Review: The Hill: A Romance of Friendship by Horace Annesley Vachell

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Reviewed by Hayden Thorne

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
In this novel based on the life of the masters and boys at Harrow school, two boys compete for the love of a third. Lord Horace Vachell was an English novelist who introduced polo to Southern California when he moved there in 1882.

REVIEW:
I must say right now that this novel was the most frustrating, exasperating work of fiction I’ve read in a long time. It isn’t badly written though at first I railed against Vachell’s characterization of Scaife and Desmond. As it turned out, my complaints were largely unfounded, at least with regard to Desmond.

Jonathan Verney, the new kid in school, falls hard for Henry Desmond (or Caesar, as he’s called), and he does all he can to develop and nurture a close friendship with the older boy. Unfortunately for him, Reginald Scaife, who’s older and more street-wise than the other two, also has plans of winning Desmond over. And so begins the tug-of-war between good (Verney) and evil (Scaife), innocence and guile, intellect and brute strength. The opposing forces are classic – cliché, almost. Yet Vachell’s presentation is anything but, hence my growing frustration that made me set the book aside two-thirds of the way through, while I redirected my energy elsewhere.

I picked up the book again and finished it, finally. Yes, I stand corrected on a number of things. My initial complaint was characterization. I found Scaife and Desmond at first to be so one-dimensional that I simply wanted to reach into the book and give both boys a damned good thrashing. By the book’s conclusion, however, my opinions of Desmond had shifted favorably, and not because of the conclusion, in which Verney’s friendship and love play a significant role.

Desmond, while admittedly a weak character, is still complex in his own way, which is the reason why the tug-of-war and growing hostility between Verney and Scaife don’t seem to have an end. He’s torn between the two boys for reasons he can’t understand because he’s ruled mostly by his emotions though deep down, he really is a good, decent fellow. Scaife, also called Demon by his peers, is pure evil, his initial charm and wit slowly losing their veneer till in the end, Verney sees him as “deliberately setting about the devil’s work.” And I saw nothing else about Scaife other than he’s simply rotten to the core, so much so that when Verney admits to himself (much to his horror) that he’s actually wished Scaife to be dead, I didn’t feel outrage at Verney’s sentiments. “The bastard deserves it” was the thought that crossed my mind, and it’s an uncomfortable one. I like my villains more multi-dimensional than that. I want to feel a little torn between sympathy and disgust. Unfortunately for Scaife, I felt nothing but the sense of being cheated out of a potentially very good antagonist.

Verney shines as the lead character. Though the angel against Scaife’s devil, he still makes all sorts of errors of judgment, which end up giving Scaife ongoing ammunition to be used against him. It’s because of his innocence that he hurls himself headlong into this wild, romantic, and passionate attachment to Desmond. It’s also because of his innocence that he holds on to hope, defying Scaife’s expectations, which, in turn, fuels the other boy’s antagonism toward him.

It’s the perpetual battle between good and evil that ultimately wore me down because it simply dragged on. However, Vachell saves the best for last, when all things seem to be so hopeless in Verney’s eyes. There’s redemption, but in a manner that I never expected. The Hill concludes with an event that’s tremendously heartbreaking yet ennobling, the final scenes being the stuff of classic, enduring romance.

Vachell lovingly paints Harrow school as a gorgeous pastoral. Even with the presence of the proverbial serpents (Scaife, Lovell, and their circle), the school still resonates with the lushness of spring and youth all richly detailed. When Verney, in his final year, looks forward with trepidation to the darker, murkier waters of Oxford and Parliament, I also wished that he – as well as his friends – needn’t go anywhere else. The side characters are also vividly drawn, with Caterpillar (a snobby older student who openly despises Scaife for being lowly bred) and Fluff (a younger student who attaches himself at first to Verney but eventually drifts away) being my favorites.

Yes, it was initially an agonizing read, but The Hill is really much more complex, much deeper than a simple rivalry between two boys over a third. As a rare book that specifically deals with 19th century/early 20th century boarding school romance between boys, it’s a significant addition to the library of historical gay fiction enthusiasts.

Buy the book: Amazon USA, Amazon UK

Textbook: Homo History by Erin McHugh

$12.95

From ancient Rome to gay pride, here is a time capsule of gay history, <br>presented in quick, short takes. Strange, fascinating, <br>and historically revealing!


Homo History: A Compilation of Events That Shook and Shaped the Gay World (Portable Queer) (Hardcover)


Erin McHugh • Alyson Publications • Release date: October 2007 • 126 pages • Hardcover • ISBN-10: 1593500319; ISBN-13: 978-1593500313


From the Old Testament to the New World Order, the centuries have not always championed homosexuality. But the past has also been checkered with surprising liberal periods. From ancient Rome to gay pride, here is a time capsule of gay history, presented in quick, short takes. Strange, fascinating, and historically revealing!


About the author
Erin McHugh is a writer and former publishing executive. She lives in New York City and South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Buy it from Alyson Books

Review: A Summer Place by Ariel Tachna

 

Review by Erastes 

From the publishers website:

Overseer Nicolas Wells had been coming to Mount Desert Island for ten summers to help build cottages for the rich and powerful.  Despite his secrets, he had grown comfortable in the peaceful little island town, getting to know its inhabitants and even to consider some of them friends.  The eleventh year, however, he arrived to startling news:  the island’s peace had been shattered by a murder.  At the request of the sheriff, Shawn Parnell, Nicolas agreed to hire Philip Hall, the local blacksmith and the probable next victim, in the hope that the secure construction site would be safer than his house in the village.  He never expected the decision to lead to danger. Or to love 

I slid into this book very happily because the writing is very nice.  Descriptive and sensual (as in of the senses).

There’s an excerpt here

There’s a sense of tension in the first chapter, with fog and a dangerous journey along the coast avoiding rocks, and I had great hopes.  I particularly liked the cover, too – absolutely no reason in the world why a m/m historical should have anything on it to indicate what it is.  I would, as a bit of advice to the publisher and author however, have made the m/m element a little clearer (or indeed clear!) in the blurb, it’s so veiled as to be almost invisible. 

On a personal level too, I would have liked a map – this story, set on an unfamiliar (to me) island in the Atlantic – seems to call out for a map.  (I like maps…)

Anyway – onward.  Overseer Wells arrives on  Island, and takes on the task of protecting known sodomite Philip from a man who has murdered his lover and seems likely to be targetting Philip (and maybe others) as punishment for his and their homosexuality.  (As an aside, “homosexuality” as a word, didn’t exist in 1880…) And it was here that we ran into the the almost inevitable OKHomo, I’m afraid, most notably because it is actually the town’s sherrif who asks Wells to take Philip into his work-gang because: “he’s done nothing to warrant being locked up”

I’m not an expert in American law, but I’m fairly sure that sodomy would have been illegal in Maine 1880? But the sherrif ignores the law, and the inhabitants of the island (mostly) seem fine and dandy with it, even the rough and tough tradesmen on the building site are with one small exception. Hell, I don’t think Maine is that accepting even today!

That aside, it’s obviously well researched and well written, but I found the opening third quite dull. What bored me was the constant ogling the characters did for chapters on end.  I would have actually been just as interested in reading about the building work, as well as the growing attraction between them but instead the main characters stare and ogle and lust after each other in a very angsty way “he’s beautiful, I mustn’t, he might not… I want…” for quite a long time, and it gets very repetitive.  There are also repetitive sections in the dialogue too, which should have been edited out – Philip asks Wells if he’s married and how long he’s been the boss of the crewmen and he says no, and ten years – a couple of pages later, Philip asks the same questions to someone else.

However, it does perk up, and what Tachna cleverly does is to set up a kind of Agatha Christie style murder mystery – insular and remote location with a limited cast list – but in order for this to work more effectively she needs suspects and there doesn’t appear to be anyone who isn’t OK with the homo, apart from one very obvious suspect (I’m not spoiling anyone here, it’s pointed out very clearly by the sherrif)

There are inconsistencies in the facts of the cases too, – I won’t go into details but they are little niggles which stand out, especially if one is enjoying the crime elements and trying to solve it.

But I’m being picky, and I’m being picky because this is a nicely written book, one of the better Romances I’ve read that has been written contemporarily and the author clearly has a lot of talent, and I enjoyed reading it despite its flaws. The sex scenes aren’t overdone, and are genuinely erotic rather than porny, although the story as a whole outstayed its welcome after the mystery was solved and could have been wrapped up earlier, dealing with the conflict that happens in the last 3 chapters more within the main body of the story, rather than after the denouement.

If you liked Ruth Sims’ “The Phoenix” you’ll like this too,  and I highly recommend it.  I certainly will look forward to what Ms Tachna and Dreamspinner continue to create.

Buy from the Publisher

Review: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon


Reviewed by Alex Beecroft

Lord John’s mother is getting re-married, and the change threatens to stir up more than one thing which should remain hidden. For a start John is in danger of falling very much in love with his new step-brother to be, Percy, a love which is distinctly reciprocated. But in a more sinister turn of events, the fact that John’s mother now has a protector to whom she can speak of the past alarms the murderer of John’s father. Attempts are made on John’s life, his brother and mother are warned off with pages of a missing diary, and a conspiracy and scandal which has hung over the Grey family name for years threatens to burst back into life.

In the middle of all this, John and Hal’s regiment are posted to the Rhineland, to take part in several battles of the Seven Years War which seem like something of a relief after the tension at home. But tragedy follows John onto the battlefield, and when everything falls apart for him he must turn to Jamie Fraser, the Jacobite prisoner with whom he has a poisonous love/hate relationship, not only to provide him with the final clue as to the murderer of his father, but also to tell him how… whether to save Percy’s life.

I think I said in my review of ‘Lord John and the Private Matter’ that I liked that book because it was not as overwrought as the Outlander series, and because it didn’t have Jamie Fraser in it. This book, alas, was as overwrought as the Outlander series, and did have Jamie Fraser in it, with all his (to me) graceless, unattractive, overbearing, arrogant macho bullshit. Consequently I didn’t enjoy it half as much as ‘Lord John and the Private Matter.’ I like a happy ending, and this book did not have it – in fact, when I put the book down at the end I felt severely depressed. My respect for Lord John himself decreases with every instance of his inability to get over the fact that Jamie Fraser is a homophobic git who will never love him, and if I never read another book in which the tedium of troop maneuvers on the Prussian front is so excruciatingly well drawn (yes ‘Temeraire: Black Powder War’ I’m looking at you too) I will be very happy.

However, having said all of that, all the reasons why I loved the first Lord John book still apply – the gorgeous, fully immersive experience of living in the 18th Century in London, from the effervescent Irish squalor of St. Giles to the high class literary salons and coffee shops. I’d have paid the price of the book entirely to make the acquaintance of the O’Higgins brothers and not felt short changed. The love affair between John and Percy is so tender and delightful and frustrating and just gorgeously sexy that it too is worth the admission on its own. The mystery is intriguing and kept me turning pages. I’m more in love with John’s family than ever. And as much as I don’t like Jamie Fraser, I’m well aware that there are many more people who do like him than don’t. I can’t deny that there is an intensity in the parts of the book where he appears which grips you by the throat. I personally don’t like that experience, but I know that a lot of fans of the Outlander series will find this book much more to their taste than the last. It is more… full blooded, in a way. (To a point that at times felt likely to give me a nosebleed.) If you like to be put through the emotional wringer by a book, this one is definitely for you!

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Review: Ransom by Lee Rowan

For a young Englishman in 1796, the Navy is a way to move beyond his humble origins and seek a chance at greatness. Captured by accident when their Captain is abducted, Archer and Marshall become pawns in a renegade pirate’s sadistic game. To protect the man he loves, David Archer compromises himself-trading his honor and his body for Marshall’s safety. When Will learns of his friend’s sacrifice, he also discovers that what he feels for Davy is stronger and deeper than friendship. The first challenge: escape their prison. The second: find a way to preserve their love without losing their lives.

Review by Erastes

I found this book, completely by accident and I was intrigued by the blurb as it was a a Regency Gay Romance, which made me beam, because there are just Not Enough of those, but more excitingly, it’s a nautical tale, set in the same time period as Master and Commander and Hornblower – so if any of you have ever slashed Archie and Horny or Horny and Pellew – you are going to LOVE this. It’s 1799 and not only is homosexuality on land punishable by prison and death – on His Majesty’s Ships the Articles of War give an automatic death penalty for it – and very little proof was needed – if a man of a higher rank gave evidence against one of a lower, that man would hang.

But it’s more than just “oh whoopee another historical homoerotic romance do buy” This is excellently written. It could easily be Forrester on a Slashy day, and I’ll stick my neck out and go further to say that the writing surpasses Forrester. It’s also immaculately (as far as I can see) researched and what brings it alive to me is that the language is in the tone of the TIME.

Nothing jars me more than reading about 21st century men who just happen to find themselves on a 18th century warship.

The sex is beautifully described and perhaps some readers won’t find it as graphic as they’d like, but it is all there, it’s just written so beautifully and so lightly that it’s inferred rather than explicitly shown.

Anyway – HIGHLY recommended especially for all of your who moan that there’s no historical slash out there.

Don’t miss her sequels – Winds of Change and Eye of the Storm.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

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