Book log 2015 – 5) Summer Devon — The Gentleman and the Lamplighter

It’s Victorian London, and wealthy young gentleman Giles Fullerton is still grieving a year after the death of the man he loved, his grief made worse by the need to conceal it. He deals with the emotional pain by walking the streets through the night, until he can face sleep. Young lamplighter John Banks knows a thing or two about grief himself. He loved his wife dearly, even though he’s gay, and has missed her each day since her death. The young gentleman who wanders his route on so many nights may have attracted his attention with his good looks, but John can see that something drives him into the night. Enough so that at last John speaks to him, concerned for his safety. Curiosity about John’s job of lighting and dousing the streetlamps provides something for Giles to focus on outside his grief.

There’s companionship of a sort in a stranger to speak to, and gradually the two young widowers reveal more about themselves to each other in their conversation each night; first in coded and deniable references to their grief, and then more openly. Enough so that they finally act on their attraction. But this is Victorian London, and a relationship is barred by more than their being both men; the social gulf between them would be every bit as shocking to society, and moreover puts them at far greater risk of exposure than if they could meet as equals. Will they both have the courage to find a way through to a chance at happiness?

This is a gentle, slow romance, and all the better for it. It’s a lovely short novella with a pair of well drawn, appealing main characters and some good secondary characters, and a sex scene that adds to the emotional development rather than being there to make up the word count. One for my re-read list.

Available free to members of the Heroes and Heartbreakers website, or you can pay a modest sum to get a nicely formatted ebook with a gorgous cover.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia

booklog 2015 – 3) anthology — Christmas in the Duke’s Arms

Regency romance anthology with linked novelettes by four authors, set in a small village one Christmas. The Duke’s Arms of the title is the village pub, but there is a real duke as well, plus an earl or two. I’ve left it too late to write a proper review of this one, alas, but Azteclady’s written a good review. I don’t agree with her ratings on each story, but that’s a reflection of the variety in the stories – if you like historical romances, there’s a good chance at least one of these novelettes will work for you.

Amazon UK
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada

2014 book log: 2) Sam Starbuck — The City War

Roman Senator Marcus Brutus is a patriot, devoted to the Republic. Many of his days are spent actively working for the Republic, protecting the system he believes in. His main respite is the occasional trip to his country villa in the company of his dearest friend, and lover, Cassius. But his tireless work may not be enough, not when the consul Julius Caesar is taking more and more power to himself. When Cassius first proposes a drastic solution, Brutus rejects the idea, but as the months go by, it becomes ever more obvious that given enough time, Caesar will overthrow the Republic and make himself emperor.

I bought this because I love Sam’s fanfic, and expected him to do a good job of original fiction drawing on historical fact. I wasn’t disappointed. This is one of those novels where I think it can be enjoyed both by readers who know nothing about the historical characters, and by readers familiar with the historical story, or with Shakespeare’s play. There’s a solid story here that fleshes out the basic facts and brings Brutus to life as a real person, a decent, honorable man faced with a choice between evils. His decision is not a simple one, and is made over the course of months, as more and more evidence accumulates of what Rome’s future could be if Caesar is not reined in.

And it’s not just Brutus who’s brought to life here. There’s a good exploration of Cassius and his motives. In addition, there’s a brief but lovely portrait of Brutus’s wife Porcia, and a marriage that is a loving partnership and friendship, not just a useful front for a gay man. Along with the historical characters, there’s original character Tiresius, a teenage runaway taken on by Brutus as a horseboy. Tiresius has secrets to hide, but as Brutus discovers more about the boy’s troubled relationship with his father, it provides him with insight into his own troubled relationship with Caesar, a man who may or may not be his biological father. The interactions between the characters create a rich portrait of a situation where there is no easy right and wrong.

One of the problems with writing historical fiction is that historical people could have very different moral values and beliefs, often ones that don’t sit well with a modern reader. In trying to make a lead character synpathetic, it’s easy to slip into the trap of turning him or her into a twenty-first century person in fancy dress. This book does a superb job of presenting the characters in their proper context, with believable explanations for their attitudes and beliefs about various issues.

It’s not a romance, because it follows Marcus Brutus and his relationships with Cassius and others in the months leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar, and anyone who’s familiar with either the history or Shakespeare’s play will know that Things Do Not End Well for the conspirators. But well researched as far as I can tell, beautifully written, and I’d recommend it to someone looking for historical fiction with an LGBT theme.
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

book log: 70) Edward Marston — The Amorous Nightingale

70) Edward Marston — The Amorous Nightingale

Second in the Christopher Redmayne historical mystery series, set in London just after the Great Fire of 1666. I’d previously read only the fourth in the series, so I’m going back now, and am pleased to find that this one’s just as enjoyable. Young architect Christopher Redmayne is asked to do a service for the King — to find the King’s favourite mistress, the acclaimed singer/actress Harriet Gow, who has been abducted and held for an impossibly large ransom. Redmayne’s friend, the Puritan constable Jonathan Bale, initially refuses to help on moral grounds, but finds that he too has a personal stake in the crime, because Harriet’s maid is the orphaned daughter of friends of his. The two men have to use their separate network of social connections to hunt down leads as fast as possible, in a situation where secrecy is vital.

As ever with Marston’s historical novels, this is a competent, enjoyable, midlist novel which I probably won’t keep but am glad to have read. I don’t know enough about the period to know how accurate his historical detail is, but the world-building is good, and the plot mechanics work well. I think the characterisations are a little deeper and thus to me better in this series than in the Railway Detective series. And as I’ve found with his other books, while the lead characters are male, he has good secondary female characters. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series.

LibraryThing entry

book review: Christopher Wakling — The Devil’s Mask

59) Christopher Wakling — The Devil’s Mask

Note – I received a free review copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Historical mystery set in Bristol just after the abolition of the slave trade. Inigo Bright comes from a wealthy mercantile family, but has gone into law rather than shipping. Newly qualified, he still works for the man he was legal clerk to, on one of the practice’s major sources of income — the nitpicking investigation on behalf of the port officials of customs fees owed and paid. What seems like a routine investigation of one ship’s petty smuggling gives Inigo a minor problem with torn loyalties, because his family’s business has some investment in the ship.

He sets that aside and goes on with his investigation, only to be led into a tangle of deception, threats and finally outright violence against himself and his master. And it seems to be linked with the murdered women who have been found in the city. Inigo does the sensible thing and tries to put his information before the authorities, but finds a suspicious lack of interest. If the truth is to be brought to light, he’ll have to do the digging.

I enjoyed it enormously, but more as a historical novel with a literary bent than as a mystery. The mystery’s good, but the book’s structure gives away a lot of the solution just a little too soon for my taste if approaching it purely as a mystery. The reverse side of this is that Wakling has done an excellent job of laying out the clues and leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about not just the solution to the mystery, but the society Inigo lives in. I’m partial to world-building via long, lingering descriptions when done well, as it is here, and found the book to have a good balance between plot and evoking a sense of place. The one criticism I’d have was that several characters seemed to start off as being intended to be significant players in the tale, and then more or less fizzled out. Inigo himself is an appealing character. He’s young and uncertain of himself, but has the strength of character to make difficult choices once he’s thought them through. At book’s end I was satisfied with the closure given, but wanted to know what happened to him next, which is always a good sign.

A page-turner that brings to life the physical and moral price paid for the profits of the slave trade, even after abolition.

LibraryThing entry
hardcover at Amazon UK
Kindle at Amazon UK
paperback at Amazon UK (release date March 2012)

book log: Edward Marston — Railway to the grave

51) Edward Marston — Railway to the grave

Seventh in the Railway Detective series, about a Victorian detective inspector specialising in railway crime in the early days of the railways. As usual with this author, enjoyable pulp fiction that I won’t bother keeping but am glad to have read. In this one a retired Colonel commits suicide by walking into an oncoming train. Tarleton’s wife went missing a few weeks earlier, and is presumed murdered. The case might have come to Robert Colbeck in the normal course of events anyway, but there is a personal link — the dead man was a friend of Colbeck’s superior officer, from Tallis’s days as an army officer. Tallis wants his dead friend’s name cleared, and the person responsible for both deaths found. Colbeck has to persuade Tallis to leave the investigation to him, because Tallis is far too emotionally involved to do a good job.

The series in general tends to fairly cardboard characters, and Tallis has been something of a stock stereotype in spite of being a regular character, but Marston has finally begun to flesh him out a little in this book.

I’d note that the author tries to reflect period mores and attitudes in his historical mysteries, and this does mean that some of the characters’ reactions to various plot developments are not likely to sit well with much of my friends list. Colbeck himself is a broad-minded and humane man, but that simply means that he gets to clash with people who aren’t, such as the local rector who has no intention of allowing a suicide to be buried in hallowed ground.

LibraryThing entry