Rating: 4 stars out of 5
In Victorian England, 21-year-old James Eyre, frightened by his feeling for another man, decides to leave the boys’ school where he has spent ten years, first as a student and then as a teacher. He manages to secure a position as a private tutor for Axel Vance, the ward of a wealthy man who owns an estate in Yorkshire.
From the night of his arrival, James begins to sense that things are not as they should be at Thistleton Manor, the home of the enigmatic Edmond Manchester. Late at night, wild screams seem to echo through the house, and during the daytime objects disappear from James’s room and are replaced with sinister-looking voodoo dolls. Though his instincts tell him to flee, James stays on because he enjoys his duties and the company of his pupil—and even more so because he has begun to develop an attraction for his employer, Mr. Manchester.
To his surprise, Mr. Manchester seems to return his feelings. However, a jealous former lover and a phantom-like presence in the house seem determined to tear them apart. If he is to have any hope of a happy future with the man he loves, James must solve the mystery of Thistleton Manor and save Edmond’s life as well.
I may be the only person in my age group in America who has never read Jane Eyre so although I know this story is based on that classic, I can only rate this story on its own worth, and it is indeed worth it!
James Eyre, a teacher at Gloamwood, the school where he’s lived since he was a young boy when his uncle sent his ward away to be educated. First a student, now a teacher, he’s in love with his best friend, though neither man has ever expressed their feelings out loud, and Hallum, his love, is now planning to marry, a role expected of all young men. James, on the other hand, will not marry, and to get away from the happy couple, he accepts a position at Thistleton Manor located on the moors far north of London.
He is to be tutor to Axel Vance, the ward of Edmond Manchester in a big old rambling mansion staffed with only a handful of servants. Complete with mysterious, loud screams in the dark of night, coming from what sounds like above but may be outside, the mansion is very definitely a cold and spooky place. Right from the beginning, he enjoys working with Axel, a bright young man who wants to be Robin Hood, but there are others in the household he can’t warm up to. That includes the butler and a servant named Gregory who James suspects is behind both the night screams and the mysterious disappearance of his favorite cravat. He also extremely dislikes Edmond’s friend Ivor, a man with whom Edmond obviously had a dalliance in the past and who seems to want to get back with Edmond in the present.
But Edmond has his sights set on James, and when he acts on them, James reciprocates. A virgin in all things related to sex, James falls madly for Edmond, and even when things that go bump in the night cause a serious injury to Edmond, James expresses his devotion and determines to stay and get to the bottom of the mystery. From that point on, the mysterious person who is responsible for the noises in the night takes the forefront in the story. And though James is called away to London to answer his uncle’s death-bed summons, he hurries back just in time to be embroiled in danger as the mystery at the mansion comes to a head.
I enjoyed this story, my first from this author. The romance was sweet, with most scenes between the men going fade-to-black, and with James’s innocence and his idealistic attitude appropriate to the Victorian era in which this story is set. The mystery and resulting action were highly interesting and entertaining, though I found the London interlude to be unimportant in any way other than to get James away for a few days. Most of all, I felt like I was reading a highly enjoyable M/M version of a classic novel, and I’d recommend it to all lovers of classic old-fashioned love stories complete with handsome MCs, a precocious ward, and spooky night horrors.
Cover art by E Connors depicts a well-dressed young man looking back toward an imposing manor house silhouette against a darkened sky complete with “bats in the belfry”— a modern depiction of a classic scene.
Kindle Edition, 186 pages
Published January 20th 2016 by Dark Hollows Press, LLC