Monday, March 28, 2011

Dulce et Decorum Est by J.L. Merrow

TITLE: Dulce et Decorum Est
AUTHOR: J.L. Merrow
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Gay historical romance
COST: $3.99

George Johnson is in need of a room, and the one offered at Number 21 Allen Street seems ideal, mostly because of the charming Matthew Connaught. Matthew is an optimistic sort of fellow, even in spite of losing half of his right arm in the war, and offers a friendship George desperately needs. George would love for it to be something more, but even if Matthew would accept his advances, George knows he would never accept George’s past…

I seem to be on a historical kick lately. I might have to do something about that for Wednesday. This one, however, fares better than the others I recently finished.

It’s not a long or complex story. Post WWI, George has recently moved to London to take a position in a solicitor’s office and is in search of a room rather than living in a hotel. He meets Matthew, who encourages him to accept the room at Mrs. MacDonald’s, and largely because of Matthew’s appeal, George does. There, he finds friendship and a life, as well as budding feelings for Matthew.

The vast bulk of the story details the growing friendship between the two, but with it being told from George’s 3rd person perspective, it’s one-sided for much of the tale. It feels more like a buddy story than a romance, actually, primarily due to the tight reins George puts on his feelings and the period setting where homophobia is rampant. That doesn’t lessen the effectiveness of their relationship. It’s warm and comforting, growing in such a realistic manner it was easy to become engaged with both men. Matthew’s chatterbox tendency is a wonderful foil for George’s reticence, and though the romance angle is underplayed for the first two-thirds of the story, that doesn’t lessen the impact of their characterizations. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting these two and could easily see them inhabiting a much larger story.

But this is a novella, specifically a Christmas novella, which automatically demands different expectations. The ending is set at Matthew’s family’s house at Christmas, an event George has been invited to since by his own admission he has no one. It’s very rosy, populated with gregarious, nice people, much like Matthew. That many concentrated in a single spot tends to make them seem too good to be true, which drags down some of the verisimilitude that prevailed throughout the first half of the tale. The length also forces the romantic resolution to come too easily and too abruptly for my tastes. These men, outside of this holiday setting, had earned my respect and appreciation for being more complex than what the resolution gave them, and ultimately, I was a little disappointed that it wound up so tidily. It’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, and I like to believe that given more words, the author would have found a way of bringing them together that didn’t feel quite so pat.


8/10 – A tad verbose, but fitting for the period and characters

Hero #1

7/10 – His awkward reluctance is endearing

Hero #2

7/10 – Charming and effusive, a good counterpart

Entertainment value

7/10 – The ending was too abrupt and not entirely satisfying, but I enjoyed the camaraderie and mood up to that point

World building

8/10 – Both tone and detail felt authentic, a varied and vivid portrayal



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