A Gentleman Revealed
A Gentleman Revealed is set in an alternate Victorian era in which homosexuality is accepted and understood by society. Men are free to court men and engage in public courtship, but the same rules of decorum apply, meaning that men cannot be seen alone together without a chaperone, and it is assumed that most, if not all, liaisons will end in marriage.
Lord MarcusAvenleigh comes from an aristocratic family in Yorkshire that is full of strong but fun-loving men. He’s had his eye on Alistair Finley for two years and his family is growing tired of Marcus’ inability to confront the other man about his feelings.At last, he finally decides enough is enough, and professes his desires to Alistair in the corner of a ballroom. Alistair has harboured those same feelings towards Marcus for the past few years as well, but fears their relationship is doomed from the start. He is the bastard son of the late king, and while he adores the idea of getting to know Marcus and of having a relationship with him, , he knows that if he lets his courtship with Marcus go as far as marriage, his true identity as the previous king’s bastard will be found out, and he’ll be left penniless and alone, forced to sacrifice the only family and friends he has because of his sullied reputation.
Alistair is also extremely self-conscious of his looks, having been bullied his whole life about his weight, and this self-consciousness, combined with his shameful birth, leads him to turn to alcohol to cope, shunning the comfort and friendship that Marcus tries repeatedly to provide. Alastair is almost totally fixated on his size, letting it rule his thoughts day and night and allowing his insecurities to prevent him from truly breaking out of his shell.
While it is refreshing to read an historical focusing on a male-male relationship that still follows the traditional confines of aristocratic society, this story falls short in a number of ways. Alistair’s self-consciousness about his looks almost takes over the plot, and many of the love scenes between him and Marcus are continually interrupted by his constant, almost crippling need for reassurance about his appearance.
What I really found disappointing is that the book never faces Alistair’s body image issues and his weight head-on. He never learns to accept himself; instead, he relies on Marcus to make him feel loved and accepted. He also magically loses the weight right before the HEA, but I would’ve loved to see him learn to love his body just as it is, no weight lost. Vulnerability is normal and essential to any good plot, but it becomes problematic when one character is unable to learn to love him-or-herself, and instead relies on the other for validation and confidence.
For some reason, the author has opted to give Marcus an accent, which is odd considering that noblemen were generally educated at upper class schools which would have ensured such accents were lost. Not only that, but she has opted to write out the accent phonetically, and it’s all over the place throughout the book. His Yorkshire accent is supposed to be come out when he is riled up about something, but he and his family seem to have not Yorkshire, but Scottish accents at various points throughout, regardless of the situation. Alistair’s speech also suddenly reverts to a Northern inflection at certain points despite no mention of his being from there.
The writing itself is overly formal and makes it difficult to really engage with the story. Even at their most intimate moments, the dialogue between Marcus and Alistair maintains a kind of formality better suited to society parties and parliamentary sessions than adoring whispers between two lovers.
I am all for more male-male historicals, and I was drawn to this one because it promised an exploration of the way that a same-sex courtship could have worked under traditionally accepted rules, without the characters being defined by their struggles. Sadly, however, that isn’t what this book delivers. Instead, it’s a difficult, dense and frustrating read, and I can’t recommend it.
~ Emily K.