Friday, August 7, 2009

A Heart Divided by JM Snyder

TITLE: A Heart Divided
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill (Allure)
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 42k)
GENRE: Gay historical romance
COST: $7.00

Lieutenant Anderson Blanks of the Confederate Army is hoping to wait out the rest of his term, just a few short months before he’s up for re-enlistment, but when pickets complain about ghosts in the woods where they’re currently encamped, he sets out to take care of it, convinced it’s just a dying man. He’s right, but the man is no stranger. It’s Sam Talley, the man Andy has been in love with most of his life, the man who was forced to leave his father’s plantation after their affair was discovered, the man Andy was going to go off and find as soon as he was free of the war. Sam’s been hurt, and now Andy is the only one who can make sure he doesn’t die from his wounds. The only problem is, Sam isn’t fighting for the South…

From the very start, there’s a poignancy to this short novel that overlays the grittiness of the war period in which it’s set. The American Civil War often gets romanticized in historicals anyway, and while there are definite elements of that to this, it still manages to be a touching, emotional, satisfying ride.

The entire story is told from Andy’s POV, which has definite advantages and disadvantages to enjoying it. On the plus side, we get to experience firsthand Andy’s sense of loss regarding his first love, his anxiety when he fears Sam won’t make it, his exhilaration in those moments when Sam is lucid and they can simply be together. It completely puts us in Andy’s corner, because he’s a caring, intelligent, honorable young man. On the down side, however, is the fact that we learn very little about Sam but the superficial. Sam spends the vast majority of the story unconscious, or in pain, or some state in between, so it’s very difficult to get a true bead on him. We get some of Andy’s memories, but those are more of boys than young men, and highly rose-colored. They’re Andy’s means of retaining his sanity about the whole war, so perhaps not the best yardstick to really measure what kind of a man Sam is. As such, Sam ends up being more of a figure for Andy to fixate on rather than a fully developed character in his own right. Does it hurt the romance? A little, though I will say that because Andy’s feelings were so strong and such a rush that I still managed to get swept up in all of it anyway.

Because of the situation, there’s very little intimacy in this, just a few kisses and some casual mentions of what they did in the past. The true thrust of the story is the tension that coils throughout it as Andy tries to reconcile his responsibilities to his Army with his responsibility for Sam. The world conspires against him. Other soldiers. Time. Piece by piece, it adds up and tightens the noose around the reader’s neck, until I had no idea how Andy was going to get out of all of it. One or two of the twists seem a bit contrived, but for me, since I needed the release so badly, it worked well enough for me not to care too much at how convenient it was. It’s also the reason why it doesn’t bother me so much that, outside of Andy’s father’s reactions in his memories, there doesn’t seem to be that much backlash from his contemporaries when the truth about his relationship with Sam starts to come out. I think if I’d had to deal with the ramifications of the wrongness of homosexuality of the period on top of the tense action, it would have been too much to take.

I tend to be hit or miss with this author, but this one is definitely a hit. It’s a tightly paced, poignant love story, with a truly heartbreaking leading man.


9/10 – Tense and anxious

Hero #1

8/10 – Honorable and heartbreaking

Hero #2

5/10 – Harder to get a grip on since he’s unconscious or in pain most of the time

Entertainment value

8/10 – I got swept away by the tension of the situation and the love between the two men

World building

9/10 – Gritty and real, in spite of the romanticism of the prose and men



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