“The Price of Meat” is a horror novelette set in a mildly alt-historical London with casual inclusion of both female and male same-sex couples while definitely not being a romance in format. The setting and characters have the feel of being spun off of an existing alternate history setting--as if we’re expected to be familiar with the two men and their backstory, and with the points of historical divergence established economically in the opening paragraph--but the author indicates otherwise. It doesn’t in any way detract from the story, which is complete in itself, but I guess I was a bit disapointed that there weren’t any other stories about the daring Joanna Oakley and the imperiled heiress Arabella Wilmot waiting for me out there.
From a realistically-sketched Victorian madhouse to a more industrialized version of Sweeney Todd’s *ahem* food service supply chain in a lawless London underworld neighborhood, there’s just enough horror to keep the reader squeamish without going too far for my sensibilities. (I personally don’t care much for body horror. There was a smidge of that, but not too graphic.)
I’ve been aware of K.J. Charles as a celebrated writer of gay male historical fiction and fantasy for quite some time and enjoyed having this excuse to try her work where it intersected with my own interests. The writing is excellent and the historic setting feels solid and inhabited. It makes me jealous that she doesn’t write more stories focusing on female characters.