Here is the promised review of this most excellent book, which I have been working on, off and on, for far too long. I apologize to everyone who was looking forward to the review (especially the author) for the length of time it took me to get it together about this, but I wanted to make sure it was the best I could make it, so I sacrificed timeliness for concentration and careful editing. Enjoy!
Love Continuance and Increasing by Julian Griffith is a MMF historical romance set in Britain during the war with Napoleon. It was my great pleasure to be able to read and review this story, and not just because I've followed the author for a while on LiveJournal. It's really a delightful tale and I'm excited to share it with you, so let's get right to it!
This book is solid both as a piece of historical fiction and as a novel about romance, balancing the elements in such a way that the reader feels neither patronized nor mired in pointless details. It is able to be a lighthearted and enchanting romp without cutting corners on world building or trying to write for the period “as it should have been,” rather than as it was more likely to actually have been. Well paced, with prose that is neither pedantic and flowery nor overly simple, this novel can be devoured by an eager reader in an afternoon. Excellent attention is paid to historical detail without getting bogged entirely in historical language, it's well researched, and ends with a respectful note acknowledging the challenge of writing period pieces.
Griffith sets an initial stage not only in the place and time, but also in establishing the acceptance of homosexual relationships and treatment of them as normal. She manages to do so both without glossing over the real danger of openly expressing them given the setting and overarching culture of the era, and without any over-emphasis on these risks. For some authors, the temptation to add drama by focusing on the emotional perils of deviating from dominant culture (even if it doesn't add to the story) is difficult to resist, but Griffith knows her men in the service have bigger fish to fry, and her lady is young and curious and a little too poised for that brand of angst. In other words, I like that she takes the threat of being outed into account without making it seem like homosexuality, bisexuality, and polyamory are Great Big Deals, or something the characters need to expend a bunch of energy on by moaning about sin. It adds depth and realism without pathos or apology. This is an author who understands LGBTQ struggle, but isn't here to talk about that today and hasn't time to flinch about it either.
The people in this story come out of their own accord and are likable and relate-able on their individual merits. Thorne and Rockingham act on their mutual interest in a refreshingly straightforward way. There is an air of the genuine in the way they feel the initial heady excitement of a connection and want to spend more time in each other's company but with the kind of restraint true to who they are and the social situation they are in.
I like that the story allows us the fantasy of a best-case scenario without ignoring (in fact, while weighing carefully) the possibilities of disapproval and the real and dangerous consequences that can bring. But there are staunch supporters at the outset and our heroes are not friendless or despised for their preferences. The aunt is delightful, in particular.
The plot starts off strong, something I always appreciate as a reader. We open on interaction without dropping into the middle of action. Starting on high action is a device that can be done right, but as often as not is rather jarring, and not my personal preference, so Continuance is satisfying right off the bat. The scene offers the most salient points of exposition without stilted dialogue or awkwardly forced thoughts. It draws the reader in without starting on a note of too high energy or expecting an immediate investment in the characters.
The historical aspects have been well researched, but primacy is given to the emotional experiences of living it, rather than on military strategies or a listing of artifacts and clothing that a lot of period writers are interested in almost to the exclusion, in some scenes, of the plot. This is perhaps the first period romance that put me in the story in the sense of “we live here, and all of this is normal” rather than “oh my goodness we're in 18th and 19th century Britain just LOOK there's writing desks and everything!” Clothes and looks are mentioned, of course, but without taking attention away from who the characters are.
There's a good balance in the text between the dangers of service and the boredom of it, without making it a war novel of the type that revels in military minutiae. Griffith focuses more on the emotional, which is an admirable recognition of the desires of the audience (who are there for a romantic work).
There is a scene where Rockingham takes Thorne to his home for the first time and is aware of the social differences they are under, and puts his experience growing up in such opulence into perspective with some childhood memories, and I found that very interesting. Rockingham is conscientious of others and conscious of his own place in the existing social strata.
Attraction between the characters is instant, without an instant mutual acknowledgment or intensity of feeling reserved for more rushed romance, and feels quite authentic. I like the little affectionate thoughts peppered into the scenes. There are some very cute scenarios of that awkward nature where “this would be appropriate if the parties involved weren't attracted to one another” comes into play and these are playful and fun. I quite like Birtwhistle, and the depth of his feelings for his lover is palpable and heartfelt without being expressed in the text in a way that is overly flowery or maudlin.
I experienced a flash of keen sad feeling when the gentlemen part- that hit close to home for me.
I'm just so happy with all the happy relationships! It's nice too that the folks who aren't straight manage to find the others like them and get to have “safe” friendships. I bet that was harder before the internet, but certainly it was still done, and it's lovely to see.
I love the mentions of the men doing crafting on the ships or in moments of boredom, it's kind of a shout-out to those who like those things and a reminder that there's value in “women's work” even when women aren't present. And women get to ride and shoot which is also nice. Both are practical! There's a bit of a nod to knitting as well. It's all part of Griffith's spectacular attention to the details in not just the trappings of her characters' lives, but their experience of it.
There is also none of the carnal Mary Sue language that annoys me in so many regency type romances, things like “and she had the attention of all the men and he was so jealous and so aroused” and similar nonsense. Refreshing! People have romance and genuine affection without artifice or misogyny. There is also practicality taken into account just as in real life, it's not entirely about witless sentiment.
I love Caroline's practical prudence about Rockingham's attentions. “I don't insist on being in love, but I do hope to find someone with whom I can be happy, and it wants more than one pair of dances at at a ball to find that out.” She's a woman of her time but sensible, and understands the balance between the material and social needs of marriage and her own emotional needs. Caroline's courtship with Rockingham is, by its very nature, less passionate than his earlier coupling with Thorne. But she is fully eighteen, rather than being a fourteen or sixteen year old written as thinking like an older girl, which is also important to me in a historical romance, and she is a somewhat precocious eighteen, very mature. It's nice to see what a good head she has on her shoulders too.
Things are a little more difficult for the lone lesbian character in the book, I ended up feeling just a bit sad for her, but it was nice to see them getting a mention too.
This book features the best deflowering scene I've ever read-- actual consent content. Amazing. The people in Griffith's world care whether their lovers enjoy themselves, whether they hurt or are afraid, whether they are happy. Pleasure is shared, a taking and a giving rather than only a taking.
It's indicative of how sex is treated throughout the novel. Hot, but also very sweet. Consent and respect and no passion spared. Physical intimacy is affectionate and fun for the characters. Showing off a mastery of understanding of the physical and the emotional sensations of lovemaking, Griffith knows how to write sex well.
The poly nature of the book is also well done. Each gets something from the other that they can't get elsewhere. The open, honest talking between the characters is absolutely refreshing and entirely jealous-making. It's nice to see an example of how a loving polyamorous relatationship can work.
The christening scene is very dear and tells us more about Godwin while also setting us up for the Thorne/Caroline connection. I also love the scene where Caroline and Rockingham talk about her feelings for Thorne and it makes me ache. I wish everyone could have this kind of understanding and communication.
The story gives maybe 50 percent Rockingham-Thorne, 45 percent Caroline-Rockingham, and then the final 5 the three of them, but it isn't a bad balance overall. If she'd cared to, the author could have lengthened it and really made an epic of it, extending scenes between all the characters, peeking more into some of the people around them, war intrigue, etc. but she has kept to a shorter vignette-- still length enough for a good read but something that can be finished quickly, and it's tender and fun. I much prefer it that way.
The author does not try to be all things to all readers, but instead delivers what we came for, and I was glad of it. It introduces the necessary scene-setting of the time and danger, in other words, without distracting from the emotional timbre and landscape of the overall piece. This keeps the book a sort you can read as an escape... without insulting the readers' intelligence, and without jerking them around.
In all it's a book I recommend without reservation, and I really look forward to seeing more of Griffith's work in the future.
PS- here is a link to the book on Amazon.
Originally posted via Dreamwidth. Please comment where you like. I will see it easier on DW though.