– goodreads –
Every once in a while, I get a mad compulsion to read a book. I hear of something, and it won’t give me peace until I go and read it – and without a fail, those books prove to be my favourites. So it was with The Name of the Wind all those years ago, or The Curse of Chalion, or more recently The Gray House. And so it is here. Outside of my usual wheelhouse or no, I had to have it and yet again my instinct has proven correct. I wanted to yell about it from the rooftops before I was halfway through. I finished it in less than a day. It satisfied the craving for more Witchmark left beyond perfectly.
“Of course I could have turned them out into the fields, to laugh and cry like that with no roof to shield them. Maybe in another world, that would be best, but…” Archie got up stiffly, muscles aching from holding Rufus against the trunk of the apple tree the night before. “Not in this one. In this world, love needs shelter. And as long as the rectory’s standing, I’m going to provide it.”
If you’re looking for extremely well-written, atmospheric m/m romance with a slight fantasy twist this is very likely a book for you.
So what is it about? It’s 1946. Rufus Denby, a famous archeologist, has returned from his last dig in disgrace after he attacked a colleague while suffering from a flashback. He is offered one last assignment in the village of Droyton Parva that he accepts out of desperation, helping with the restoration of a mysterious church…and there he meets the Reverend Archie Thorne, the eccentric, motorcycle-riding, atheist vicar. Oh and before I forget: there’s a really adorable dog as well.
The characters are definitely the highlight of the book. After the return from war, Rufus is shellshocked, ridden with guilt, amnesiac and suffering from violent flashbacks. Archie is quite different – a warm, kind-hearted person who collects waifs and strays and apparently destitute archeologists. The romance that slowly develops between them is sweet and adorable and I was totally there for it. Dealing with PTSD and homophobia of the era, it gets quite dark and heartbreaking at places, especially near the end. However, it being a romance, I knew it was going to end well, which got me through some of the more intense moments.
And have I mentioned how much I love healing/recovery stories and broken protagonists trying to find their place in the world? Because it hits that spot perfectly.
The worldbuilding, no complaints there either. The prose is rich and atmospheric, and really brings the setting to life. It reads astonishingly fast. There’s also a whole variety of interesting side characters, far too many to list. There’s LGBTQ+ representation beyond just Rufus and Archie, all trying to make their way and find happiness in an imperfect world.
The flaws I found were few and mostly of a personal nature. I found that while I love the focus on relationships that romance has, I really dislike explicit sex scenes of any kind. And there were a few long ones. But I know I am the odd one out in that, and they really didn’t diminish my overall enjoyment. Just not my thing. The ending also ties up too neatly in my opinion for every single of the side characters (I don’t mind it for the main couple) to the point it comes off as forced for some of them, the supernatural element too much of a deus ex machina.
Regardless, I would still put it among my favourites and highly recommend it.
Recommended to: fans of character-focused stories or m/m romance, prose lovers, those who enjoyed Witchmark and Vintner’s Luck, anyone who wants an uplifting story that isn’t afraid to tackle some heavy themes
Not recommended to: those who dislike explicit sex scenes or deus ex machina, those who want a fast-paced, plot-oriented book