Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
I really love historicals. But I do think they are challenging to authors, because so much research is required to do them right. This book, unfortunately, is an example of what happens when you don’t do your research, and don’t truly immerse yourself into the period.
Andrew Cheyne is an assistant to King Henry VIII’s commissioner, traveling to all the Roman Catholic abbeys, monasteries, and other holdings in England to take inventory of their assets, wealth, and workings before they were forcibly turned over to the newly created Church of England. Andrew is a man who had sex with men; not a man who wanted or even considered a romantic or long term relationship with another man. While at Tavistock Abbey, he met Brother Mark who was an apprentice mason – and was powerfully physically attracted to him. It took less than 48 hours for him to seduce Mark, but instead of just relieving a physical urge, he found himself intrigued, to the point that even after he left a day later, he couldn’t quit thinking about Mark.
Despite being soft spoken and gentle, Mark is not as innocent as he initially seemed. He grew up with privilege, which he took advantage of, gambling and having sex with “men, so many men” until his mother forced him to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. During that pilgrimage he repented, came to understand that God was his only hope for forgiveness and salvation, and when he returned to England he gave up the family farm and his possessions and entered the monastery. Where he continued to pray to be relieved of his unnatural lusts. Andrew was the first man to tempt him since he became a monk, and he gave in to that temptation easily and completely.
All of this occurred in the first 20% of the book. The two men fell into insta-lust that immediately turned into insta-love, and caused them to completely reverse their previous feelings on relationships. There is little to no description of how homosexual men behaved or were regarded in sixteenth century England, and I found Andrew and Mark’s relationship to be much more fitting to a contemporary time. There was only token angst about sin, or illegality, and at a minimum I would have expected that from Mark who supposedly had a real religious conversion earlier in his life. There were some blatant anachronisms (for instance, when Mark wanted to “converse with Andrew in preference to stuffing his face”), but mostly what bothered me was the way these men spoke and acted like 20th century guys who just happened to meet in a monastery. There were too many convenient occurrences before and after they met (I knew from the moment she was introduced that Emily would die) and they kept pulling me right out of the book. Working through the last 80% of the book was a chore, and I got really tired of Andrew whining, and thinking of having sex with Mark.
In the end, I went up from 2 to 2.5 stars because I felt that there was some character growth in the years they were apart, with Mark becoming less of a doormat, and Andrew becoming more appreciative of who Mark was. But since the entire basis of their relationship seemed to be physical, or Andrew’s admiration of Mark’s artistry, I never really got involved with their romance and was just happy when the book ended.
Cover art by Melody Pond matches the period.
Sales Links: MLR Press LLC
Kindle Edition, 181 pages
Published July 7th 2017 by MLR Press (first published August 22nd 2011)