First of all, I was surprise to find out this was an historical romance, I don’t know but I was of the wrong impression it was more sci-fi/fantasy. In a way, there is a steampunk flavour on it, it’s not that the author pushed much on fantasy details, but I think she took some “liberties” to make the story more a romance than a historical novel. For example, John Fauth is a University professor and a scientist, and his machine to find noble metals seems a little too much futuristic to be true, but I’m not so familiar with the various scientific discoveries and their time to be able to tell how much far from reality the author went. Another of such liberties is maybe the forced profession of Robert Belton, a male prostitute in a brothel in Seattle; while it’s true molly houses and similar places were already existing at the time, a saloon/slash brother in a frontier town like Seattle in 1898 I think was not a common place to find a male prostitute. Again the author made it believable, specifying Robert is a “necessary” evil thing, according to the owner of the brothel; but I wonder who would have been the courage at the time to enter such a place and openly ask for a man instead of a woman (since women were available); from Robert’s words, even if they were not the majority, and the women gained more money than him, he still had customers.
In any case, from my point of view, these were more positive than negative aspects, they made the story more “light” and easy to enjoy. That is probably the main thread of this story, it was quite romantic, sometime even sweet, despite the event that those men had sex without even knowing each other names, and it was more focused on them than on the adventure part of the plot. In the end, John’s target completely changed, and by the way, since the beginning, he was not the aloof professor someone could imagine, but more a man in love, basking in the warm given by the proximity with the object of that love.
Robert is a man who had to do what it had to be done, not for some teary story about little brothers or ailing parents, but simply since he lost all his money gambling and now he has to find a way to pay his ticket to Klondike and an hypothetical treasure (the gold). He doesn’t like what he is doing, but not for the sex per se, but more since he would like to be able to have it with someone he likes more than with strangers. When he meets John, it is a dream comes true, also since John seems to not be reticent to admit his preferences in bed companions, and he is quite good when he is into that be with someone else.