Solemn Contract

Title: Solemn Contract
Author: Morgan Cheshire
Cover Artist: n/a
Publisher: Manifold Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Historical Gay Romance
Length: 49000 words/230 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

A guest review by Sirius

Summary: This story was a fun read overall, but some issues prevented it from achieving five stars for me.

Blurb:

Connecticut, 1720: In an attempt to give his family financial security, school master Jem Bradley hires himself out as an indentured servant – and thus begins an odyssey which will take him to the small settlement of Kennet and a burgeoning friendship with enigmatic blacksmith Will Middleton. Trouble is never far away, however, and when Jem is accused of committing a bloody murder his future begins to look very bleak indeed…

Review:

I like historicals, and part of the reason I chose this one is because I always wanted to know more about the life of early settlers, even if in a fictional setting. I can hardly vouch for the authenticity of the details, but the general atmosphere of the story seemed spot on-based on whatever cursory knowledge I have of this period in history.

The characters absolutely charmed me — Jem Braddley who would do anything for his family, including becoming an indentured servant, even if his profession was so far from farming, and Will Middleton, who would do anything to help the innocent to obtain justice.

The story is quiet and not over-the-top at all, even when painful events are happening, and there is not a lot of melodrama. I felt that Jem dealt with his misfortune with quiet dignity, and his friendship with Will, which eventually grew into more than that, felt believable and realistic. The story was also very tame — the sex scenes are very few and not explicit, and it felt right. I think I can compare this story with a river slowly and gracefully moving towards it end. There is very little glamour in this novel; life was hard for these people and the reader can see it, but at the same time I think it is very true that human nature can adapt to anything, and it was nice to see that they could enjoy life too sometimes.

Again, please be aware that I cannot attest or disprove the realism of the settings, besides a very general picture which overall seemed correct, but I wonder how historically true Jem and Will’s acceptance of their feelings towards each other was. I would not call their mindset completely modern, but I felt that it was a bit too easy. There was a big deal being made about the town people accepting them and the solution which the author found was creative enough (and no, thank goodness nobody else but one person figured it out), but at the same time Jem and Will’s modest — but not overwhelming — angst seemed mainly about letting each other know and not about the fact that they prefer men. While some of it was there, I guess I would have expected more worrying over the fact that they are attracted to men would have been more historically correct.

I also did not care for a POV switch every time when the author needed to tell us something important about another character’s thought. The story is mostly written from Will and Jem’s third person POVs, however besides their narration, we also get inside the heads of at least four other characters. It was annoying at times because their POV lasted for couple paragraphs and that was it. For that reason I may have also missed couple more POV switches since they did not last long and I may have blinked before they ended. While it did disrupt the flow for me a bit, surprisingly it did not ruin it completely and did not put me in the state of dizziness, which is what usually happens to me when POV switches that often.

The last niggle I had was when the author suddenly started calling Will and Jem by their last names. I think I understand the reasoning — to diversify how they are referred to in the text — but to me all that it achieved was a weird alienation from the characters. It is especially odd when we are in their heads and it feels like they refer to themselves by their last names.

Recommended despite my niggles.

8 comments

  • I’m not too sure about the setting, but the tone seems to be my cup of tea, so I will probably give it a try. I’ve also been curious about Manifold’s other authors (I have only ever bought Chris Quinton’s books from the publisher), so another good reason to look this one up for me. Thanks for the review!

    Reply
    • Pea, you know better than me if you would like this setting, I cannot advise :), but I can say that I found both characters to be very endearing. It is only my second book by Manifold, even though I have heard mostly good things about their books. Funny, I graded both books the same for different reasons, but on emotional level I liked this one much more. Oh, Chris Quinton’s books, yes I like them too. Have you seen Feliz’ recent review of Game on, game over by this writer? Check it out, if you have not, I really enjoyed this one, but take a look if setting is to your liking.

      Reply
      • Yep, I accidentally pre-ordered Game On, Game Over (I thought it was already published when I purchased it) – I read it the weekend it came out. I really enjoyed it, although I was quite surprised by the change in tone in the Game Over section.

        Reply
  • Great review, Sirius. Thanks!

    I’m kind of puzzled by the historical setting. Does the book give a reason for why a literate and presumably educated man would have to indenture himself as a farm laborer? Because there were many different indenture possibilities at that time, and skilled artisans were highly valued.

    I share your reservations about how easily religious Protestant men in this era would have accepted and acted on their attraction to other men. Presumably it would have caused considerable internal angst. That’s a recurring issue with historical m/m, of course, but Puritan New England would seem a particularly difficult setting, especially given the religious fervor of that specific time.

    Reply
    • Hi Sunita, yes book gives the reason, not to go into too much of spoilerish territory, but basically to save family member.

      I think that I would say that self acceptance was a bit too easy for me and angst was mostly about acting upon it. This was my impression anyway, but it definitely was not cut and dry and open to interpretation, I thought.

      Reply

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