Review: Kindred Hearts by Rowan Speedwell

Charming rascal Tristan Northwood seems to have it all: an ancient name, a noble inheritance, a lovely wife, and a son he adores. Women love him, men admire him, and it seems there is nothing he can’t do, whether it’s seducing a society wife or winning a carriage race. Little does Society suspect that the name means nothing to him, the fortune is in his father’s controlling hands, and he has no interest in his wife except a very distant friendship. Society bores him, and he takes dares because he only feels alive when he’s dancing on the edge… until his wife’s brother comes home from the wars.

Decorated war hero Major Charles Mountjoy jerks Tris out of his despair by inspiring feelings of passion Tris had never suspected himself capable of. Almost as terrifying as those feelings for Charles are the signs Charles might return his affection-or, even worse, that Charles sees the man Tristan has been trying so valiantly to hide from the world.

Review by Erastes

This has the feeling of a “proper” Regency, and as a comparison, if you liked the Regency work of Lee Rowan, G.S Wiley, or Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon you’ll definitely like this. It has all the elements in place for a “nice” traditional Regency – an arranged marriage, a brooding rake, clubs and ballrooms etc etc–but it doesn’t stick to the rules for too long thank goodness!

That’s not to say it isn’t flawed, but in this case the good definitely outweighs any faults–I can’t go so far to say “the bad”–because the flaws are like little touches of inconsistency, like the faint taste of cabbage in your burgundy or something like that. It’s not bad–at all–it’s very enjoyable, but time and again I was jolted when the writer was doing something nice which many readers would really enjoy.

So, we have Tristan Northwood, a deeply unhappy man who drinks and tries to earn himself the reputation of a Rake. He has Father Issues which is very sad, because they are not really merited. His father–as many fathers would have done at the time, being left with a small boy he probably had very little to do with–had to concentrate on running a huge estate and didn’t have time to spend time with his son. However Tristan, an only son and the heir to the Baronetcy, takes this hard and feels himself badly done by.

He’s not a very good rake either. He doens’t seduce and violate the innocent, he doesn’t leave behind a string of broken hearts and hymens and desperate ex-virgins who then are left in a delicate position. He always sleeps with either the willing experienced lady or willing and bored married women and–thanks to very good advice given by his father, always uses protection and always makes sure his bed partners are satisfied first before allowing himself to climax. So, for a Rake, he’s a Thoroughly Nice Chap.

The arranged marriage is a success, in as much as Charlotte (or Lottie) doesn’t like all that marriage act stuff and the couple are as fond of each other as any couple who only met once before the wedding have a right to be.

This part of the book was a little bit too long for my liking, the gay love interest was mentioned a couple of times (Lottie’s brother) and it was obvious that he was going to be The One to finally make Tristan realise he was looking for love in all the wrong places but the pre-marriage discussion and post marriage stuff took up about 20% of the book and I found I was a little restless, because I don’t read a gay romance to read about hetero marriage and babies. However I should grow up, because this section was good, necessary for character development (in particular Lottie’s) and the author was skilled enough to keep to her guns, and spend the time to start with book in the way she wanted to do.

I liked all the characters a lot, particularly Lottie who is absolutely deadly sensible–in a Charlotte Lucas kind of way. She knows what she wants and she doesn’t want the moon, and in the long run it’s probably better the way her marriage goes than marrying for love. I also liked that Tristan was such an arse at times, and wouldn’t listen to reason, rather than just being changed in his character by lurve.

The research is well done and applied with a light touch, enough to ground us to the era without plastering on thick descriptions of carpets, carriages and chairs. There are touches such a Belcher handkerchief and references to Darby and Joan which are perfectly in tone, and some Heyer style slang, but not enough to make me want to punch anyone.

Some of the vernacular was a tad too modern for my taste, but it’s very sporadic and it was probably Just Me Being Picky–things like “he washed up” which to an Englishman means something different from an American and “I wrote you” rather than “I wrote to you.”  Small things, picky things yes, but the quality of most of the book made them stand out like blemishes on a catwalk model.  I wasn’t absolutely sure about the medical details–it was clear the author had done her research on many things, her treatment of Waterloo seemed to be very solid–but considering that Waterloo is forty years or so before the revolution of medical care, with Nightingale’s and Mary Seacole’s reforms–the scenes of rather clean injured bodies and the careful use of lint etc seemed a little too advanced for this time and place.

The use of food, though. A recurring problem with historicals…Ham and Eggs and Toast and Tea for breakfast…Today, yes. 1815. No. Far too much tea all round, in a time when it was so prohibitively expensive it was locked away to keep the servants from touching it, one wouldn’t have tea willy nilly as here.

I particularly liked the relationship between Tristan and his father, it wasn’t an easy fix–and I particularly liked the way that Tristan remained quite staunchly anti his father for quite a long time, even though the rest of his family was aware that the old man actually adored his son, but had no idea how to show it.

I’m sorry to say though, there was far too much weeping for my taste. Even though Tristan keeps asserting that he “was never a watering pot before he met Charles” he tends to burst into tears a great deal, even after he got over his overwrought state. Charles, too becomes uber weepy at times, and I really can’t manage two men in bed, weeping all over each other.

The other issue I had was the OK Homo. Everyone is OK about the Homo. Tristan’s wife (understandable, perhaps as she already knew her brother was homosexual) the companion, all the servants. Even when they are discovered with their hands in each other’s breeches by a fellow officer who is disgusted, angry and horrified–he is converted to their love by the realisation that they are devoted to each other. Too many people know, that would–in real life–have really led to problems.

The best parts of the book for me–and it’s all pretty good, despite my tiny gripey gripes (they seem like bigger gripes than they are)–were actually the conversations that Charles had with his fellow soldiers and officers. They were solid, and utterly believable, peppered with news of the war and the machinations of Wellington and others. I think that if Ms Speedwell was to write a pure historical at any time, she’d do very well.

If you like this era, you’ll certainly like this one a lot. Highly Recommended, despite my small niggles.

Amazon UK    Amazon USA

7 Responses

  1. Thank you for a lovely review! I have to admit that my mother didn’t like all the crying either!! LOL!

  2. Interesting. I really enjoyed this one, but I was curious about “Ok homo” comment. It usually takes me out of the story too if I feel that too many people know and accept the lovers, but how many is too many? I mean it did not bother me at all that Lottie knew, it seemed very reasonable and understandable. I thought it was, while not necessarily reasonable, but at least believable, that servant knew. I mean, when I am thinking about gay couples in the past who managed to get themselves off the radar, at least somebody at home, or one or two friends, may have known and helped them? I dont know, the only one who I agree would not have just let it go, was Charles’ officer friend.

  3. Well Ellen knew, and he tried to tell his father (which seemed incredibly dim) – I don’t mind the servants knowing, and keeping quiet, but when they start saying things like I know you’ll be happy or some such and giving advice that rather throws me off.

    • True, I forgot that Ellen knew. I actually understood why he was trying to tell his father , but sure it seemed dim of him and I liked how father reacted. In any event, I am just wondering out loud about my own reaction, not questioning yours, because this is an issue that *may* bother me quite a lot in historicals. I am more surprised than anything else that in this book the amount of people knowing did not feel excessive and it felt believable to me that it may have happened this way.

      • Yes – I loved the way the father reacted, and the swift way that he dealt with it, “oh yes, hero worship. yes, of course, that’s right!” very neatly done!! :D

  4. I have to say, the “ok homo” aspect of this story never occurred to me as I was reading, and even afterwards it didn’t bother me at all. (The only really problematic example was Charles’ military friend—and since he WAS an old friend, and knew that Charles was leaving military service for good, even then I could see him agree to keep quiet about it, if it wasn’t something he had to personally deal with on a daily basis.)

    I really do believe that many gay people have always lived their lives in accordance with their sexual orientation throughout history, flying under the radar even in the most repressive of societies. And I’ve often felt that there must have been many people, the friends and family of gay people, for whom homosexual relationships weren’t all that much of a problem as long as things were kept very quiet and discreet.

    The thing is, we don’t know much about these situations today, because these relationships were simply never spoken of, never written down, and so there isn’t a lot about it in the historical record.

    Well, I can’t guarantee that is 100 percent true, but it’s what I personally believe, and so I don’t have a problem with a certain amount of “ok homo” in many historical novels, as long as it seems reasonable and believable. That’s why I don’t have any problems with Jonty’s accepting (and completely delightful) family in the Cambridge Fellows series, for example…

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