Lieutenant Robert Pierce of the Royal Navy was raised in the shadow of his father, a great admiral, and has spent his life on the high seas fighting the ships of Napoleon Bonaparte. When he loses a leg in battle and is confined to land, Robert is devastated. Taken in by his sister Maria, Robert faces the infamously cold, wet summer of 1816 trying to adjust to his new life. It’s made all the gloomier by his worry for his best friend and lover, Lieutenant John Burgess, who is still at sea…until a visitor brings a bright ray of sunshine into Robert’s overcast life.
Review by Leslie H. Nicoll
What happens when a career naval officer is grievously wounded and unable to return to active duty? That’s the question that is explored in this short novella.
It’s the summer of 1816, the famous “year without a summer.” Lieutenant Robert Pierce is at his sister’s home, sitting by the fire and watching the rain. He had been a career naval man, joining as a midshipman at age fourteen, until a plank of wood pierced his thigh and his left leg had to be amputated, high enough that a prosthesis was not possible. So he’s become a cripple, living with his sister, and no clue what he is going to do with the rest of his life. He does have a small inheritance from his father the Admiral and could afford to take a wife, burdening her instead of his sister. Trouble is, Robert has no interest in women. The love of his life, John Burgess, is a lieutenant aboard the Dauntless and that is who he wants to be with. If he can’t have him, is life worth living?
The story is told mostly in flashbacks, of Robert and John meeting and beginning their affair. The scenes of them together are beautiful and I loved John’s voice: “I am completely besotted with you, Mr. Pierce.” The writing is evocative. There is a scene in Italy where I could smell the lemons and see the blue sky. The cold, rainy summer in England was also well portrayed, as was Robert’s depression and unhappiness. The ending was melancholy and bittersweet, but completely realistic. And there was even, maybe—a little glimmer of hope, or at least understanding. That managed to keep me from being a sobbing mess.
This is the first story I’ve read from author G.S. Wiley and I definitely look forward to more. Wiley definitely brought the era and characters to life and I don’t have any quibbles with the historical accuracy. I’d like to read a historical story from this author with more depth and complexity; I hope one is in the works.
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