Holden Peters is young and while not exactly privileged, his life has been far from difficult. But then his father catches Holden in a moment of youthful indiscretion and his comfortable existence is turned upside down. He finds himself disowned and thrust into the employ of a man called Mr. Leslie.
Leslie is a man of business first and foremost and he views Holden as an investment and an acquisition for his high-end male brothel. Still reeling from his change in fortune, Holden struggles to adapt to his new life. The time is quickly approaching when he must begin taking clients and there are friends around to help him, if he but allows it. Holden will learn that while his situation is not exactly what he dreamed, there is joy to be found and perhaps even something more.
The First Bloom of Winter had an enjoyable first half, which then dissolved into something out of a bad porn film. It was a fairly quick read and the plot, such as it is, did not hold up to much investigation. There are numerous gaps in the narrative and some rather ludicrous plot devices that never really work. That said it is written with a smooth, enjoyable voice, one that quickly draws the reader in and sets the mood. The plot, while somewhat preposterous, never really tried to be something it’s not and I appreciated its honesty. This book knew what it was from the start and delivered accordingly.
The characters are all relatively enjoyable but they suffer from a lack of depth and personal history. We know a little about the boys that Holden works with, but next to nothing about his minder, Richard, or the enigmatic Mr. Leslie. Had all of these characters been more completely defined, it would have been easier to connect with them on more than a superficial level. While I didn’t dislike any of them, the author did not particularly make me care about them either.
All of the boys, rather than use their real names, are titled after flowers. Aster, Gardenia, etc. and while this is a rather clever extension of the brothel’s name, The Garden, the reason for the botanical subterfuge was never really explained. It would have been nice to know why Leslie has chosen to use this particular style of camouflage for his workers. As there is another in The Garden series already, I suspect the author is setting this world up for further books, but without more description I fear there will be a wider lack of cohesion, which is already demonstrated in The First Bloom of Winter.
For all of its issues, I really did enjoy the first half of the book and with a bit more characterization it would be easy to adore each of the flowers offered by the Garden. But the second part of the book really fell short for me. It was nothing more than an extremely protracted scene of Holden’s first sexual encounter. It didn’t strike me as particularly erotic, but rather has an exercise in excessiveness. It didn’t make me feel closer or more empathetic to Holden and did nothing to further my interest in his story. And almost as soon as it’s over the book ends abruptly. There is no real wrap up or extension of the plot. This could, as mentioned earlier, signal a sequel, but as a stand-alone it really founders.
The First Bloom of Winter wasn’t a terrible book and parts of it were quite entertaining, but it needs a great deal of fleshing out and a sturdier plot all around. Holden and his fellow flowers have potential, but like the plot they need more definition and the author needs to round them out and make them more relatable. If you enjoy a historical piece with a bit of naiveté and brothel life on the side, The First Bloom of Winter might be for you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.