I’m not entirely sure where to begin with this review. I normally keep notes when I read a book, and construct my thoughts for the review long before I even finish it, so that I’m ready to polish and yeet when that final page turns, but this book was different. For this book, I couldn’t write notes because every time I thought about putting down my impressions, I couldn’t make up my mind about them.
I want to preface this review by saying this was a good book. Hell, I love KJ Charles’ writing style so much; I love this author’s talent for storytelling with a passion. So though I have complaints, only one of them is what I would consider a ‘flaw’. The rest are simply how the book does not fit me, and thus these complaints are simply intended to help potential readers decide if this book will suit them. (Yes, I know, I just wrote ‘thus’. It seemed to fit, okay?)
It’s not how I normally approach review writing, but here we are!
Beware minor spoilers, though most of what I’ll say can be found in a summary somewhere, I’m sure. This warning is merely for those of you who, like me, enjoy going into a story reasonably blind.
The Henchmen of Zenda is told from the point of view of a rather roguish Englishman by the name of Detchard. He is discerning. He is charming in his attitude and outlook, and yet hardened to the world. And through circumstance and an unpaid debt to a friend, he finds himself in the employ of a vicious duke who has designs on the throne.
It is in his employ where our dear Detchard meets the irreverent and dashing Hentzau. If Detchard is a rogue, then Hentzau is a damned devil, and they fit each other like gloves. Their romance, if you can call it a romance, is fiery and entirely unconventional. And I loved every moment.
Even the intrigue and the monarch-toppling plot were finely crafted and filled with so many twists and turns, as the reader you felt all the apprehension and distrust along with Detchard. The side characters were somewhat unremarkable and mostly entirely unlikeable, as this story is rife with politics and cowards and people whose only interest is in bolstering their own power without a care to who they get killed in the process, but even that’s okay because that’s what you’d expect in a somewhat differently angled courtly intrigue. Detchard and Hentzau were plenty likeable enough to carry the story.
But those politics and courtly intrigue are where my first issue with the story lies. They were the story. Detchard and Hentzau were both pawns and puppets, being manipulated and doing the manipulating, but it was the intrigue that took front and center, and not their arcs. Their arcs were still enjoyable, but the intrigue was the star of this story.
And that is where I feel I did not fit with this story. And that is where I feel other readers like me, who prefer intrigue and politics when it comes second to the characters, may be left wanting. I still enjoyed the book, but I was able to put it down for days at a time without giving it much thought.
My second issue is with the explanations at the beginning. The book starts with a rather hefty infodump. Two, in fact. Both paaages long. And though our narrator, Detchard, acknowledges that explanations are tedious to readers, that self-awareness did not make them any less tedious. He also assures the reader that they are necessary to understand the events of the story. I assure you, if you read this book, that you can safely skip these explanations and your understanding of the story will not suffer for it. On the bright side, though, these are the only two really troublesome infodumps and you get them out of the way right at the start.
I admit this is not my favourite book. But it’s solid. It’s entertaining. It’s enjoyable. And Jesus Fucking Christ KJ Charles has a way with words that effectively charms me every single time, even if the plot didn’t.
Is an author of m/m romance and horror. She’s Canadian, demi/pan, and a lover of all things pirate-related. You can find her on Twitter as @CloverErotica and on Discord where she manages The Erotica Abyss Discord server.