said than done, as his innumerable duties and his poor abilities to lead a conversation keep him from forming a strong bond with him.

The longer he stays, the harder it is to leave. Clement simply can’t stand the idea of his master getting hurt/killed in his varied attempts not to get bored. His master is rather eccentric and with a plain lack of self-preservation. Every time Hildebert sets his mind into doing something, Clement is there trying to give sense to (or to fix or distract from) his scandalous ideas, which gave me plenty of occasions to laugh out loud and pity poor Clement and his anxiety at Hildebert’s wardrobe to get stained or his reputation of a gentleman being called into question. Whether Hildebert performs his silly actions or not, Clement’s voice of reason is always there discouraging in the kindest of ways, or negotiating for a safer option when there is no way around it.

Hildebert’s wife, Jane, is more sensible and mature, but that doesn’t mean she’s not capable of mischief. In the company of her maid (and also Clement’s friend), Letty, she tests Clement’s patience more than once.

Clement’s decisions lead him to take more and more responsibilities, and soon he is so overwhelmed he neglects Hugo’s interest. And he can’t have that.

The first aspect that drew my attention was Clement’s appearance. He’s described with “dark brown hands” and “a blush that cannot be seen with this skin color”. I don’t remember the last time I read a proper historical British book with a character of African descent, if ever. I was really curious about his origins and his family history, but we were only been told they are from Wales. I was surprised to know his mother was an actress, for once.

I got the feeling the homophobic sense was erased from this book. It’s not that the MCs are obvious about it in front of everybody. In fact they try to control themselves and not show any public display of affection. But when Clement talks with Letty about his feelings, there is no rejection. I guess this alternative reality is even cuter because of that.

Anyway, the book was subtle in every sense of the word. Nothing was strikingly noticable. There was a certain balance in it all, written in a very good taste and with a great sense of humor.

This is an amusing M/M Regency tale. In the rigid English society, there are indeed multiple chances to lose the stiff and find outlandish and memorable tales to tell. At least in this book.

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

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