Author: Victoria Sue
Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Links: Amazon
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Blurb: Their love was a death sentence.
Deacon, Viscount Carlisle, was aware of the slums and gin-lanes of London. Just as he was aware of the underground traffic that furnished the brothels and bath houses with human innocents. He was also aware that the so-called justice system would hang the accused without much of an attempt at a defense, unless the unfortunate had deep pockets to pay for it.
He just hadn’t expected to be directly involved in any of it.
It started with a plea for help and ended with forbidden love, the love between a Viscount and a stable-boy. An impossible love and a guarantee of the hangman’s noose.
Will Deacon fight for Tom? Will he risk the death sentence and take that fight from the stately halls of his English mansion to the horrors of Newgate Prison and the slums of London?
Or will he realize that if he doesn’t, death will be a welcome end to the loneliness of the sentence he is already living?
Review: I’m always excited to find new historical novels, particularly when issues of the time period are tackled head-on. This Regency story definitely did just that by including a subject that is often mentioned in historical MM fiction, but is all too often skirted, or somehow dodged due to a main character’s high standing in society. I’m speaking of sodomy, which in nineteenth century London was a crime punishable by pillory, exile, or hanging. Also broached was the trafficking of children into sexual slavery. The author did a fine job of portraying the hellish nature of London slums and prisons – and society too for that matter — as well as actual punishments and persecution.
The beginning of this story was eventful, and had my full attention. Deacon, the young Viscount Carlisle, received word that his cousin, Beau, was at a function that was due to be raided within hours. With the fresh memory of some friends being recently pilloried, Deacon raced off to whisk Beau away – or pay for officials to look the other way — before the man could get rounded up in the raid. Upon arriving at the scene, where Deacon expected to simply find another London assignation point for men meeting other men, he was appalled to discover the abuse and sale of boys going on. This was known as an innocent auction. In a tense and action packed scene, Deacon bravely managed to extract not only Beau, but to pluck a teenage boy name Tom from the clutches of the tawdry, vile man who was attempting to sell him. Tom was panicked, near passing out, but would never forget the face of the man who rescued him, and the brief spark of connection they seemed to share. Deacon sent Tom off to live and work at Rawdenscliffe, the Carlisle estate, not expecting to see him again. Deacon’s father ran the estate — he and Deacon had been estranged for several years.
So the scene was set for the long tumultuous friendship between Deacon and Beau, the lack of love and respect between Deacon and his father, and the fledgling attraction between Deacon and Tom. Events led to Deacon taking control of a surprisingly run-down Rawdenscliffe. Part of him welcomed the challenge — he loved the country and the horses — and he used restoring the estate as an excuse to put off marrying. Yes, a society marriage was imminent. What he hadn’t counted on was his full force attraction to a grown up Tom.
Tom and Deacon didn’t waste any time getting involved sexually. As isolated as Deacon felt on the estate, as desperate as he was for physical contact, I still couldn’t help but feel he would have ventured more caution. He certainly knew the risks, as did Tom. Deacon was a well-rounded character and I liked him, was rooting for him. I felt as though I had a good idea of what was driving him, what he wanted and hoped for in life, though early on he was somewhat at a loss at to how he would achieve it. I can’t say the same for Tom. Tom led a comfortable life on the estate. He enjoyed working with horses and he had friends. He didn’t seem to have hopes and dreams for the future prior to setting eyes on Deacon again, and then he lived solely for Deacon. The two did eventually find a plausible way to spend time and be alone together, and the romance does revolve heavily around their love at first sight passion. The suddenness of their relationship surprised me though. I feel a slower development of Deacon and Tom’s attraction to one another, and more growth in Tom’s character, would have made a difference to me. This may be why, although their sex scenes were impassioned and erotic, I never felt completely invested in their love.
I won’t spoil and say exactly who ended up in Newgate prison, or under what circumstances. Suffice to say that even those with money and power often found themselves a rung or two beneath those possessing even more money and power –discovering nobody is immune to the laws of the land if enough favors pass between the right people. The scenes involving Newgate prison were vivid and vile. The level of corruption in the prison and judicial system was as dirty as the prison floors. Reading the detailed scene involving the punishment of the accused made my stomach turn and skin crawl. Society and people can be heinously cruel. Kudos to the author for putting these awful truths on page. Deacon and Tom worked together doing everything in their power to prevent the worst. By witnessing it, they were faced once again with the desperation and bleakness of their own situation.
Some general impressions: It felt to me as the dialogue lacked the feel of period vernacular, yet in the third person narrative the author used period wording such as “where he was stood” or “was sat” quite routinely. Deacon and Tom, whose upbringings took place in vastly different societal classes, spoke nearly the same. Also, several times I found myself re-reading paragraphs because I wasn’t sure which character had said or done what. There were also numerous typos and misspellings. These edit mistakes occurred often enough that they threw me out of the story.
The resolution of Deacon and Tom’s situation was plausible, true to Deacon’s character and his situation. It was nice to see them get their happy ending and then some.