Eli Easton’s offering from The Christmas Angel collection is entitled Christmas Angel. Set in the late 1700s, it covers the lives of two very different men. One, Alec Allston, is a sculptor used to dealing with the upper echelon of society and the other, John Trent, is effectively a detective for the magistrate known as a Bow Street runner. They cross paths when John finds a carved angle floating in the river and discovers it was made by Alec and he had given it as a gift to someone. That someone happened to be a man who threw Alec aside in order to marry as was his duty and then tossed the gift Alec had given him to remember him by as well. Interestingly, theirs was not a physical relationship, but rather one of deep affection—something the naïve Alec agreed to and cherished.
As the story opens, it is this break up that finds Alec paused to hurl himself off a bridge to his death, only to be stopped by a beautiful woman—an angel who he later immortalizes in the wood he loves to carve. She convinces him to go on with life—despite his pain and sadness. When John meets Alec not once, but twice, due to the mysterious angel figurine, for the first time he hankers to actually pursue a relationship with the waifish man and sets out to woo him to his side.
Historical romances between men set in the eighteenth century are often steeped in religious guilt and secrecy and Christmas Angel doesn’t break that general rule. While I understand that some may find that formulaic, I think the author did her best to present these two men, particularly John, in the light that most appropriately reflects the bravery and courage it took to pursue such a relationship in an era where it could mean imprisonment or worse. John was not foolhardy—on the contrary I loved the way in which he “courted” Alec and broke down the deeply ingrained fears and, yes, guilt that kept Alec shut off and alone. Added to that was the misguided sense of allegiance Alec fought against when it came to remining pure of heart and body as his former lover, William, had wanted. I loved how the author allowed John to mock the gentry’s way of forming male on male relationships by only calling it a deep friendship—essentially they were frigid closet cases, and John, while not using those contemporary descriptors, certainly shows his disdain for those who would keep their dalliances chaste.
John brings Alec to life and that makes for a beautifully written romance which, when finally consummated, is actually quite erotic in nature—not necessarily in the scene’s written description, but by the emotional impact it has on both men when they finally give in to a physical coupling. I love these two men as a couple and the other members of John’s boarding house make this novella rich and full despite the length.
For those who love historical romance this collection is going to be a delight—for those, like me, who sometimes hesitate when they see the word ‘historical,’ please take a chance on this one—it really is a tender love story filled with hope and beauty.