A young Scotsman and a Cavalry Officer embark on a forbidden love affair as the winds of war threaten to tear them apart. When Robert Alexander Macdonald locks eyes with Captain Charles Wentworth at a social gathering in London, it’s not long before they are also locking lips and engaging in a covert love affair. After an idyllic time spent together in a cottage on the windswept cliffs of Cornwall Charles receives orders to report for combat duty. Britain and France are at war with Russia, and Charles, an Officer with the 11th Hussars finds himself part of the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, a military disaster that outraged the British population. Robert, on hearing that Charles is missing, goes in search of him, but finds only the shell of the man he loves, a man damaged in body and mind, with no memory of his family or loved ones. Faced with the possibility of Charles never again knowing what he and Robert meant to one another, Robert decides to dedicate himself to Charles’ full recovery. Going against all medical advice, Robert removes Charles from the hospital and takes him back to Cornwall in the hope that the familiar surroundings of his old home will bring back some latent memory to his lover’s mind. A hope, that as time goes by, becomes less and less of a possibility
Review by Tamara Allen
The year is 1854 and Captain Charles Wentworth is two weeks away from going into battle against the Russians. At this pivotal moment in his life, he meets the gentleman of the title, Robert Alexander MacDonald, who came into his inheritance after the death of a not-so-beloved grandfather. The two are introduced by Charles’ sister, Emily, who is surprisingly in the know regarding her brother’s sexual inclinations. Charles and Emily’s aunt, Lady Haddon, invites Robert to her home with the goal of introducing him to a bevy of eligible young ladies. But it isn’t the ladies who win Robert’s attention.
It takes barely an exchange of glances before Charles and Robert are swept by a mutual attraction so powerful that they sneak out of the house for a brief moment together in which to declare that attraction and indulge in some barely restrained kisses. In escaping Lady Haddon’s clutches, they are amusingly assisted by Emily and rumors of a rather enthusiastically spiked bowl of punch. It isn’t long at all before Charles and Robert are making the most of Charles’ time before his call to duty. Lust and attraction deepen to love in a believable way and I anticipated a very painful parting. The two men explore London together, giving the author an opportunity to add some interesting historical detail to enliven an already strong setting. When the time came for Charles to leave, the moment was as heartwrenching as I’d expected. Robert was so lost without him, I’d wondered if he would try to enlist just to be with Charles, or follow him into battle.
The sex is detailed, which I found more erotic later in the story when the two men had gotten to know each other, deepening their bond and making the impending separation an agonizing thought for both.
Though I am not familiar enough with the time period to judge the author’s description of the war, I had a bad feeling it would not go well for Charles. Though the descriptions were necessarily brief, I had a vivid picture of the Light Brigade’s charge and the consequences of it. Left to wonder how badly Charles was hurt, I devoured the rest of the story as Robert went out in search of his love, determined to find him and bring him home. The use of real life people I thought was well done, so much so that I wished this had been a novel rather than novella. Fleshed out into novel length, I think it would have been an even more interesting work. It’s a fascinating time period that I haven’t read much about and this novella made me curious to learn more. As a longer work, it would have definitely increased the story tension of Robert’s struggle to find and then save Charles. I would have liked to see that part drawn out more, because Charles’ recovery seemed almost too quick, right at the end, though I thought the author made it as believable as possible within the confines of the word limit. It was certainly romantic as could be. Robert declares in his love for Charles that he would do anything for him and fate puts him to the test. These are lovers who have to fight for their happiness and fight they do, which makes you love them both and cheer them on.
Despite my small complaint regarding length, I enjoyed The Officer and The Gentleman immensely. There was an almost innocent sweetness to Charles and Robert’s love affair, despite their earlier experiences. Neither man had ever fallen in love before as thoroughly and completely as they fell for each other. It had a whirlwind romance feel that was very appealing. The writing itself also had an innocent sweetness to it that contributed to the overall charm of the story. There is the occasional bit of dialogue that could have used polishing, such as when Robert in conversation with Charles refers to “Lady Haddon, your aunt”–apparently for the reader’s benefit, since that is something Charles would already know. I didn’t, however, find that it detracted from my enjoyment of the story. There are lovely lines, too, such as Robert’s trusted servant Morag’s comment as Robert goes to comfort Emily. Morag tells him to “keep hope in your heart and make her a gift o’ it when you see her next”. That was beautifully put. There are moments in the story that are moving in unexpected ways, such as Robert’s needing to hide his intense grief from his servants so they will not guess how deeply he loves Charles. Moments like that which will make your heart ache for Bowie’s characters. Moments that make this story quite a worthwhile read.