Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Bran Roscarrock has been living in the closet all his life. As heir to an expansive family legacy in the town of Porthkennack, old-fashioned ideals of respectability and duty were drummed into him since childhood, and he’s never dared to live—or love—openly.
Sam Ferreira, an old friend of Bran’s brother, Jory, is a disgraced academic desperate to leave his dead-end job. When Jory asks him to take over as curator of a planned exhibition on Edward of Woodstock, the fourteenth-century Black Prince, Sam leaps at the chance to do what he loves and make a fresh start.
But Bran’s funding the exhibition, and though sparks fly between the two men, they’re not all happy ones. Bran idolises Prince Edward as a hero, while Sam’s determined to present a balanced picture. With neither of them prepared to give ground, a hundred years of war seems all too possible. And if Bran finds out about Sam’s past, his future may not be bright, and their budding romance may be lost to history.
Bran Roscarrock has been a troublesome, complex character, along with his twin sister Bea, in all his appearances in JL Merrow’s previous Porthkennack stories. Stern, righteous even in his belief about the Roscarrock position in the Porthkennack at the top of the community and keeper of its history, Bran has not been one that the reader sought to connect with. Same with with his sister. We knew there were reasons for their remoteness and often troubling behavior towards others (younger brother, Jory’s upbringing underneath them bordered on the horrible). But the narrative walls remained high around these characters and the readers feelings stood well back from any emotional connection.
Now with Love At First Hate, JL Merrow starts to bring all those narrative walls she has constructed over Bran and Bea the last two tales down and it’s an arduous journey. Hundreds of years of Roscarrock upbringing and tradition stand in the way of both Bran and Bea’s freedom from their pasts, and the stasis of their present behaviors. They aren’t even aware of how totally mired in just how much the past has cost them until an attack on Bran brings a crashing halt to the routine of their lives.
That’s the startling introduction to this story. An assault on Bran. A shocking event that rattles the lives of everyone in the Roscarrock enclosed circle and without in Porthkennack, a clannish and tight-knit village culture that has existed for hundreds of years. As chief landowner and landlord in town, Bran is not well liked for his policies of business first, people second or even third. So the fact he can’t remember who attacked him, puts him at risk of another assault from any and everyone around him.
It also opens the door for a young historian to step into job of Curator of a project close to Bran’s heart. That of an exhibition of the Black Prince. Enter Dr. Sam Ferreira, someone with his own demons to fight and a past that follows him. Sam is in need of a new start in life and Bran’s fight with the last curator has left the job open for Sam. Because Jory is a friend, that let’s Sam glide right into the job he needs desperately and starts to love.
JL Merrow, understandably gets the every day inner workings of museums (see JL’s bio), their staff, the politics of the curating big exhibits and manages to make it all so lively, informative, and entertaining. But even more, something I became totally invested in, was the passion and enthusiasm of the historians and Bran for their subject and era. And the need to see it conveyed in a truthful and wide ranging manner for the public. JL Merrow uses her characters arguing…madly, wonderfully, loudly…about the inclusivity of women, the poor, the middle class vs knights, the Black Prince perception, homosexuality, carnage vs taxation….just incredible well researched discussions…to illuminate her character’s personalities. Merrow brings them closer together, makes them re-examine their own thought processes and emotions through the very way they look at the Black Prince’s exhibits and interpretations. And in the journey through sifting out the “old” preformed ideas they now realized were based on their pasts, the men become closer and find common ground with each other.
It’s amazing to watch, it’s intimate and joyful in the change that occurs with Bran and yes, Sam as well. In a way history was setting the men free of their pasts by loosing old preconceptions and providing paths for new ones.
As Bran and Sam hesitantly make their way through the Black Prince exhibit, others are also being affected. That includes Jory and Mal (and his son heir to Roscarrock), Bea who has been just as stock as her brother in that great grey rock of a hall of a house, bound by the sea and haunted by the ghosts of their parents. So many lives get tossed about here, upset, and finally freed.
And yes, the mystery of Bran’s assault is solved as well. I can’t help but feeling we haven’t seen the last of that one as well.
Love at First Hate demonstrates why JL Merrow and the Portthkennack series are a must buy for me. The writing is superb, the characters are memorable (two characters who found redemption after being some of the least liked people going), history made lively, vivid, and incredibly important in how its presented, and a whole HEA that made my heart sing.
Plus another visit to Porthkennack, a place that’s found a permanent spot deep in my heart.
There are 11 books now in the Porthkennack series, three of them by JL Merrow. I have listed them below. Real them all, I highly recommend them, starting with the first one and working your way here to Love at First Hate.
Cover art: Garrett Leigh @ Black Jazz Design. That is a gorgeous design. Both men work for Bran and Sam, plus that tone and design is great for the story and a place by the sea. Love it.
ebook, 325 pages
Expected publication: September 3rd 2018 by Riptide Publishing
Series Porthkennack #11
Connected stories by JL Merrow in this series: