This post includes reviews of the books in the Gentlemen of the Emerald City series:
- Luca (#1)
- Cole (#2)
- Bryce (#3)
- Marco (#4)
- Andre (#5)
- Hunter (#6)
Luca (Book 1)
I hadn’t read anything by Witt in a while, so I decided to rectify that with her newest contemporary romance series. The sex work element of this particular world doesn’t turn me off, but I did go in knowing that Witt is one of the few authors for whom I will happily read a sports romance! From the first chapter, Witt already upended my expectations of this story. Ethan does not hire Luca because he is closeted by his sports career; he is one of multiple openly queer players on his professional hockey team. Instead, Ethan is trapped by his career in a different fashion, in that companionship (especially romantic) makes both him and his potential partner a target for gossip fodder. At the recommendation of a teammate, he checks out a high-end local escort service.
Sparks fly from the first time Ethan and Luca meet, but it’s not an immediate match made in heaven. Ethan is a romantic at heart, and even if hiring an escort seems like a perfect solution on paper, their first date doesn’t exactly end with a bang (pun totally intended). Luca might have this gig for the money, but not in the way that you think (school and medical debt being his biggest factors). However, Ethan takes another chance, mostly because of how intrigued he’s been with Luca from the start, and the sparks ignite. Then, this book isn’t a slow burn romance so much as my favorite trope of “idiots standing around in a fire together.”
My biggest complaint is that the repeated internal ruminations about their employer/employee status from both men got a bit old by the first half of the book. One of the major external conflicts is also super obvious. That being said, the way both of these conflicts play out on the page is handled with enough of a twist that I still more than enjoyed this story. I look forward to continuing this series.
Cole (Book 2)
Another hockey player and another escort. This seems like a recipe for a fairly repetitive book, except Witt bends these character tropes in an entirely different direction for this novel. However, one thing is the same in that Cole and Parker share the same “idiots in love” tendency that I adored from the first book, even if the emotional angst comes from an entirely different source.
Most of the conflict in this story comes straight out of Cole’s head. Like most things in real life, it’s not a straightforward sort of problem, nor does it have a direct trajectory. Witt does an excellent job of balancing the developing romance with that conflict, even if I wish there had been more of an issue on Parker’s side as well. (In fact, Parker’s entire LACK of certain issues would have been interesting to explore further, itself.)
I loved meeting characters who will be the heroes of future adventures, based on the upcoming titles in this series. Marco, especially, was a fantastic secondary character here, and I can’t wait to read him as a point-of-view protagonist. Like at the end of this book, we hope that we continue to also get a glimpse into previous couples’ happily ever afters.
Bryce (Book 3)
After two books about escorts and hockey players falling in love (which I didn’t mind at all), it was a nice change of pace to switch to a very different sort of celebrity. The stars of this romance involve Alec the rock star, mentioned in a previous book, and Bryce the brand-new escort, previously introduced as a secondary character. Though Bryce is new to this particular profession, and Alec is incredibly resistant to change, the sparks flew between them after a minor initial hiccup.
Witt plays with romance tropes in this book, in which the evolving relationship is practically the definition of a slow burn, but the characters spend a ton of time together (sexually and otherwise). The “forced proximity” is entirely of their own doing, and then Bryce and Alec have the audacity to act surprised when they develop feelings! Witt manages a decent amount of angst without either character descending into melodrama, and the eventual resolution is exactly as nerve-wracking and romantic as it needed to be.
One element I especially appreciated about this book is how the physical aspect was presented. Even in a vanilla relationship, sexual desires can vary greatly, but the important bit is how all parties respect that. Witt manages plenty of steam without following “expected” patterns for this genre. I look forward to both peeking in on Alec and Bryce the next time the band is home from tour and especially reading the next book in this series, starring another familiar secondary character!
Marco (Book 4)
This series of books may share a common theme, but I have been thoroughly enjoying the very different vibe from each story. In terms of character, I always enjoy meeting a future hero from a different perspective and then getting a peek into their own head. Here, Marco is just a guy making a living. He has a relatively unique occupation, but there’s nothing otherwise extraordinary about it. There are moments of unfortunate slump like with any career, so he is willing to take a chance on an “extended booking” with Julian.
Julian is his own sort of dichotomy, and half this book is just as much about getting over a previous relationship as it is about starting a new one. In fact, after three books of happily ever afters, a solid happily for now should be a let-down. Instead, Witt does an excellent job of balancing reality and romance, leaving me thrilled by the possibility of what might develop between Marco and Julian without forcing an unrealistic connection (even for a romance novel).
Witt also sets up a particular twist early on in the book that doesn’t hang over the heroes like a storm cloud so much as it develops delightful anticipation for which character might break first. Again, the aftermath is the perfect amount of romance for the bond that has developed between Marco and Julian. More than any of the previous pairings in this series, I hope that I get a glimpse of these two in future books to learn how their story continues to evolve.
Andre (Book 5)
Considering Matt’s recommendation of a certain app to Ethan in the first book is the inciting incident of this series, I’ve been looking forward to his happily ever after. He was a solid secondary character in the previous two hockey romances of this set, and while he seems sorted on the surface, I knew Witt would give him a solid background that made his story worth reading. I also knew that I needed more of Andre after meeting him in the train wreck fake-relationship scenario explored in Marco’s book. I was not disappointed on either account.
Matt was seriously burned by two relationships early in his life (college-age). Since he has the financial means to do so, he’s limited his physical connections to the options available via the Gentlemen of Emerald City app for years. Is this healthy? Not necessarily, but it’s obvious that Matt is an incredible catch due to his knowledge and respect of sex workers and the appropriate inherent boundaries. Witt also explores how Andre became involved in the profession, and I thoroughly enjoyed the secondary conflict of Andre’s changing perspective after the previous book’s events. The sparks are immediate between both men, both physically and mentally, so it’s fairly inevitable that they get themselves into an “idiots in love” situation, especially once they are “exclusive” for a decent length of time.
This book is my favorite of the series so far. Witt brings to life two dynamic characters who explore some intense emotional baggage and come to terms with the resulting development. This seems like a recipe for some pretty epic angst, but Witt keeps the story compelling without diving into too much unnecessary pain for Matt and Andre. She also sets up the final book in the series, which I’m excited to learn features a sort of “antagonist” from many of these books. Because as Matt has proven, even idiots deserve their own love stories.
Hunter (Book 6)
Should the villain of the story get their own happily ever after? For the first two hockey-centered books of this series, Scott was nothing more than a bigoted antagonist that far too many queer people must deal with in their daily lives. However, Scott’s story gains significant depth with reveals during Andre, when we learn about his shared history with Matt. That certainly doesn’t make Scott’s actions acceptable, but it does add context to them. And Witt makes Scott put in the emotional work to achieve that happily ever after. None of the books in this excellent series have been light and fluffy, but at moments, the finale is not an easy read as Scott deals with acknowledging his truth and making amends with those who deserve it.
Hunter does not go along for the ride as a mere plot device. He has his own struggles, and Witt balances the difficulties of Scott’s journey with Hunter’s equally important issues and how they relate to sex work as his livelihood. But Witt also uses Hunter’s basic goodness to help Scott overcome his issues until it’s clear to see how neither man needs outside rescuing, but along the way, they accidentally save each other.
Overall, the ending is exactly what I would have wanted from this book in particular and this series as a whole, even if it’s never one I saw coming when I decided to check out a book about a busy hockey player falling in love with an escort. I’m all for spreading positivity about the sex work industry, which is why it’s hilarious that I may have found that I don’t mind the occasional sports romance along the way, as long as hockey is the sport. Fans of Witt’s writing shouldn’t miss this excellent series, but all readers looking for an exceptional collection of shared-world love stories should give this one a chance.