This was originally published at bisexual-books.tumblr.com in January. And I’ve only just realized it never got cross-posted to this blog.
It’s really rare to find a book where a man begins the story identifying as gay and then comes out as bisexual.
Andrew Carrington is the heir to an earldom and one of the most eligible bachelors in Regency England. Unfortunately for both him and his potential brides, he’s not interested in women and much prefers the company of the men at the exclusive club, the Brotherhood of Philander, where men of similar tastes can gather. Under pressure to marry and conceive and heir, he arranges to marry Phyllida Lewis, a young woman from an impoverished family who writes romance novels under a pseudonym.
Originally both partners are happy with the terms of their business-like arrangement, if not their actual marriage. Phyllida is financially secure and free to continue her writing career, while Andrew is free to start a relationship with Matthew Thornby, a handsome newcomer to London. That is, if his enemies don’t discover and reveal the secrets of the Brotherhood of Philander while he finds himself increasingly and unexpectedly attracted to Phyllida.
The book gets off to a slow start that is driven largely by personality conflicts because none of the characters like each other very much, Andrew is rather misogynistic and Phyllida puts up with him because she has very little choice. As Andrew spends more time around Phyllida and some of the other female characters, though, he revises a lot of his opinions about women and becomes a lot more pleasant. Once it gets off the ground, it’s a very humorous Regency romance. By the end I couldn’t put it down.
Andrew’s progression from perceiving himself as only being attracted to men, to realizing that he’s attracted to and falling in love with Phyllida is treated respectfully, but its also absolutely hilarious at times. So is Phyllida’s developing attraction to Andrew, and, especially to Andrew and his male partners. By the end of the story, he has shifted from a gay man who takes a wife for practical purposes, to a bisexual man in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and male partner.
The story never actually describes Andrew as bisexual, preferring period accurate language. Ann Herendeen also provides a very thorough set of author’s notes where she explains both the history of gay and bisexual relationships and the language used to describe them and clarifies that she was specifically writing a bisexual romance. This is one of the very few cases where having the author explain that a character is bisexual after the fact actually makes sense. It keeps the historical detail intact but prevents any confusion for people who might have gotten a bit lost in the unfamiliar language. Its also a great introduction to a some underrepresented history, and includes a few references for people who want to know more.