Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: The Valet
AUTHOR: S.J. Foxx
PUBLISHER: NineStar Press
LENGTH: 190 pages
RELEASE DATE: October 30, 2017
After scandalising his family name, wealthy brat Hugo is kicked out of his parent’s home in NYC, and tossed into the English countryside. There, he must live with his extended family and learn what it means to be a “gentleman,” or be cut off and left without his inheritance.
Brattish, reckless, and out of control, it seems that Hugo may never learn his manners. That is, until he meets his match: a stoic, no-nonsense valet, Sebastian.
Hugo and Sebastian are swept up in a forbidden fling, and they play a game of power.
Can Sebastian get a handle on his master? Or will Hugo’s foolishness leave him penniless?
Sent to his English relatives, after being caught out having a drunken affair with a married woman, Hugo is told to shape up or his access to his trust fund will be permanently shut. And since the life of a drunken wastrel is considerably less fun when you’re broke, he agrees to go. He doesn’t have to be happy about it, though. Life in England, compared to New York, is stifling; his aunt and uncle’s presence included. But being in their house does bring him to the attention of the mischievous valet, Sebastian. A man who tempts Hugo in ways he never thought to be. It is a dangerous temptation, as well, since if they are caught out not only will he lose his money, but he could very well end up in jail. Hugo has never been good at resisting temptation, though. And Sebastian is the most tempting thing he has ever tasted.
So here’s the thing…if you like erotica where the main focus is on the sex scenes–and the characters and plot are at best secondary considerations–then you will probably enjoy this book. The power dynamics between Sebastian and Hugo make for some interesting sexual encounters, and for the most part they were well written. So if that is all you are looking for, you will probably get your money’s worth.
However, if you looking for a well-written “romance” story–with characters that are not flat, or a plot that goes anywhere–I am not sure that you will enjoy this. I know I didn’t.
See, from the blurb I had a few expectations going in. One, that Hugo was going to be a bit of a brat at the beginning at this story (which, I must admit, was entirely accurate). Two, that Sebastian was straitlaced valet who would help sort Hugo’s shit out (which I think I was right to expect since the words “stoic” and “no-nonsense” were in the blurb). And three, that Hugo would eventually have some type of growth in maturity brought on by either his responsibilities or his love for Sebastian.
And while the first expectation was met, the other two were wildly off the mark. Hugo is indeed a bit of an elitist rich asshole when we start the book…but that never really changes. He treats everyone like shit through the entire book, and he is still handed back his money in the end. He doesn’t have to change, grow or do anything to show that he is willing to work towards his goals. He is handed everything on a silver plate, and we are supposed to accept and be happy that because he mopped around the house for a few weeks near the end of the story, that suddenly this is the “change” everyone was looking for. And when he finally does do the right thing by Sebastian, he does it when it will no longer affect his relationship with his aunt and uncle (and thereby cut him off from his money). He is a rich entitled jackass. I can’t explain how little I care about him.
As for Sebastian–who at least is a somewhat sympathetic character–he is nothing like this blurb described him as. From the get-go he is flirting outrageously with Hugo. He fucks Hugo in public places. He doesn’t care about propriety or rules, and is, as far as I can tell, the farthest thing from “stoic” or “no-nonsense” that you could get. Which, fine. That doesn’t make him a bad character, just badly mis-sold to the reader. And maybe the wrong type of character for this story–at least partially. Because he doesn’t do anything to effect the change Hugo needs, or that the blurb said he was there for. He berates Hugo, yes, but then Hugo says this:
“Stop talking,” Hugo said, his breathing picking up. He leaned closer to him so they were nose to nose, and the room began to spin. “You’re just a valet, Finch. A self-righteous, self-loving, manipulative piece of shit. You’re nothing. That’s why you do nothing but serve other people.”
and disregards everything that Sebastian says. Which, let me just say, made me despise Hugo and stop caring what happens to the fucker from that point on. But Sebastian’s role in this book (probably because of the power imbalance in their relationship) doesn’t seem to be as a catalyst for change (in Hugo’s character), but instead a catalyst for sex.
Which leads me to my number one issue with this story. It is all about the sex. In that the plot only seems to exist to move the couple from one sex scene to the next. The characters don’t have to grow, the story doesn’t have to evolve, there doesn’t need to be any effort to dig into their backstories, because that stuff isn’t needed for Sebastian to fuck Hugo in the garden or feel him up at the opera. From a couple lines we know that Hugo is probably suffering from some form of PTSD due to his involvement in World War One–and that might even be the reason for the acting out–but does the book take any time to dig into that? No. I cannot tell you more than a couple of things about Sebastian outside of his sexual likes/dislikes. There seems to be minimal effort taken to give this story shape outside of the idea that a valet fucking his master would be fucking hot.
And if that is what you are looking for…this book will work for you. But for me, romance stories need more than just the physical acts to make them worth the effort and time to read. I want characters I can at least care about on some level. And Hugo pissed me off nine times out of ten. He never stopped being a spoiled rich kid–because the book wouldn’t let him. There was clearly more to him, but the story didn’t want to dig into that. Which is sad, because in that one time out of ten, he had something I could almost see caring about.
However I came out of this story thinking that Hugo was at best a verbally abusive spoiled douche, and while I’m glad Sebastian didn’t meet some tragic end, I’m not sure having to live with Hugo the man-baby is really much of an improvement. Especially since I’m not all that convinced that if Hugo’s parents found out about their relationship and made an ultimatum to Hugo, that Hugo would actually choose Sebastian over the money.