As a fan of Alexis Hall’s immensely popular book, Boyfriend Material, I was really excited to see him branch out into the historical genre with Something Fabulous! I can’t remember the last time an author I enjoyed as a contemporary writer did something in the historical sphere, which makes my interest in this book that much greater.
Something Fabulous, at its core, is a queer Regency road trip romance. The book opens with Valentine finally acceding to his family’s wishes and proposing to Miss Arabella Tarleton. But Arabella fancies herself the romantic heroine of her own gothic novel and flees into the night rather than agree to marry him. Her twin brother Bonny — also a romantic — thinks Valentine ought to go after her, and drags him out of bed and onto a road trip that involves way more adventures than Valentine could have possibly imagined. The more time the two of them spend together on the road, the more Valentine starts to question whether he’s pursuing the wrong twin.
I love the setup of this book, as I especially love a good road trip romance, but while there are some things I really loved about this book, overall it didn’t really work for me.
I want to start with the positives, and I think my favorite thing about this book is that pretty much no character is straight (I can only think of maybe one, honestly). It was just really nice to see so many queer characters in a historical, and so many different types of queer characters, too! Arabella’s best friend, Penny, for instance, prefers being a man some days and a woman others, while Valentine himself has never experienced any sexual attraction before developing a relationship with Bonny. And I really liked how when you suspect it might be a problem in the story for a character to be queer, Hall goes in the other direction and it really isn’t.
I also really liked how this third act breakup was executed. I think it helped that the groundwork for this one was laid early, and you can see how it’s going to be a problem. It did happen fairly late in the book, but the nature of the breakup and the way it was resolved all worked well for me and seemed true to both characters. Idk why I noticed in this one, but I feel like I’ve read a lot of bad third-act breakups lately and wanted to flag one that worked for me.
The last thing I really liked is the surprise turn of events with a character you think is going to be a villain. I don’t want to spoil it, but I really loved everything about that plotline!
Unfortunately, those things weren’t enough to make up for the things I didn’t like about this book.
For one thing, the Tarletons are absolutely ridiculous, and I really wanted to smack Belle for being so overly dramatic and generally the worst. The way she was so determined to cast herself as the heroine in a gothic and manipulate others to her advantage and lie about the situation and generally escalate things out of control was incredibly frustrating, and unfortunately only got worse as the book went on. Which is such a shame, because I can definitely see how she’d be an incredibly relatable character, but mostly she was the worst. Bonny was dramatic and ridiculously romantic, too, but he didn’t come across as quite as disconnected from reality as his sister, and unlike her, he grew on me significantly as the story went along.
The other thing that really bothered me and made me take a break from reading this is how sympathetic I was to Valentine, who got dragged out of bed at the crack of dawn and forced on this trip that turns into an absolute disaster. I know I personally do not handle it well when major disasters happen on my trip, so I couldn’t help but be frustrated on his behalf. He’s just generally irritated and upset and needs a bath and a bed, and instead he gets humiliated and tied to a chair and imprisoned, to name the least of his experiences.
I’m sure it’s supposed to be funny, and I can see in other books how one disaster after another is silly and fun, but this one was hard for me because he really could not catch a break, and so he was never at his best. Like, they kept calling him an asshole and saying he was the worst because that’s who he is, with very little acknowledgment that the situation definitely brought out the worst in him! I think this is definitely a thing that’s more personal to me than other readers since I would also absolutely be an asshole if I had to go on a trip like his, but yeah. I felt really bad for him, and his burgeoning relationship with Bonny was not enough to make up for it.
I’m disappointed I didn’t love this book as I really love seeing more authors diversify historical romance, either through sexuality, race, or historical location (or a combination thereof), but alas, it just wasn’t for me.
I do think a lot of other people will enjoy this, though, especially if they can get swept up in the ridiculousness and antics of the dramatic road trip! I definitely think it’s worth checking out if it sounds interesting to you, and you’ll know within a few chapters if the Tarletons are too much for you as well. I hope you enjoy it if you give it a chance!
I received an advanced copy of Something Fabulous from the publisher via Netgalley.