As a young man with few prospects and many expenses, it is of critical importance for Theodore Wentworth to give a strong reading of classical Greek text to a group of peers. Not only is it a rare chance for him to try cultivating connections that would open the door future opportunities, Theodore just might find someone to act as patron to his studies. The day Theodore is set to speak, however, he is beset by nerves and in a flight of fancy, he makes an offering to a statue of Hermes in the gallery of the home of his host.
Whether dumb luck or dedicated preparation, Theodore excels at his reading. What’s more, he seems to have impressed many of the peers in attendance for the invitations to speak and study start rolling in. He catches the attention of one man in particular, one who refuses to abide by social constructs and gives his name only as Alexander. Although flummoxed at the invitation to use the man’s Christian name, Theodore readily accepts the man’s company and patronage.
Less welcome are the ways Alexander’s commanding presence affect Theodore, who thought he had overcome his sexual proclivities. Confiding his dark desires to his best friend does little to clear away the haze of confused emotions clouding Theodore’s head. He is both attracted to the sharp mind and easy wit of the aristocratic man, but wary that one word from someone as clearly powerful as Alexander could be the utter end of someone as lowly as Theodore.
All the while, Theodore’s studies continue apace and he himself continues to make token offerings to Hermes. Perhaps the good fortune is all of Theodore’s own making, but he is not willing to take any risks. In fact, he just might be taking on more when his humble pleas for help shift away from professional pursuits and towards personal ones.
After weeks of careful scrutiny of several famous Greek works—at Alexanders behest, no less—Theodore begins to realize that perhaps the enigmatic and handsome aristocrat is offering more than mere friendship. Things take an unexpected turn when Alexander surprises Theodore with intimate knowledge no one but Theodore himself could possibly know. Despite Alexander being a member of the upper class, it’s Theodore who has the power to make or break any connection between the two men.
This was a truly delightful read. While short, Lewis does a respectable job setting the scene sometime in the mid to late nineteenth century. Clothing is fussy, communication is conducted via hand written missives delivered by hand, people ride in hansom carriages, and classes are overt indications of a person’s station in life. Into this background, Theodore, Alexander, and John fit marvelously well.
John is Theodore’s best friend. He is upper class and monied thanks to the overseas ventures of his father—but those ventures grew to include falling in love with a local woman, thus leaving John a curious mix of English and non-English and therefore on the fringe of peerage. These details get worked into the on-page narration smoothly and provide a great reason for upper-class John to befriend lower-class Theodore without bending over backwards. I found this friendship a great way to flesh out Theodore without having to resort to him talking out loud to himself. It is actually through their relationship that we are explicitly told that Theodore is interested in other men.
As for Alexander, the character is used sparing and so maintains a great air of mystery. Given the cover image, I was wondering how he might tie into the Greek themes so strongly prevalent in the story. While I don’t wish to give anything away, I will say that the way Alexander’s specific identity is revealed both satisfied and aggravated the curiosity. That is to say, we know who he is but not why he is. Apart from obviously serving as Theodore’s love interest, I liked that it is Alexander’s suggestions to Theodore on reading material that push Theodore into acknowledging his (Theodore’s) attraction to men. Indeed, Alexander’s suggestion that Theodore read the original Greek Iliad to more closely examine the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was a great theme and interestingly used as a device in the plot itself, too.
While there is very little in the way of on-page cravat ripping (waist-coat ripping?), there are sweet and passionate kisses exchanged. Plus, there is a tastefully subtle scene where Theodore succumbs to his bodily desires in the solitude of his own room. If you’re after lusty and lustily described bedroom scenes, you won’t find it here…yet this is one of those stories where I feel actual play-by-play of their intimacies might subtract from the sexual tension between Alexander and Theodore and detract a little from Theodore’s ingesting over his feelings.
All in all, this was a fabulous little read. Short and quick, the perfect thing to read on a lazy summer day when you want to read read but don’t have the time or luxury of committing a few days to a book/series.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.