A feud between the Veilleux family and the Lajoie family has spanned generation after generation. The animosity between the two families has shifted over the years and what was once a passionate reaction to some egregious transgression is now rote behavior, something to hate on principle. Now, the matriarchs of both families have come to realize their sons represent a chance at reconciliation. To accomplish this, they merely decide their sons shall wed.
Worldly and disenchanted Laurent Veilleux had no immediate plans to marry; indeed, he is rather content at being a playboy able to indulge in pleasures of the flesh without any of the baggage. When his mother informs him of his arranged marriage to the last Lajoie heir, he is flummoxed and discontent. Only when she agrees to allow him a trial run of sorts—marriage for a year and no more if the couple are incompatible—does he agree. Yet soon after meeting his intended, Laurent suddenly finds his heart is perhaps not as cynical as he once thought.
Brys Lajoie, for his part, is more open to the arrangement. For twenty years, he spent his days at study or practicing horticulture in the grounds of his family’s country house. He knows nothing of a feud and has no quarrel with anyone—in fact, his parents have raised him almost jealously protected from the outside world. Brys has not so much as even seen the neighbors, despite long harboring a crush on one of the cousins. He greets the news of his marriage with cautious optimism.
When the fated day arrives, however, old tensions rise to the surface. Though Laurent is content to have give the union a chance, most of his relations are free with their criticism of the Lajoie’s and their mean circumstances. Things come to a head during their wedding when Brys is suddenly stricken with a devastating illness. When more guests fall ill with some terrible sickness, the newlyweds escape to Laurent’s country estate. Far removed from the extraordinary stress of their whirlwind nuptials, the two young men finally start to make a tenuous, yet precious connection. One tender show of consideration is reciprocated with gentle affection. Brys and Laurent being to talk, to discover the man their husband is and the more they uncover, the more their interest, devotion, and ultimately love grows.
Yet all is not well…the guests struck ill at the wedding fare far worse than Brys—they end up dead. A string of other illnesses, each ending just as badly as the first, all seem to stem from some connection to the new couple. What’s more, something seems to be poisoning the very air or water of their new abode for none of the greenery will grow. Fear settles in as the connection to these dark events and the Veilleux-Lajoie wedding grows ever closer and culminates in the revelation of a truth no one could have guessed, one far more sinister than mere revenge.
Well, what this book lacks in quality character development it more than makes up for in over-the-top, classic themes of horror. I liked how hopeless everything seemed, especially considering where all the bad juju was coming from, yet I still wanted to see the intrepid couple somehow end up together. Although the ending does feel a bit slapdash to me, the element of never-saw-that-coming, coupled with the historical period, reminds me of some of the tricks I’d expect in Doyle mystery. So what feels slapdashy? The ending jumps from scene to scene and drags a little bit. Also, from the point these two finally fall for one another, the consummation of their relationship is sort of a carrot dangled before the reader. I love me some dangling bits and having to wait it out for the right time, but rather than tease and tease the reader until that perfect time finally comes along, I felt teased and teased and then being shown the action five seconds AFTER that perfect moment finished (literally spend leaking from between ass cheeks, here). It was a bit frustrating to get such wonderful descriptions of the physical expression of their love SO CLOSE but NOT QUITE when it happened. I felt a little cheated. But maybe that’s just a persona quirk on my part…
Our characters are a bit of a disappointment in how, well, flat they are. They don’t have any real personality outside the context they give each other. That means Brys feels like he exists only as he relates to Laurent and Laurent, who had potential to be a bit more rounded, ends up in the same boat. I was a little exasperated by Brys constantly assuming the role of helpless weakling. I mean, I love me some drama when someone gets violently, life-threatening ill, but this seems to be a personality marker for Brys rather than a once or twice event. So this isn’t a character driven piece, but more of a plot piece…which is fine, but…
If the ending felt slapdash, the first 3/4 of the book felt a bit predictable in terms of what was going on with whom. Before you get the idea that this is an entirely bad thing, I’d like to remind you of that Doyle-esque twist, so even though it’s pretty apparent from early on what’s happening to cause all this bad juju, the actual ending will still get you raising your eyebrows. Unfortunately, what makes this hidden ending so compelling is told to us in a sort of evil-villain-explains-his-evil-plot type of deal so it comes across rather bloodlessly and I think that’s a damn shame, because if it had been worked into the body of the story, I think the impact of this twist would have been much greater. As it is, the repetition of key information (to the point of making one of the principle supporting characters literally harp on it) and the clumsy foreshadowing dried out the action we’re left with.
A big part of this book is the paranormal/horror aspect. These seem fairly closely related in my mind, yet in this story, their execution felt starkly opposed. The horror aspects I rather liked. There’s the mysterious illness killing people and no one can figure out how it’s being transmitted. There’s the woods, always a great symbol of magic and darkness and mystery. Woods come into play quite often in the story and especially how they figured into instilling our main characters with a sense of dread and worry was well done. Yet the paranormally bits felt a bit, well, forced. I cannot fathom why Thorne decided to give Laurent any kind of sixth sense because it didn’t seem to enrich the story or move the action along. Later, once it’s quite apparent there are more than earthly forces at work, a side character who specializes in magic gets added to the mix…but then drops out of the mix inexplicably at key points—like the moment the actual magic user could probably identify where/what was causing everything to go tits up and help resolve it.
Overall, I think Thorne did a respectable job weaving together a new take on an old tale. The cast of characters is more functional than compelling, but that worked for me more or less as I came to appreciate this story as a plot-driven one rather than a character driven one. I’d say if you’re into horror or paranormal stories with gay characters, you’d probably enjoy this. Although the setting is 19th century France, there are only a few nods to this circumstance in the book so if you’re a big fan of historical, you may find Flowers of St. Aloysius a bit light in that regard.