Rating: 3.25 stars
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Length: Short story
Lord John Morgan has wanted Harrison Price for years. Their two families have been under a land dispute, and now that Harrison’s father has died, the negotiations have re-opened. But what John wants even more than money for his land is Harrison’s hand in marriage. Now that John is able to meet Harrison face to face and express his interest, he may finally have a chance on a future with the man of his dreams.
Sara Dobie Bauer does a nice job here of pulling together a tight story in a short format. Sometimes a short story can feel incomplete, but A Lord to Love feels well rounded and brings a lot together in a small number of pages. Bauer’s writing is fluid and easy and I think she really excels in this shorter format. We get a nice sense of both characters, as well as their backstories, and I think the writing and the style is overall well done.
Where I struggled here is not with the writing, but in two key areas of the story itself that really affected my enjoyment. First, we learn that John and Harrison’s father were feuding over land that was thought to belong to the Prices, but is actually John’s. As it turns out, the Price family burial plot is on that disputed land and the two men couldn’t come to agreement for the Prices to buy the land back. As a result, the Prices have no access to the cemetery, including to Harrison’s mother’s grave, nor do they have a place to bury his newly deceased father. We are told that Price wouldn’t accept John’s sales offer for the land, but get no details on the negotiation. So there is no way as a reader to really know who is at fault here and which one is being unreasonable. However, we do know that John has been refusing the family access to the cemetery, to the point that he has sentries guarding his land to keep them out. This means he has essentially been making it impossible for the man he supposedly adores to visit his mother’s grave or now to bury his father. John even tells Harrison that “I don’t care about any of it. Frankly, I spent years fighting your father simply because he was being an ass. The only reason I’ve continued this ridiculous debate was to get close to you.” Again, he is keeping the man he loves from visiting his dead mother’s grave out of what seems like spite toward Harrison’s father and a desire to have contact with Harrison himself. So I have to say that this really colored my perception of John, regardless of whether he was technically in the right here.
The bigger problem for me is that I had a hard time seeing John’s affection for Harrison as sweet or romantic, but instead it felt kind of lecherous and predatory from the older man. John has been pining for Harrison for the last three years, since Harrison was 16. They have never really interacted during this time and it seems their encounters are limited to John staring at Harrison at social events. Harrison’s appeal to John seems to lie almost exclusively in his looks, aside from an appreciation of Harrison’s violin playing. John comes across as an infatuated older man obsessed with Harrison, despite not really knowing him at all. We just aren’t given enough information to show that there is anything more to his interest as the men scarcely know one another.
Even if we can accept that John has real feelings for Harrison despite all this, the way he approaches the young man still bothered me. By John’s own admission, Harrison is grieving his father when they meet for negotiations on the land. On top of that, he is overwhelmed by the surprise of being named the heir (rather than his older brother) and suddenly this young man who just wants to be in school studying science is having his whole world upturned. This is the point at which John decides to not only proclaim his interest, but to attempt to coerce Harrison into marrying him by tying that into the land deal. So essentially, he tries to blackmail Harrison into marrying him in order to get access to his mother’s grave and to bury his father. Now, John doesn’t go through with this after all, but the very idea was still offensive to me. I just didn’t see this as love in any way. It felt like obsession and John’s actions during Harrison’s grief felt predatory. Even when they are ultimately together, it seemed as if John had won a prize, rather than found love. I also never really understood what Harrison sees in John in return.
I will say that I really think this is a case of your mileage may vary. Looking at other reviews of this book, it seems that many people have found this story quite romantic. So if you aren’t bothered by these issues the way I was (or didn’t interpret them the same way), this book may work for you nicely. As I said, Bauer writes quite well and she has pulled together a well-paced story here. So the writing is sound, but the story itself and the actions of the characters just didn’t really work for me on this one.