Rating: 3.75 stars
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Keeper’s Pledge takes place in 1926, four years after the events of the first book of the set, Poacher’s Fall. Danny is now the gamekeeper, living in a small cottage on Philip’s manor. The two have furthered their relationship which started in the first story and it is clear that they are quite happily in love. Though they need to keep up appearances as no more than friends, they are happy together, especially when they can retreat to Danny’s cottage to spend time alone.
Although being with Danny has opened Philip up to be less of a recluse than he once was, he still doesn’t particularly like to socialize. Yet he must keep up appearances and so Philip agrees to host some family for the winter holidays — his cousin and heir Frederick, Frederick’s wife Millie and brother Matthew, and Millie’s sister Lucy. He knows that he and Danny will have to be much more circumspect when his family is around and may not be able to spend much time together at all. This is made even worse by the fact that Danny’s brother Toby told him that there are rumors circulating around town about Danny and Philip, making the men realize they need to put some distance between them even before the guests arrive.
Being separated brings a lot of tension and both men miss each other greatly. Then things are complicated even further. Matthew is also interested in men and flirts with Philip outrageously, making him uncomfortable, but also reminding him of his former love Robert, as he and Matthew are much alike. Danny worries that Philip will realize he is better off with someone like Matthew, more of his class. And Danny’s brother Toby creates his own problem, one that Danny might have to sacrifice himself to help resolve. With all this coming between them, the men are at risk of losing each other despite their love for one another.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this story is the time period. Most British historicals tend to focus on an earlier period, and so I enjoyed reading these two books that are closer to the modern era. Philip has a phone, has begun to add electricity the house, and they drive cars. We get a nice mix of the more traditional with Frederick and Millie, and then the more modern in Millie’s sister Lucy. Lucy was an interesting character, an older sister who never married and who is somewhat of a spinster. But she is also outspoken and progressive and confident and you can really see the changing roles of women at that time. Of course, she is also trapped by her class and upbringing, unable to live on her own or maintain a job as she has been brought up to do little more than be social and appear ornamental. So I really enjoyed seeing more of this era and Lucy was an enjoyable character with her bit of outrageousness.
I also really liked Matthew and how his relationship developed with Philip. On one hand, Philip becomes almost a mentor to him as a fellow gay man and one who has managed to craft a life for himself while still maintaining his role in society. Matthew is young and dramatic and a bit fanciful, and Philip helps to guide him in finding the balance between being himself, but also getting the respect he wants from others. On the other hand, Matthew also becomes a confidant for Philip, someone he can share his worries with as things become strained with Danny.
I think my biggest frustration with this story is how little time we spend with Danny and Philip together. With the exception of the very beginning and very end (and a quick stop in the middle), they are virtually never together throughout the story, almost like we are getting parallel tales. We watch Philip navigate the social requirements of his family and see him missing Danny and fearful that their relationship will be discovered. And Danny too deals with family issues and worries over their relationship. But with so little time together, we see little of what brought them together or the connection between them. I think this was further hampered by the fact that the first story only just begins their romantic relationship and by the time this one starts they are already established couple. So we never really get to see their love develop and this book keeps them apart for much of the story.
I also think we get an awful lot of misunderstandings and complications thrown in here, almost from the start. Some of the problems seemed understandable, and nothing that was overly ridiculous or anything. But again, we almost never see them happily together as the conflicts start so early. A bit of a spoiler here but… [spoiler] I also wondered why the men made such an effort to stay apart at just the threat of rumors, yet the first night he has a houseful of guests, Philip is at Danny’s house having sex. It seemed maybe a bit contrived to allow for the future conflicts, not necessarily in character considering how conservative they had been up to that point. [/spoiler]
So some things I liked about this one and some things that didn’t totally work. I think I just have a hard time in general with books that start out with conflict. I like my guys to have some good relationship time in there first. But even with that, the love between Philip and Danny is clear here and I was happy to read this second story and see how their relationship continued to develop. This book nicely caps off Poacher’s Fall and is a nice, sweet historical.
Cover review: While Philip is not nearly as hunky as Danny on the other cover, I love the ways these two book covers work as a set. The background is all one image so when you loo at them together they blend perfectly. It really evokes the wintery feel of the stories and even highlights the tree that brought them together. So nicely done.