After forty years of being Merryapple’s town pariah, sailor Robin Shipp has finally been exonerated and welcomed into the fold. With the lies that painted him as the son of a murdering pirate put to bed, Robin is looking forward to spending his first winter solstice as a full-fledged member of his small island community off the Cornish coast. However, Robin’s plans for the upcoming celebrations get put on the backburner when his lover, Edwin Farriner, receives a letter from his sister-in-law who lives on the neighboring Blackrabbit Island.
Blackrabbit Island has some problems. Not the least of which is Mrs. Farriner, Edwin’s mother. Not only was she responsible for the lies that lead to Robin’s town shunning him, but she may have had a hand in murder and is currently organizing residents of Blackrabbit Island who were left destitute by a summer hurricane. Of course, she is being manipulated by a member of the Blackrabbit Island council named Baxbary who would stop at nothing to gain more power in the small town. In addition to the vicious Mrs. Farriner, Baxbary has manipulated friends of Robin and Edwin’s, fellow members of the Blackrabbit Island council, and scores of people bereft from the hurricane who think the man will help their plight.
With the help of a friend and former Blackrabbit Island resident named Duncan, and the powerful Lady Wolfe-Chase and her wife, Robin and Edwin begin to uncover the depths of Baxbary’s plotting. But the councilman’s machinations have been years in the making and a couple of outsiders like Robin and Edwin may not be able to sway the opinions of the people of Blackrabbit Island until it’s too late…assuming they don’t fall prey to Baxbary’s schemes first.
Before I go to far, first some general notes about The Lion Lies Waiting. This is something of a historical fiction piece as it takes place in December, 1780, but it is an alternate history. There are some marked departures from historical fact: same-sex marriages are totally legit and accepted, and at some point in the past, science and logic/reason have usurped religion as the driving force behind people’s beliefs. Towards the middle/end of the story, Quigley focuses a lot of attention on mechanical things, which reminds me a bit of steampunk except the author’s devices rely entirely on clockwork mechanisms and are rarely (if at all, really) a focus of the action/plot.
Second, I cannot say if this is a pure sequel, but there is one other book that seems to focus on Robin and the hurricane that occurred in the summer prior to the events in this story. Quigley has struck a good balance between informing readers who have not read the previous book of earlier events without spending tons of time doing so. That said, the more I read about the dynamic between Robin, Edwin, and Duncan (who is an ex-lover of Robin’s and still Robin’s friend, as well as Edwin’s), the more I found myself wanting to read THAT story as well.
So! This is a rather adventurous book. I was immediately drawn to Quigley’s writing style. The tone of the narration prepared me for a story set in the past. The descriptions of the physical world—like the solstice decor, the clothing, the clockwork mechanisms that abound—are sumptuous. The characters are well fleshed out; Robin and his friend Lady Wolfe-Chase are prime examples. Robin has a strong accent that is conveyed in the prose (he drops the initial “h” of words) and Lady Wolfe-Chase is delightfully imperious, reigned in only by her wife. There are a few little editorial mistakes in the text, but the overall quality of the writing kept me on the edge of my seat. This is a story that unfolds from many characters’ perspectives at the same time, so despite being told in linear fashion, jumping from character to character adds a strong element of surprise and suspense—I was always waiting to see how the surprise ending of a chapter featuring the Lady would play into the action where Robin and Edwin were concerned.
The main characters themselves were something outside the “norm” as far as romance goes. For a genre (romance) that often features chiseled young men with swoon-worthy good looks, the characters in The Lion Lies Waiting are a refreshing departure/reminder that loves comes in all forms. Robin is something of a giant, both in height and breadth. He is generally viewed as jovial and naive. Yet his prowess as the captain of a ship is remarkable (even if not often shown in the book) and his capacity for friendship and love, both romantic and not, are beautiful. His lover, Edwin, is somewhat similar in physique, but shown to be far more of a social charmer—and loyal to a fault, even if it means sacrificing his personal happiness. I loved that the author takes time out of the exciting plot to explore a bit of the dynamic between him and Robin’s former lover and current friend, Duncan. Duncan is described as a stubby, hirsute man—one who held Robin’s affections for years. Edwin worries that Duncan may still harbor romantic inclinations towards Robin, and a night of drunken confessions from Duncan’s troubled past does nothing to alleviate these fears. Duncan, on the other hand, is loathe to make new friends and suspects the only reason Edwin gives him the time of day is because Edwin wants to keep an eye on the friendship between Duncan and Robin. While this bit of jealousy is subtle, it’s most certainly present and clearly included at several points in the story. Watching it unfold, seeing each man admit to themselves and later to each other their doubts was satisfying for me to read.
These refreshingly realistic characters and their richly described world are used to excellent effect as Quigley unfolds a rather complex plot of power, betrayal, and revelations. Baxbary is using his position on the council to gather power for himself. He uses everyone he comes into contact with, but ultimately discovers that even power has its limits. Edwin’s mother is an interesting character for her filial betrayal and attempts to redeem herself by helping Edwin and the others bring justice to Baxbary. With her, too, the author touches on the issue of mental illness in a very human way—Edwin’s reactions to her illness and its implications ring very true for me. And Robin, who spent 40 years of his life believing his was utterly alone in the world and ostracized by lies, discovers he has more family than he ever imagined.
On the whole, I found this an utterly delightful read. The storytelling parcels out tidbits and characters essential to the plot, but what they portend is not always immediately discernible. I enjoyed these characters—characters who feel like characters, identifiable in their unique personalities and physical traits. The backstory is fleshed out enough to help me enjoy this book, but I’ll admit I felt a bit distant from Robin and Edwin until the end (where they have a heart-to-heart about their relationship, one that helped me appreciate the gravity of what they shared far more than the coy mentions that they are simply “a couple” usually used by the author). The end of the book offers a fair bit of excitement as all the threads laid down throughout the book come together. For anyone looking for a mature book featuring interesting and compellingly real characters that builds up into a sort of historical thriller, this title will not disappoint.