Review: Per Ardua by Jessie Blackwood

Addicted to the soaring skies, brash high-flier Arthur Edward “Jack” Ratigan returns to Britain to fly bombers when his birth country goes to war against Germany in World War II. It also means a return to his ancestral home of Pren Redyn House in Wales—and risking his career and freedom if it comes to light that he is homosexual. The drama and peril of combat will create profound changes in Jack both during and after the war, as will the influence of Ifan Griffith, the young butler at Pren Redyn and the one person who seems immune to the Ratigan charm. The sky has always been Jack’s true love, but when he faces a future of never flying again, he’ll discover he’s already found a surprising new home for his heart—with Ifan.

Review by Alex Beecroft

The blurb is possibly a little misleading as it certainly led me to expect there to be more flying in this book. I would summarize the story more like this:

Jack Ratigan’s bomber is shot down. He manages to safely crash land at his own airfield and saves the life of all his crew, but it’s at the cost of spinal injuries that leave him paralysed from the waist down. When he gets out of hospital (with some hope that he may get some movement back in time) he goes to convalesce and build a new life back at Pren Redyn. The story revolves around the family who live there, and the relationship between Jack and the butler of the house, who volunteers to care for him.

Beyond the crash scene at the beginning, the war doesn’t really come into the story. When I realized this, about half way through, I exclaimed to my husband “why would you set a story in WW2 if you’re only going to have it all take place in a big house like any novel set from Georgian to Edwardian times?” He’s a lot wiser than me and remarked that just because it’s set in that era doesn’t mean it has to be about the war. To which I grumbled that I would have preferred a few more explosions.

But this is a quieter book than that. More about a man coming to terms with the loss of his RAF career, learning to live with disability and to give up part of his independence. Jack is used to being the charming centre of attention and the man of action, and has scorned Ifan because he did not understand how anyone could be a servant all their life. Now he has to learn to appreciate what a vital role Ifan performs and what a capable personality it must take to undertake it. He must also learn to redefine himself and find something new to live for now that he will never be a pilot again.

I read to the end of this book with no great sense of hardship, which is more than I can say for many m/m romances. But I can’t say that I was ever particularly riveted either. Quiet psychological drama is not really my cup of tea. I felt that Ifan never really became anything more than simply a very capable person – he didn’t really come alive for me enough to care about him. Equally, I felt that Jack was described as charming, but I never actually found him charming. In fact there was a lot of that – a lot of instances where we were told things but never shown them.

The opening scene in the crashing bomber is my favourite part of the book, a gripping, suspenseful and action packed scene which showed that the author had done her research and pulled me straight into the action.

After this high point, however, there is a chapter or so where we are filled in on the backstory of every character in the book, including where they grew up and went to school, their parents’ backstories and sometimes even their grandparents’ backstories. All of this in a massive info-dump which I found entirely pointless and annoying, particularly as none of the information proved to be relevant later. If I had not had to finish the book for reviewing purposes, I would probably have stopped reading it at this point. Which would have been a shame, as it improves later.

The story then unfolds in a series of flashbacks that fill us in on more of Jack and Ifan’s backstory individually and together. (They didn’t like each other initially. Jack taunted Ifan to the point where Ifan’s employer had to tell Jack to lay off. After which Ifan mysteriously fell in love with Jack.)

The nested flashback is another of those things that really isn’t my cup of tea. I prefer a story to start at the beginning and go on until the end. With this book there were a couple of occasions where I got confused about what time in Jack’s life I was reading about and had to stop and say to myself “no, hold on, he’s walking at this point, so it must be earlier than the part I was just reading about.”

Eventually the flashbacks do catch up with the present, and from that point on the story unfolds in linear fashion. This was a great relief and I enjoyed the final two or three chapters almost as much as the very first scene. My feeling, as a result, is that there’s a good book in here but it’s being undermined by the kind of structural problems which are often the downfall of first novels.

If you don’t mind backstory, info-dumps and flashbacks, and you enjoy a quiet romance where not a lot really happens, this will be very much more your sort of thing than it was mine. I still wish that there had been a few more explosions.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press (paper and ebook)

2 Responses

  1. Thanks Alex,
    I appreciate the honest review. I just wanted to say I appreciate your points. As this is my first novel, I hope any future ones improve as I learn my craft. And I dare say I will learn from honest critiques like this. Thanks again and I have taken note of your salient points. You are not the first and I doubt you will be the last to point out the info-dump. I agree with you there.

    Having said that, the war wasn’t always about explosions. It was about people and how they coped. I wanted to contrast the very great need to reconcile the things that people saw and did and the very great strain it put on some of them with coming back home and working out how they fit back in to reality. I hope at least I got some of that right.

    Thanks again.
    Jessie B

  2. Hi Alex

    I really agree with a couple of points you make.

    This paragraph particularly: But this is a quieter book than that. More about a man coming to terms with the loss of his RAF career, learning to live with disability and to give up part of his independence. Jack is used to being the charming centre of attention and the man of action, and has scorned Ifan because he did not understand how anyone could be a servant all their life. Now he has to learn to appreciate what a vital role Ifan performs and what a capable personality it must take to undertake it. He must also learn to redefine himself and find something new to live for now that he will never be a pilot again.

    Sums it up beautifully.

    I think the war aspect was vital because it is a book about coming home and adjusting. This is true of any war. The losses that characters have to deal with.

    The era was also important because of the prevailing attitude to homosexuality.

    Jesse has done meticulous research, but I do agree a lot of backstory wasn’t needed to be included to understand the character’s motivation. I also like that she has tried to make these reactions and thoughts pertinent to the time period involved. The rest did give a wonderful picture of the time though.

    But we’re all different. I love the psychological developments and only found the first chapter mildly interesting.

    A.B.Gayle

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