Cobbler’s apprentice Thomas Williams is on his way out for the night when he’s stuffed into a carriage and whisked away from the staid life he’s always known. Stolen away from his Quaker master, Thomas is sold into the household of Leon Chambellan, a Frenchman also known as the Keeper.
Caught up in the latent sensuality of the keeper’s home, Thomas finds his resistance slowly crumbling, and he submits to Chambellan’s charm. Pursued by his new master, jealously hated by this rival, Alex, Thomas must learn survive in a world completely alien to anything he has known before. A world of beauty, brutality, rivalry and intrigue that threatens to destroy him before he can win his rightful place at Chambellan’s side.
Review by Erastes
First the cover: Bafflingly it is not at all representative of what I found inside, as the book tells me it’s based in 1772, so the appearance of medieval helmet, chain mail and a broadsword on the cover was peculiar. Publishers will need to learn that it’s not only the words that need to be accurate!
This is an erotic novel, so if long sexual scenes with strong BDSM themes aren’t really what you are after, then it’s not the book for you. We are thrown into the action almost immediately as – not knowing Bilbo’s warning about being careful about stepping outside your front door, Thomas is swiftly kidnapped by a press-gang. However, unlike Benjamin York, a real-life cobbler’s apprentice of the same era, who was pressed and sent to the Colonial war, Thomas is lucky that he’s pretty for he’s taken as a sex-slave to Chambellan: kidnapper, white slaver and Monsieur of a bawdy house for homosexual men.
There he encounters all manner of pleasure and pain, is strangely drawn to Chambellan “The Keeper,” repulsed by Alex, one of the “groomers” and meets the alluring Lucien.
What struck me almost immediately was Thomas’ surprising passivity. I, as a reader, had to assume that the reason that this nineteen year old man, (who had been working as a tanner and cobbler for ten years, and would be pretty damn strong), didn’t attempt to escape or overpower his captor when he was alone with him, was that he was a Quaker. This is actually the case, but we aren’t told of his reasons for his passivity until page 52. He even thanks the man for his hospitality of his kidnap.
I didn’t like the rapes either. Thomas says no, but he’s raped anyway, and as is often the case in fiction, he enjoys it whilst finding himself repulsive for doing so.
I know that I was supposed to find Chambellan darkly attractive but I couldn’t. Apart from raping Thomas (and supposedly every boy who he has ever enslaved) and being a white-slaver, when Thomas asks him to send him home, he says that he’ll release him back to the press-gang if Thomas wants it. That’s a nasty thing to say, and then he stomps off when Thomas complains he’s been raped and says that he “won’t do it again.” What’s more disturbing is that Thomas then longs for him to come back.
Chambellan actually says “You know there are only young men in my household and none of them is compelled against his will.” Which made me go WHAT!? I rather think that imprisonment and sexual coercion upon young men who say “no” counts as “against his will,” Chambellan.
I did like that this was on the cusp of slavery being abolished in England, and that also the very real danger of running a “macaroni club” is mentioned, these issues should never be completely forgotten in gay historical fiction. I liked the prose too, mainly – it was the other issues that stopped me enjoying the book.
Sadly, there’s also the usual problem with Torquere’s editing. I don’t like to keep mentioning this in Torquere’s reviews but they do themselves no favours. As they are already infamous for bad editing, you would think that they would work doubly hard to ensure that stories are as without error as they can be, but it seems not. This story is less than 100 pages long, so there’s no excuse for things like “he had long brown hair that was tied back in a cue“ and “he lay on the bed, his eyes closed, abandoned,” to name but two
I actually felt bitterly sorry for Thomas, and wanted him to escape from his plight – and from the much worse one that he falls into later, too. I wanted him to get safely home – not to Chambellan, but to his apprenticeship because frankly he deserved neither the frying pan, nor the fire.
Whilst the writing is pretty good, and there’s no doubt that Ms Kasar is a good story teller I’m afraid I didn’t find this erotic or romantic – it’s eroticised Stockholm Syndrome and that’s not any more arousing to me than eroticised rape, but your mileage may vary.
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