Edwin is a tutor who … well, let’s just say he doesn’t like children. It’s a blessing, then, when someone answers his advertisement looking to hire him to teach a grown man instead of a young boy. So it’s off to Bristlewood Manor via coach, and into an adventure unlike anything Edwin had expected. For one, the giant, ghastly manor has only one servant, Mrs. Hawthorne, and the master of the house is a beautiful young man whose screams echo through the dark hallways at night.
At eight years old, Halifax Fairfield was sent away for a monstrous crime and taken to the West Indies with his uncle, who didn’t not care to continue the boy’s education. Now that his father is dead, Halifax has inherited a vast and wealthy estate with no idea how to run it. He needs help, he needs servants and solicitors, but before he can hire them, he has to convince them he’s not a fool. He wants Edwin to help improve his reading and writing, and to teach him how to behave in society so that he can rejoin it.
If only Halifax wasn’t so beautiful; if only Edwin wasn’t tormented by his own sinful thoughts and desires.
Edwin is a weak man, easily led and easily tempted. When he was younger, he knew he had an interest in men’s bodies. However, a confrontation with an adult when he was a young man, sneakily masturbating in a barn, has left him with some deep, religious scars. Edwin thinks that his feelings towards other men are sinful, that they’re wrong and evil and horrible, a sickness and a curse. For all that, he eagerly enters into a physical relationship with Halifax, feeling guilt only when the deed is done and he’s alone with his thoughts. Edwin goes from being flirtatious, to being needy and demanding in bed, to then shunning Halifax with a cold shoulder or casting accusations at him.
Halifax grew up estranged from his father. He married, because he thought it would make his father happy, but lost both his wife and daughter. Halifax knew his father hated him, and thought his mother did so as well, as she never wrote him a letter or sent word to him. Like Edwin, Halifax has always known he was enamored of the male form, but unlike Edwin, he has no religious yoke upon his neck. Now, he’s alone, isolated, and grieving … and here is Edwin, who neither mocks him nor makes sport of him for his lack of education, but instead comforts him. It’s Edwin who comes to his bed, and then Edwin who runs away; Edwin who flirts, and then Edwin who flies into a religious guilt spiral.
Personally, I don’t see this relationship as being healthy, loving, or even all that balanced. This is a relationship that feels built on one thing: forced proximity. There are only three people in this house, and Edwin is the only one Halifax has to talk to — let alone do anything else with. Halifax is being asked to carry the emotional burden almost entirely. Maybe that’s part of the gothic romance aspect, the dark and somewhat sinister and threatening romantic relationships. Still, Halifax and Edwin don’t work for me as a couple; I get the lust, I get the forbidden fruit, I even get the loneliness. I just don’t see this as love.
I very much admire the author for taking this overwrought gothic style of writing and keeping it constantly lurid and utterly indigo throughout the entire book. As well done as the gothic style is, I do think that, on occasion, the story suffers from the violet verbosity and can sometimes enter into a more comedic or even farcical moment, such as this one:
After taking my prick as far down his throat as he could, he inaugurated a brisk pattern of lurching his head backward and forward, and I clutched his hair in my hand to ensure that he kept it up. His captivating blue eyes sparkled joyfully as he gorged himself on my solid priapus, and I loved watching my pasty, white trunk continuously glide in and out of his drooling maw. With his left hand, he fondled my tight sack and its stones, and with the other, he ruthlessly masturbated himself.
In my opinion, I do not find this erotic. I find it, well, a bit silly. Personally, I ended up seeing this as a somewhat tongue in cheek story rather than straight gothic erotica. It’s the conceit of the gothic novel, with all drama, all fainting couches and blue curtains.
I do not think this book will be to everyone’s taste. The characters feel like bodies to be moved around, rather than individuals with personality, and the storytelling elements are lost in the style. As it is, I found myself catching and sticking on the heavy-handed sentences and uninterested in the story — the main plot of which wanders about and disappears like an ephemeral phantom for much of the book, making a late appearance, complete with a lengthy exposition dump to explain everything in intricate and somewhat tedious detail. I didn’t enjoy this book, but I didn’t not enjoy it. I think it’s very much going to be a personal matter based on whether you have a fondness for gothic literature or you don’t. Purely on my own measures (character, world building, relationship, and plot), I don’t recommend this book.