Author: Heidi Cullinan
Cover Artist: Lyn Taylor
Josie’s Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Ulysses’ Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 02/14/2012
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Historical, M/M Romance, Regency
“To seal their bond, they must break the ties that bind. ”
Painfully introverted and rendered nearly mute by a heavy stammer, Lord George Albert Westin rarely ventures any farther than the club or his beloved gardens. When he hears rumors of an exotic new orchid sighted at a local hobbyist s house, though, he girds himself with opiates and determination to attend a house party, hoping to sneak a peek.
He finds the orchid, yes but he finds something else even more rare and exquisite: Michael Vallant. Professional sodomite.
Michael climbed out of an adolescent hell as a courtesan s bastard to become successful and independent-minded, seeing men on his own terms, protected by a powerful friend. He is master of his own world until Wes. Not only because, for once, the sex is for pleasure and not for profit. They are joined by tendrils of a shameful, unspoken history. The closer his shy, poppy-addicted lover lures him to the light of love, the harder his past works to drag him back into the dark.
There’s only one way out of this tangle. Help Wes face the fears that cripple him right after Michael finds the courage to reveal the devastating truth that binds them.
Warning: Contains wounded heroes, bibliophilic tendencies, orchid obsessions, a right bastard of a marquis, and gay men who get happily-ever-afters.
One of my first MM books was Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan and I didn’t like it. In fact I never finished it and it’s fair to say that book clouded my judgement of Ms. Cullinan’s work but I gravitate towards historical regency to such a degree that it was inevitable I would eventually get around to reading A Private Gentleman. It’s been on my tbr pile for a while now so when I was asked to read and review for Prism I couldn’t say no.
All I can say is why did I wait so long, it blew me away, it surpassed my expectations, drawing me in to its web of tortured emotions and angst. I couldn’t put it down.
Michael Vallant and Lord George Albert Westin (known as Wes) both have things in their past they are desperate to forget. There’s a quote in this book that is meant to be about Michael, but it’s just as apt for Wes as well.
“That boy is still inside you, though, no matter what you think. He’s been sleeping all this time, maybe. Or maybe he lives in all those damm books you read. But he’s not gone. And I think my lovely, he’s waking now. Because after all this time, he’s finally seen something worth waking for.”
Both Michael and George carry wounds buried far deep inside, wounds that haunt their present, leaving them unable to fully function in society. Ironically it is meeting Wes that drags Michael’s memories up from the depths, and maybe Wes can be Michael’s ultimate salvation, and in the process can Michael help Wes break from his past too? It all sounds convoluted and messy but it just works, beautifully and sensitively.
Michael and Wes are both wonderfully written characters, heartbreakingly complex, both of them running from fears, burying those fears so deep down that hey never see the light of day. A chance meeting at a society ball brings the two men together. Michael has spent his life running from a horrific childhood event and thinks becoming a whore is his only option. This has worked well until meeting Wes drags up all his suppressed memories leading to nightmares, in daytime and in sleep, culminating in his inability to have sex anymore.
Wes, struggling with a severe stutter that has led others to believe him simple, and his own family turn away from him, uses opium and laudanum as crutches. Wes is lonely, his life devoted to plants and particularly his beloved orchids.
When Wes finds out what haunts Michael he buys a month of his time, a month of companionship, a month in which both men face their pasts, and their fears. Wes shows Michael his world and a friendship develops that blossoms into a love powerful enough to allow both men to confront their demons. I felt for both men as they struggled to let go of the past and build a future together, I cheered for every little victory and cried with them too. There’s not a lot of sex in the story the emphasis is on the emotions and the healing of both men
I also loved the secondary characters, they were wonderfully drawn out, particularly Roger, Michael’s best friend, his ex-lover, and his pimp. Rodger runs the brothel Michael works and lives at. I also adored Penelope Brannigan; she takes Wes under her wing and helps him recover from his opium addiction as well help him with his stammer.
A Private Gentleman is a beautifully exquisite story; it’s one of the finest regency novels I’ve ever read. The plot is gripping and complex, the characters flawed and believable, with an ending that is satisfying and left me smiling. If you love historical romance full of angst and suspense, with characters that break your heart look no further than A Private Gentleman.
Did you ever wonder how people with anxiety disorders coped before there were therapists and medication to help them handle it? This isn’t a question I’ve ever asked myself, but it is one of the most powerful facets of the plot in “A Private Gentleman,” Heidi Cullinan’s novel set in Dickens’ London in the 1840s.
Lord George Albert Westin, second son of the Marquis of Daventry, is an expert amateur botanist. He has retreated into the quiet, solitary world of plants because of a severe stammer and a crippling social anxiety disorder. Lord George takes opium in pill form to cope in any sort of social setting. It is at one of these social settings – a pretentious ball in the gaudy mansion of a social-climbing Londoner – that Lord George decides he can’t cope any more, and steals away to get a peek at a rare new orchid that his hostess has smuggled into the country. What he ends up finding, however, is a beautiful blond prostitute named Michael, hiding from a drunken titled former trick.
Thus begins one of the strangest, most thoughtful, and most touching period gay romances I’ve ever been lucky enough to read. Because I am an avid student of Victorian literature, I’m always leery of these period novels. It is so easy to screw them up, especially since I know Dickens and Trollope and Thackeray. Cullinan doesn’t try to mimic the language of the period, but she harnesses her modern English into a form that feels correct and slightly antique, without straying so far from contemporary usage as to be difficult to read. More importantly, while her plot is not one that would ever have been covered in any fictional writing in the period, she has clearly done her research and has managed to insert into this very contemporary romance a plausible contextual historic framework. Dickens wrote passionately and vividly about poverty, crime and injustice in his world. Cullinan writes about child abuse, prostitution, and drug addiction. Both of them write about the abuse of power by people who feel themselves to be above the law. Cullinan makes us believe in her plot.
Michael Vallant was a homeless runaway when Rodger Barrows found him and took him off the street. In that, Barrows is like Dickens’ Fagan (“Oliver Twist”), except that Rodger’s boys and girls become fashionable prostitutes in his Dove Street whorehouse. Lord George’s elder brother, Lord Vaughn, and his father, Lord Daventry, could be the archetypes of the unfeeling, selfish English noblemen who filled the pages of Dickens’ novels: and yet they are every bit as complex as Dickens made his own most interesting characters.
Penelope Branigan, on the other hand, is a bit of an outlier. American, independent, with a horrific back- story of her own, Branigan seems more like an Edith Wharton character than one from Dickens. She has insight and wisdom that seems incredibly modern for London in 1843, but Cullinan makes her convincing and sets her up as one of the several warm, beating hearts in the books’ narrative. Barrows and Branigan are not exactly what they seem at first, and their characters unfold as the story progresses, revealing them in all their humanity. They are not saints, and they are clearly not from the right class for Lord George, but they are as memorable as anyone who ever populated Dickens’ messy, appalling Victorian London.
Gay romance does not have to be formulaic. It doesn’t have to be bland or predictable. It can be harsh, shocking and sad, without losing the essential ingredient – redemptive, healing love – that readers of romantic fiction expect and deserve. Heidi Cullinan has created a rich, beautifully literate romantic novel that explores every emotion in the human heart, and every dark corner of the human soul.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
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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