When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to Londinium in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.
Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.
I really enjoyed the blend of romance, mystery, and steampunk/science fiction that The Gilded Scarab brought to the table. Rafe is a service pilot that can no longer fly due to wounds to his eyes and he's left floundering trying to discover what the next stage of life will be. When he discovers a coffeehouse on one of his jaunts, he didn't expect it change his life but that's what it does. I have to admit that even though I loved the blend of romance and mystery set in the alternate history that Anna Butler has created, I would liked to have seen a bit more time spent on the steampunk factor throughout the story. Having said that, I loved the character study of Rafe, watching him evolve from pilot to citizen to coffeehouse owner and yet he never lost sight of his values, even when he had to accept financial help from his House, which was the last thing he wanted to do. This is the first Anna Butler story I've read but I can honestly say it won't be the last.
Blogger Note: I have to say that I don't really get the whole terminology of steampunk. I know what it means and I know it is a sub-genre of science fiction but to me science fiction is science fiction, nothing more, nothing less. As a reader, I will be putting this and others labeled steampunk on my science fiction library shelf but as a book blogger I will defer to the whole steampunk terminology labeling. Just wanted to put that out there.
Anna is a full time writer now, living in the Nottinghamshire countryside with her husband, David, and the benevolent tyrant of the house, Molly the cockapoo. For many years Anna worked for the UK government, but jumped ship a few years ago to focus on her main interest: combining her love of science fiction with gay lit. There’s nothing better than handsome heroes running about shooting lasers, saving the planet and getting into passionate scrapes with equally handsome space pilots. Or good-looking Victorian Aegyptologists getting entangled with gorgeous coffeehouse owners in a steampunk version of London. When she isn’t writing, she thinks about doing the odd bit of gardening, but that never lasts long—Pinterest, and building up the biggest collection of tiara images on the web, is far more alluring.