So I should say, first of all, that I was predisposed to like this book because I loved Melissa Scott's previous books, _Point of Hopes_, _Point of Dreams_ (co-written with Lisa Barnett) -- classical detective-story set in an alternative XVI century French-like kingdom, with gay characters. What's not to love?
But I was also predisposed to perhaps judge this book a bit more harshly, because it beat out my _The Stars Change_ for a Lambda award. :-) So keep that in mind.
It was a bit of a slow start -- I had some trouble getting into it, and even telling the two male protagonists (also gay) apart. But the setting was delightful (Victorian London with magic), and by the second chapter, I was caught up in the fast-paced murder mystery. I did figure out who it likely was early on -- I thought it was telegraphed a bit too strongly. But I still enjoyed the red herrings, etc.
The book is intercut with scenes from the brutal boys' school the main characters attended in the past. I admit to having mixed feelings about these -- on the one hand, they were compelling, gave a ton of depth of characterization, and some nice nuance to the relationships. In general, the characterization in this book was great!
On the other hand, some of the scenes are frankly rape-like (combined with brutal beatings). And if I am generally resistant to rape tropes for female characters, shouldn't I be resistant for male characters as well? (Perhaps highlighted for me by the fact that I just finished Diana Gabaldon's _Outlander_, which relies on these extensively.)
Now, I'm not going to claim that any of it was extraneous -- the brutality, including the sexual brutality, was central to both the characterization and the plot. But I do wonder if the authors needed to take it quite this far, in order to get the same effect? Maybe they did, and maybe I'm over-sensitized to this issue at the moment. It certainly wasn't casual, which would be the far greater offense, I think.
Overall, I'm glad I read it -- the protagonists are charming, and I would be happy to read more about the pair of them. And do I think the book deserved to win the Lambda instead of mine? I think that's not a fair question to ask of any author! :-)