Author: MJ Pearson
Publisher: Seventh Window Publications
Genre: Historical Gay Romance
Length: Novel / 220 pages
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
A guest review by Kassa
In London during the gross indecency trial of Oscar Wilde, Douglas Shrove finds himself still haunted by memories of his dead lover while skirting violence, blackmail and the affections of two men.
There are two who seek you out
That is what the gypsy told Douglas Shrove a few months after the death of his lover. And the gypsy was right. Two men were vying for his affections.
Mark Goldcrest: an aristocrat like himself; a golden Adonis, cool and discreet.
Warren Scott: a shabbily-dressed denizen of a Bohemian world that Douglas can’t begin to understand.
One is what he seems, and one is not, and one is dangerous.
But which is which? Both men are attractive and attracted to him…but one has a dangerous secret.
One is what he seems, and one is not, and one is dangerous.
One of Douglas Shrove’s admirers could be his salvation—if the other doesn’t destroy him first.
I haven’t read anything from this author so Helpless is my first foray into her writing. The story is immediately engaging, interesting, and carries off a delicate balancing act of keeping the tension high without ridiculous antics and clichéd twists. The characters are well crafted and set against the backdrop of Oscar Wilde’s trial so very cautious and aware of the political and social climate against homosexuals. There is no easy acceptance for the men and the very real threats they live under are depicted alongside the burgeoning relationship. The pace is incredibly quick with good writing and great descriptive quality. I can easily recommend this entertaining and fabulous title to anyone looking for an absorbing story with romance, mystery, and danger in a realistic historical setting.
The story follows Douglas Shrove, the youngest son of a very prominent family in London. He’s been grieving for his dead partner for several months and only now starting to push himself to leave the home and do things besides read and garden. On his first lengthy foray about the city, he meets two very different but intriguing gentlemen. One is distinguished from a good family, good looking and very suave while the other is an outlandish artist wearing clothes that are paint speckled and close to rags. When both men show an interest in Douglas, he must decide which he would rather pursue while dealing with his manservant quitting, an unhappy alienated family, and moving on from his grief.
The plot weaves a lot of elements into the story very well as it mixes romance, danger, and mystery against the backdrop of the social atmosphere in London. The narrative is told through Douglas’ third person perspective and since he is very isolated from the culture of London, there is none of the social whirl and constant visiting. Instead Douglas is very content with a quiet life of gardening, reading, and taking care of his lover while maintaining a distant relationship with his family, who disapprove of his choices. He’s not entirely removed from society and his emotional plight is to decide between the man perfectly suited for him on paper and the one that offers a more passionate, if dangerous connection. So most of the story follows Douglas as he moves about his quiet days seeing both men and struggling to decide which is best for him amid his house making new and disturbing noises.
It’s not a huge stretch to guess who Douglas chooses and his preference is shown pretty early on. Douglas waffles between the two based on his upbringing and what he assumes is needed. His only other lover was his long time childhood best friend so Douglas is very endearing as he goes about choosing a new lover. He thinks of social graces, appearance, hobbies, backgrounds, their likes, and dislikes and if he likes the look of their hands. Sometimes this back and forth edges into annoying as several things from both men send Douglas running for physical and emotional space but Douglas is almost always very quick to snap back into an intelligent decision. He is also dealing with a stalker, which he thinks initially is his lover’s ghost, and he gets into a few tight spots because of this but thankfully none of these scenes feel stupid or cliché. Instead the edge of danger and tension is well crafted and interesting even as the reader can no doubt guess the cause and culprit easily. What makes the continued tension engaging to read is Douglas’ thought process as he handles each problem.
All the characters are well crafted with Douglas as arguably the most three dimensional. Both Mark and Warren tip into stereotypes but there is enough to them to keep them interesting. There are a few other cast members that are slightly more wooden such as Perkins or his soon to be in-laws family, but this is offset by the lively and entertaining art students who speak in color code and serve six course meals for lunch. Especially nice is the depiction of Douglas and Henry’s life together that while not perfect, they were deeply in love and devoted. Here the story is able to show flaws in both that life and Henry without degrading the dead lover into some evil stereotype. Douglas is able to preserve the memories of a good relationship and long time love while opening himself up to a new man.
Another great aspect of the story is the descriptive quality which offers a breath of fresh air in the colors, sounds, and sights included. The city of London is shown in both its decadent and the poor sides simultaneously while also showing how careful men must be if they are gay. There is very minor acceptance and perhaps some of this edges into unrealistic – such as two men living together – but the men are cautious about showing affection and very aware of the repercussions. The additional element of the stalker and a bit of blackmail are not difficult to figure out but they also aren’t so obvious that it mars your reading enjoyment. Likewise there are a few stumbles with the final resolution as the man Douglas chooses turns into something slightly else. This isn’t needed and in fact negates part of the process Douglas goes through to reconcile himself with a new life.
These are very minor qualms though in a story that is interesting, absorbing, and a lot of fun to read. There is a lot of romance as both men try to woo the bookish Douglas, even as all the sex scenes are fade to black. Helpless is primarily a romance and I think most readers will adore Douglas for his charm and deep emotions. From what I can glean about the other books from Pearson, they are more outlandish regency romances and I can say this is a departure from that style and offers a more realistic, heartfelt story with all the classic elements of a great romance, mystery, danger, and zany servants. Check it out, I think you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.