Title: Bonds of Earth
Author: G.N. Chevalier
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the Publisher:
In 1918, Michael McCready returned from the war with one goal: to lose himself in the pursuit of pleasure. Once a promising young medical student, Michael buried his dreams alongside the broken bodies of the men he could not save. After fleeing New York to preserve the one relationship he still values, he takes a position as a gardener on a country estate, but he soon discovers that the house hides secrets and sorrows of its own. While Michael nurses the estate’s neglected gardens, his reclusive employer dredges up reminders of the past Michael is desperate to forget.
John Seward’s body was broken by the war, along with his will to recover until a family crisis convinces him to pursue treatment. As John’s health and outlook improve under Michael’s care, animosity yields to understanding. He and John find their battle of wills turning into something stronger, but fear may keep them from finding hope and healing in each other.
I am a great fan of historical fiction, but only if it’s well done; only if I can get lost in the created past without constantly being reminded that what I’m reading is by a contemporary hand. G.N. Chevalier’sBonds of Earth is a beautifully crafted historical romance that achieves its goal. It transports you to the years right after World War I in New York City, and it keeps you there effortlessly, without overelaborate description or anachronism.
Michael McCready is a Bowery-born Irishman, recently returned from a harrowing stint in the trenches of Europe. He’s also queer, and in order to avoid the law, takes a job as a gardener at an isolated estate up the Hudson River. Before his exile upstate, Michael had begun to dream of medical school; and his experience as a physical therapist in a British field hospital both broke his spirit and focused his desire to heal.
In classic romantic tradition, John Seward is the damaged and dispossessed scion of the family whose overgrown garens Michael is hired to resurrect. He lurks about the shabby mansion, giving attitude and generally being stereotypically upper crust and obnoxious.
But, Michael (and we) notice that the mansion’s aged caretaker, his wife, and their orphaned granddaughter all seem to love John anyway.
I don’t mean to make light of this at all, because Chevalier paints a Hudson River landscape of vivid beauty for her readers. She takes this chestnut of a plot line (think: Anya Seton’s classic bodice-ripper,Dragonwyck) turns it into a fascinating and touching study of both the aftermath of World War I (the most destructive stupidest war ever fought) and the life of homosexual men in early-20th-century America.
The characters are strong and lovingly portrayed; the setting, both physical and historical, is authentic and vivid. The emotional fibers that entwine the ensemble who inhabit Chevalier’s pages are strong. The goodness radiates off the page and wraps the reader in a feeling that he has stumbled onto something long hidden and of great value.
Tamara Allen is one of the best writers of historical m/m fiction there is; but I’d class G.N. Chevalier right up there with her.
The only reason I did not give this a fifth star is because of the ending (and this is spoilerish, so stop if it bothers you).
After having tortured the reader and the main characters exquisitely with sexual tension, Chevalier does finally allow John and Michael to connect physically. She does it with amazing finesse and emotional beauty. But, for some reason, she ends the book in the middle of a sex scene, which put me off and disappointed me.
I have nothing against John and Michael having good sex, and of course that is part of the joy of this book—their discovery of love in physical union, and the emotional possibilities of a queer life. But the ending just felt to me like a bit of pandering to the expected demands of m/m readers who seem to insist that a certain amount of sex is required before a book fulfills its market function.
As a gay man, and a writer of m/m fiction, I obviously believe in sex; but as a gay man I know that the strongest, longest and happiest relationships are not built on sex, but on emotional connection, and on mutual forgiveness and compassion. Sex is one benefit of a successful gay relationship, not the purpose of it.
Don’t let my bitching stop you from reading this wonderful book. I’m just trying to reform the entire m/m world to obsess less about sex and focus more on the emotional and psychological side of what gay love can mean.
This review is based on a copy purchased by the reviewer independent of any review copies offered.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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