Review: Discreet Young Gentleman by M.J. Pearson

All hell breaks loose when Dean Smith, Earl of Carwick, is tricked into being discovered in the company of Rob, a handsome male prostitute. Now Dean needs to repair his broken engagement to a wealthy heiress…and Rob is the only one who can identify the man who set him up, proving to Dean’s fiancée that things weren’t as they appeared.

The trip from Worcester to Bath turns into a journey of self-discovery, as Dean finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Rob. His charming companion stirs feelings Dean has long kept repressed, but acting on them would make true the accusations that destroyed his engagement. Torn between duty and desire, Dean’s destiny lies in the hands of a Discreet Young Gentleman.

Review by Renee Manley

I’d recommend this book to those who are on the lookout for romantic stories and don’t really care about period details. That said, historical fiction fans who’d like to feel as though they’re momentarily sucked into the Regency may be disappointed.

The romance is sweet. The rapport between the two lead characters is deftly handled, with a lot of witty exchanges and clever asides. Dean, to quote Blackadder’s Prince George, is exasperatingly “thick as a whale omelet” but more in a cheeky and sympathetic sort of way. Because of bad experiences growing up looking the way he does (he’s a redhead with lots of freckles), he’s nothing short of difficult when it comes to making him see his attractiveness, esp. if the person trying to hammer sense into him happens to be a hottie hustler.

Robert’s the “mystery” man who’s got all the trappings of a Regency romance hero: dark features, hotness, a carefully guarded past, and the entire world is in lust with him. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) he’s a prostitute. He’s roguishly charming and is quite obviously Dean’s perfect match. The other characters are interesting as well, with a lot of emphasis placed on Erich, Dean’s coach driver (who also has an interesting past), and Dean’s numerous quirky uncles.

There were several places in the novel where I chuckled or laughed, too, and I appreciate that.

There were some problems, though, that kept me from fully enjoying the novel. From the get go, I didn’t see two Englishmen who lived in the Regency. I saw two contemporary American actors playing historical roles. Turns of phrases all over the place had a very strong modern American slant. Too strong, in fact, which made it very difficult for me to connect with the period. I thought it would get better after Chapter One, but it didn’t. In fact, there were places where it seemed to grow worse.

There’s a generous smattering of “my lord,” “hell and damnation!” and other historical “markers” (for lack of a better term) that reminded me that this novel takes place in England in the early nineteenth century. But that’s the problem. They were reminders and not simply a natural part of an appropriately dated dialogue.

Much of the novel takes place on the road as Dean and Rob travel to Bath. Along the way, they stop at different towns that boast some pretty special “treats” to any visitor, i.e., tourist attractions.

One other problem I had with this novel was what I call historical pedantry, in which the writer, for whatever reason, abruptly stops the natural flow of the scene by “lecturing” us about this, that, and the other, usually in the guise of dialogue that ultimately sounds stiff and artificial. For instance:

Rob nudged him. “Don’t step on the Prince of Wales.”

“What?”

“Look down. That plaque marks the grave of Henry VI’s son.”

“Right. The one killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury.” Despite himself, Dean was impressed.

The verger shook his grizzled head. “Nasty business, the Battle. Lancastrian troops sought sanctuary here, and were pursued right up to the altar by the Yorkists. The Abbey had to be closed for a month to be cleansed and re-consecrated, due to the bloodshed.”

There are several others that are similar, and while they provide a quick history lesson about the area, they do nothing for the story itself other than belabor the readers with the fact that, yes, Rob likes history and knows quite a bit of it. Now I think I can understand Pearson’s purpose, which is to add more mystery to Rob’s story. After all, how many prostitutes would know so much about the Wars of the Roses? But I found this method distracting and, after a while, irritating.

These history lessons are paired with ghostly hauntings that these inns, abbeys, and whatnot, are famous for, and being thrown together in a mix made me feel as though I were reading bits and pieces from travel guides. Clumps of facts and anecdotes not smoothly blended into the story–one moment I was setting myself up for some romantic fireworks, the next minute I was wondering if I were going to be quizzed on English history.

This novel could have done with a longer development of the plot instead, given all the side characters and their stories, which suffer from lack of proper exploration or no exploration at all. And that’s unfortunate because Pearson’s novel has a very promising idea behind it. Toward the final chapters, everything seemed so rushed. The underlying complexity in the plot is never given proper justice, and all we have left is a “breezy romance.” That’s not bad in itself, but if the novel teases us with interesting character histories as well as promising side characters, as a reader, I’d be disappointed if it doesn’t follow through.

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for reviewing this. I simply couldn’t say anything nice about it myself and I’m not good at that kind of review (actually, I’m better at it than a nice one but I couldn’t bring myself to post it!) You hit all the points I was desperate to make. But you also didn’t mention the lack of adult content. Simply, where was the sex? I had to wade through all that and still didn’t get any sex? Feh! It was a very disappointing piece.

  2. Hi, Haley. Sorry for not responding sooner as I’m currently on holiday, and my internet connection’s been extremely difficult.

    I understand what you’re saying completely. It’s pretty intimidating going against the flow, especially if a book has been receiving mostly positive reviews. I hesitated for a while before posting my review of Discreet Young Gentleman, but in the end, what the heck? :)

    I’m not bothered too much by the lack of sex scenes. I guess I’m burned out, myself, having written mostly erotic romances for a while now, and I’m actually moving on to historical gay YA fiction with absolutely no sex involved. A number of erotic romances I’ve read tend to be little more than a collection of sex scenes strung together by a very thin plot, so at times I’m relieved when graphic sex isn’t a part of the picture.

    Oh dear. I sound like a prude, don’t I? :D

  3. But there are plenty of ya gay stories that “fade to black” and they are sexy as hell. Alex Sanchez is one author that comes to mind (and I have an interview with him on my site).

    But thanks for giving voice to that which I could not.

  4. My contemporary gay YA novel has a few raunchy moments, but nothing explicit. Mostly fantasies and references to masturbation and heavy makeout sessions at the back seat of a car. My historical gay YA novels, though, are a lot more restrained largely because of the period.

    Alex Sanchez has been recommended to me by other readers and writers, too. I need to pick up one of his books and get myself more familiar with other gay YA titles out there.

    I’m checking out your site right now. Thanks for the heads up! I really appreciate it.

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