Review: Counterpoint by Ruth Sims

At eighteen Dylan Rutledge has one obsession: music. He believes his destiny is to be the greatest composer of the rapidly approaching twentieth century. Only Laurence Northcliff, a young history master at The Venerable Bede School for Young Gentlemen, believes in Dylan’s talent and encourages his dream, not realizing Dylan is in love with him.

But Dylan’s passion and belief in his future come at a high price. They will alienate him from his family and lead him on a rocky path fraught with disappointment, rejection, and devastating loss that kills his dream. A forbidden love could bring the dream back to life and rescue Dylan from despair and bitterness, but does he have the courage to reach out and take it? Will he deny the music that rules his soul?

Review by Erastes

I’ve always been of the opinion that books should be pretty. To (probably) misquote the Arts & Crafts Movement, “one should have nothing in one’s house, that is not useful and decorative.”

Counterpoint is beautifully laid out. From the gorgeous cover by Alex Beecroft (which clearly tells the story) to the wonderful art nouveau font on the headings, this book looks good.

But is it useful? I.e. It might look good, but is it well written?

In a word, yes. This won’t come as any surprise to those readers who have already read Ms Sims’ first book “The Phoenix.” They–as have I–have been waiting a long time for this book, and the polite thing would be to say that the wait was worth it, but I’m greedy and wouldn’t complain if Ms Sims wrote a book a year. This shows progression from the Phoenix; there is a richer depth of emotion and characterisation, and the love affairs described are touching in a way that I never felt with the characters from the first novel.

This is, as the title suggests, Dylan’s story, and he stands firmly at the core of it all:  young, passionate, arrogant with a very firm belief in his talent and entirely obsessed with music, and with little care for anything else, whether it be rules, or family. It’s only the attempts of his family and friends that save him from ruining himself entirely, because if he had been allowed he would have run off and studied music right from the beginning of the book.

It’s a real coming-of-age story, not in a clichéd way of “I’m homosexual and have to come to terms with it” but the way that life forces Dylan to get to grips with his pride, overcome it at times, and compromise with other people, other artists. At first he’s all “it’s my way or nothing” but gradually he learns to work with others, even if that sense of “no, I’m right, and they’ll realise it one day” never leaves him. He sees something, and in his brash young, privileged manner he thinks everything, including love, will fall into his lap, and it’s heartbreaking sometimes to see how he finds that life isn’t like that.

I think the blurb hints that there’s real tragedy in this book, and so readers who can’t bear anyone dying might need to check out whether they want to get invested in the story before starting. But I liked it because life’s like that, you don’t always get to live with the person you love–not forever, and this handles that very well.  I have to say that the “forbidden love” tag in the blurb confused me – in that day and age, I couldn’t see why one homosexual relationship was any more forbidden than another.

There are themes here that are echoed from The Phoenix, and I think I would have preferred something altogether different rather than another artisan who works hard to get to the top of his profession. There’s a top-heavy amount of tragedy, too, which didn’t put me off, as I’m a lover of unremitting angst, but it would have been nice if we’d been shown some of the lighter, sweeter moments in Dylan’s life, especially with his relationship with Laurence Northcliff.

It might sound like I’m being super critical, but when a book is actually as good as this, there’s little point me telling who how damned good. But it is. Sims’ prose is never too layered or dense that you get lost in run-on sentences and too many adjectives; she seems to have an instinct of exactly how much description to add to create an atmosphere, and when to let well enough alone and let the imagination take flight.She never becomes over-technical, particularly when dealing with concepts such as the Gypsies or music, but neither does she dumb down–relying instead on context to make her meaning crystal clear.

As a rich and winding story of love, obsession, disappointment and talent it works beautifully, and anyone with an interest of the fin de siècle period of London and Paris will find it satisfying and intense. Don’t miss this one.

Author’s website

Buy from Dreamspinner Press Amazon UK Amazon USA

One Response

  1. Erastes, thank you so much for the sterling review! I’m a happy author today. (g)

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