Audiobook Review: Provoked (Enlightenment, #1) by Joanna Chambers

When a man loses his heart, he has no choice but to follow…

Enlightenment, Book 1

Lowborn David Lauriston lacks the family connections needed to rise in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. Worse, his latest case—defending weavers accused of treason—has brought him under suspicion of harbouring radical sympathies.

Troubled by his sexuality, tormented by memories of a man he once platonically loved, David lives a largely celibate life—until a rare sexual encounter with a compelling stranger turns his world on its head.

Cynical and worldly, Lord Murdo Balfour is more at home in hedonistic London than dingy, repressed Edinburgh. Unlike David, he intends to eventually marry while continuing to enjoy the company of men whenever he pleases. Yet sex with David is different. It’s personal, intimate, and instead of extinguishing his desire, it only leaves him hungry for more.

As David’s search for the man who betrayed the weavers deepens, he begins to suspect that his mysterious lover has more sinister reasons for his presence in Edinburgh. The truth could leave his heart broken…and more necks stretching on the gallows.

Warning: Contains mystery and danger set in 1822 Scotland, and a forbidden love between two men that will leave you on the edge of your seat—until the next book.

Narrated by: Hamish McKinley
Listening Length: 5 hours and 52 minutes

Guest Reviewer - Annery

Historicals were my gateway to romance and it was no different with m/m. My first was “Tangled Web” by Lee Rowan and I loved it. Since then I’ve mostly gravitated to contemporaries but always keep a gimlet eye on what’s out there in the crinoline and gauntlet era. The problem is that most m/m historicals are either wildly inaccurate, as in the historic part is window dressing, or self-flagellating tales of woe where the best possible outcome is some Lord/valet arrangement for a HEA. I tread carefully but have lately come upon some gems and this is one of them.

First things first: the audio is by Hamish McKinlay and it’s divine. A work of art all on its own. The characters are clearly and distinctly identified not only by their accents but also by their ‘voice’ and tone. At every turn you know exactly who’s speaking. The emotions are clear and vivid and more than once I felt David’s quiet sadness and moments of joy. Bonus points for clearing up the Scottish pronunciation of many words that I’m sure I’d otherwise be mangling and just in time for the return of “Outlander” too!

So let’s talk about the story. The book opens with the execution of Andrew Hardie & John Baird. This was a real event. Here’s a historical snippet not from the book:

“... on 8th September 1820, Andrew Hardie, a weaver from Glasgow, and John Baird, a weaver from Condorrat, met similar fates in Stirling: they were also hanged and beheaded. 19 others, mostly weavers, were sentenced to transportation, and already on their way to the colonies (mainly New South Wales in Australia); and that was the end of what became known as the Radical War, or the 1820 Rising. But, as Britain charged headlong into an age of immense industrialisation, it wasn’t to be the last time that the recently coined term ‘radical’ would serve as a prefix for a popular movement of workers demanding their ‘rights’ in society, and threatening revolution if their ‘rights’ were withheld.

One astonishing fact about the 1820 Rising, accepted by many historians today, is that the government, through the agency and double-dealing of spies, actually incited the rising in the first place. Why would a government, gripped by the fear of a popular revolution amongst its populace, incite a general strike in the very epicentre of radicalism? To answer this question, we must unearth the roots of the 1820 Rising, and of radical politics in general.

In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church, although often repressive in policing the moral fortitude of its flock, had passionately defended certain ‘rights’ amongst the ‘common people’ since the time of the Reformation – the first and foremost of these being the right to read the bible in one’s own language, without the interference of Latinate priests. Consequently, throughout the 18th century and into the early-19th century, Scotland had one of the highest levels of literacy anywhere in Europe, and indeed the world – a much higher rate than in neighbouring England, or even in revolutionary France.

As the economic situation worsened for many workers in Scotland, not only were they receptive to new, ‘radical’ solutions to their problems, but they could read for themselves the works of Robert Burns singing the merits of the common man, or read the pamphlets of Tom Paine, such as the famous ‘Rights of Man’ (1791-92) which popularised the notions of universal suffrage (for men) and republicanism as never before.

Beyond this peculiarly Scottish trend of literacy, it must be stated that the major influence on the 1820 Rising is the fact that those involved had lived in an age of revolution for over a generation. The American Revolution of 1776 had already struck a blow to kingship and its attendant system of feudal privileges.” [1]

This is the world in which we meet David Lauriston, an advocate who worked on the defense for the two doomed men. He has come to witness their execution as a final act of solidarity. This is a genius way of showing us who David is and what he stands for and that is one of the things that Joanna Chambers does masterfully. Each scene helps to illuminate who the characters are and what they’re about; whether it’s something mundane like having dinner or momentous like bearing witness to a hanging or mind blowing like sucking cock in a dark, filthy alley. These are all moments in a life, the life of David Lauriston. David comes from a small village, the son of hardworking farmers, and the first member of his family to go to University. He’s a young lawyer trying to make a name for himself in Edinburgh. He’s conflicted over having ‘lost’ his country accent in order to succeed in his profession; he doesn’t know how to feel over becoming a city dweller and having abandoned manual labor and country habits for the life of books, but he is absolutely guilt ridden by his continuous failure to resist his weakness or defect, which is that David is attracted to men, however he forges ahead with quiet dignity. When he fails he gets up, dusts himself off, and goes on as best he can. I loved that about him. He knows who he is, though he’s not inflexible, and is trying to forge a life within personal moral boundaries. This means he’s unwilling to deceive any future wife with promises of love and fidelity and therefore chooses to remain a bachelor however socially advantageous a marriage could be.

On the day of the execution, while lodging at an inn, David meets one Murdo Balfour and they share a memorable encounter which haunts both men.

“The cobbles under his knees were hard and wet, but he didn’t care. … Even if David didn’t climax now, he would be able to do so later, just from remembering this. His own cock was painful in his breeches, swollen with desire but constricted by the tight fabric and his kneeling position. In an odd way, he relished the uncomfortable sensation. Strangely it almost enhanced the delight of pleasing Balfour.”

Luckily or not through fate and circumstance they meet again and their lives become intertwined which leads them to circle each other with interest and certainly desire. For David this is a problem because giving into his ‘unnatural’ proclivities is something he tries to minimize, though he knows eventually he’ll always fail, and that is David: trying to do his best but clear on his imperfections. His polar opposite is Murdoch Balfour or as it turns out, Lord Murdo to civilians.

Lord Murdo the younger son of a Marquess. He’s tall and dark where David is of average height, slender, and a coppery redhead. Murdo is an unabashed hedonist, who enjoys the pleasures of the body, without regard of what others may think, whereas David has been brought up to believe that sex between men is not only a sin, but he also knows it to be a crime in the eyes of the law.

“I don’t think the fact that I want to stick my cock in the occasional arse is any business of God, the King or anyone else.”

This devil-may-care attitude on the part of Murdo is due in large part to his social class and upbringing, but Murdo is also a pragmatist where David is an idealist or a romantic in the classical sense, as Murdo accuses … and yet when they come together they’re combustible. David and Murdo share a couple of intimate and devastating encounters during which David allows himself to go further than he ever has in any previous tryst and Murdo finds himself falling deeper into an attraction and desire that go very much against his wishes.

Being a brilliant writer Joanna Chambers knows that a HEA within the scope of this first book would be disingenuous to say the least and dishonest. It would also be false to who these characters have shown themselves to be and their historical and social reality. As a balm she gives us the last two chapters of the book. In my opinion they are the heart and soul of the book and one of the spots where Hamish McKinlay’s narration shines bright. He made my eyes leak. David and Murdo finally see each other’s true mettle and it comes as no surprise, that though battered, David is the one left standing, whereas you can see the cracks starting to form in Murdo’s carefully constructed exterior. Nothing is done out of character and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that they go on their separate ways to live out their respective lives. The heartbreaking, but ultimately honest, final chapter has David embracing the only HFN he can envision for himself. I’m not being glib when I say that I felt happy for him. David was loved and accepted by those who mattered to him and he felt it. He’d reached a level of inner peace. Those aren’t things to scoff at in any time period.

When I was done with the last period in this book I blindly One-Clicked the rest of the series. I’d recommend that everyone do it too and for this one add the audio. It’s the only one available for now but I’ll be on the lookout for the rest of the series.

A review copy was provided.

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