Icarus in Flight

Hayden Thorne, 2007. Upper-class Victorian England is the perfect setting for a gay romance; opportunities abound for secret assignations, literary allusions, and parlor bitchery. Hayden Thorne takes advantage of this quite well, and often with tongue in cheek, as she explores the romantic friendship between two schoolboys.

James is from a wealthy family and is used to getting his own way in school, both socially and with the teachers. Daniel is a new boy and more middle-class; also more fearful, he seeks James’s protection from bullies. Their families intertwine when Daniel’s brother George becomes James’s private tutor. James’s sister falls in love with George, and then George dies in an accident. These events only drive James and Daniel closer together, and James dreams of a future where they can live together shamelessly. “‘I’m either foolish or proud or both for choosing to disappoint everyone around me,'” he says, “‘but I’d sooner lower myself in their opinion now for the sake of what’s real than subject them to a lie for the rest of their lives….Can you imagine how it is when my [future] children….find out, either by accident or malice or whatnot, that their honored father was really a sodomite?'”

After a sweet romance during the boys’ school days, they live together briefly in London under the fiction that Daniel is merely a houseguest. Soon, James’s sister Kitty learns what is actually transpiring and asks Daniel to leave for the sake of James and the family. He does, and the two rely on the writing of elaborately constructed letters (another conceit of Victorian-era literature) until a quarrel ends their communication.

The plot deteriorates somewhat as James flees to the Continent, ostensibly to buy property but really to party in Italy, and Daniel becomes a research assistant for a series of elderly gentlemen. Both resist societal urges to marry women, and both, of course, pine after one another. Too many new characters are introduced in the second half of the book, and it’s difficult for the reader to keep track of them. Suffice it to say that by the end, the two are holding hands while walking along a “muddy, desolate trail” that “was comforting and companionable in spite of their vulnerability against Nature.”

Kudos to Hayden Thorne for her wickedly subtle parody of a Victorian romance; if only she’d fleshed out the endless parade of characters in the second half, the book would be more readable. As it stands, I can’t recommend it for reluctant readers, but your historical romance lovers will eat it up. Sex scenes are as coy as the setting dictates, so this is a good purchase for school libraries as well as public.

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