Review: The Desire for Dearborne by V.B. Kildaire

The Desire for DearborneLeander Mayfield is the only surviving son of a poor farmer… or so he believes until the day he learns he is in fact the new Earl of Dearborne. Still recovering from a lingering illness, the sensitive young man travels to Great Britain to claim his estate and embarks upon a bewildering new life.

Julien Sutcliffe, the Earl of Blackstone, is suffering from ennui. He’s tired and bored with all the finery and wealth and wonders about him. Then he meets this refreshingly naive American Earl, newly arrived in England, and suddenly the world comes alive around him again.

Irresistibly drawn to one another, Julien finds himself besotted, and Leander is equally smitten. But just when they think they may have finally found happiness together, Julien and Leander discover that something–or someone–is determined to separate them permanently.

Review by Hayden Thorne

For those who enjoy their historicals with a very generous dollop of classic aristocratic intrigue and idleness, V.B. Kildaire’s debut novel delivers. There are balls a-plenty, dinner-parties, invitations to country estates, gossip, gambling, artful subterfuge, drinking, whores of both sexes, and smartly-dressed gentlemen. There’s romance, there’s a mystery, with one unfolding at a nice, leisurely pace, and the other, quickly and clumsily handled.

The story’s set in 1831, I’m guessing, because the only reference to a time period is a quick description of William IV’s modest coronation ceremony. Considering political and social events during that year, however, I’m surprised that the author doesn’t allude to the growing unrest over the dissolution of Parliament and the Second Reform Bill – or that the party-obsessed bon ton (seeing as how at least some of the long list of titled side characters would be sitting in the House of Lords) wouldn’t even comment on the wild goings-on in the government.

Instead, the novel’s happily cocooned in the glittering world of the rich and famous, where the most pressing concerns are gossip and marriage, and the real world never intrudes unless it’s to add a clue to the mystery of Dearborne’s determined enemy. As to this mystery, there are a handful of clues scattered through the book, but the bulk of the novel centers on the growing romance between Blackstone and Dearborne. The romance, as noted earlier, unfolds at a nice pace – no rushing into bed, no immediate lust-filled attraction the moment one man claps eyes on the other. There’s a lot of confusion (mostly in Dearborne) and a gradual chipping away at walls that I enjoyed seeing. It’s just too bad that the characters are more stock than unique, with Dearborne teetering on cliché.

He’s young, beautiful, sickly, fragile, shy, innocent, the quintessential ingenue to Blackstone’s world-weary cynic. The damsel in distress through and through, who, in the end, leaves me somewhat unsatisfied with his character, Dearborne’s passivity seems carefully designed to ensure that he takes on the classic role of the endangered virgin in nineteenth-century gothic novels. I must admit that several pages of descriptions of, or ruminations on, his innocence can be rather wearing.

The mystery gets swept aside for the most part till the last quarter of the book, where a casually-paced narrative picks up speed, and we’re suddenly crammed in several characters’ heads. The unexpected head-hopping is rather jarring, especially if one were to consider the fact that the first three-quarters of the novel are firmly fixed on two alternating POVs: Dearborne and Blackstone. Had the mystery been given equal treatment as the romance, the story would’ve made for a more intriguing read from start to finish; as it stands, it almost feels as though one were reading two separate stories, with the mystery feeling more like an afterthought.

On the whole, the novel’s historical elements are well-researched, though I think it would make for a much smoother reading if the author didn’t resort to laundry lists (Arthurian essays and stories, street names, and character names and titles come to mind) to establish facts and firmly ground the story in place and time. Kildaire’s novel is promising in concept but clumsy in delivery, but as this is a debut, the author still shows quite a bit of promise.

Important Note: This book is the first of a series of historical romances from Dreamspinner Press called Timeless Dreams: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma. You can visit the rough and tumble Old West, travel the ancient kingdoms of desert sheikhs, see the black and red lacquer of the Far East, or dance in dramatic Regency England. No matter where or when, in the romantic worlds of Timeless Dreams, our heroes always live happily ever after.

In reference to this, there’s an almost obligatory discussion between Dearborne and Blackstone about their “unnatural” proclivities, and while Kildaire attempts to provide us with a balanced treatment of attitudes toward homosexuality back then, Blackstone’s glib and rather dismissive response strains credibility somewhat.

Buy from the publisher: Dreamspinner Press

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