Having read Running Press’s first two male/male romance releases, Transgressions and False Colors, I found Tangled Web a much stronger book, with more energy and action. It’s not to the level of a contemporary action-adventure tale, of course, but Rowan has a good sense of pacing and offers readers more active scenes on the page along with a nice mix of point-of-view changes. The main characters, Brendan Townsend and Philip Carlisle, are sympathetic, believable, and easy to root for.
Set in 1816 London, the story follows Brendan as he tries to help his sometime lover Tony get out of a blackmail situation. Tony has dragged Brendan to a “gentlemen’s club” that caters to homosexual and rough trade, and the book opens with a scene in which Tony has sex with a masked man in front of dozens of similarly masked onlookers. Tony is impetuous, indiscreet, and slightly stupid so Rowan has to work pretty hard to make Brendan’s loyalty to him understandable. Given the historical context, though, and the need for total secrecy about homosexuality in the day, this works as motivation for Brendan to seek help when Tony is blackmailed because of his sexual orientation.
Enter Philip Calisle, the former colleague of Brendan’s older brother, and a man with his own history of sexual confusion. As a young man, Philip had an unrequited crush on one of his military commanders, and his questions and fantasies since then have been pushed to the back of his mind by the grief of losing his wife and son during childbirth. When he meets Brendan, he pushes down his immediate attraction to the much younger man (of course he does! Hello, it’s a romance!), and agrees to help with the blackmail issue. Philip lives (mostly; he’s one of those historical characters with multiple homes, it seems) on a working horse breeding farm so he and Brendan have their mutual interest in all things equine to start their romance. (And in Rowan’s favor, she gets the horse stuff right. It’s a topic she’s written about herself: writers who don’t research horses—so accuracy in the horsiness end of it is important to her.)
Given the nature of the time and the story, there’s a lot of narrative; it’s to be expected. People reading male/male historical romances aren’t looking for fast-paced, staccato action, and zippy Elmore Leonard-esque dialogue. They like languorous scenes of extended dialogue that dance around the Real Topic at Hand; they like vivid descriptions of olde England; and they like unrequited/unacknowledged/unacceptable love. The style of story either appeals to you or not.
The book has too little sex to rightly be called erotic; one explicit one at the very start that doesn’t involve Brendan directly, and two more later on with Philip are restrained. I think both work well in the context of the story arc and the genre. They make love the first time then split up with questions from both sides about what they’d done and What It Means. There’s the blackmail subplot and an even smaller subplot about smuggling, but they’re sidelines to the main story: the believable and charming romance between Brendan and Philip. I think it totally worked, and readers will enjoy Rowan’s well-paced scenes, energetic storytelling, and, if one is a bit of a horse geek like me, wish for even more of the horse-y stuff. Perhaps a sequel, checking in on these characters five years later, will give Rowan the chance to show Brendan traipsing about the country, happily doing horse portraits for wealthy owners, and loving Philip all the while. M/M romance readers can only hope.
© 2010 Vincent Diamond. All rights reserved.