A guest review by Leslie
IN A NUTSHELL: A picture perfect piece of historical fiction. For HF fans, this is a must-read. For non-HF fans, give this one a go. You may surprise yourself with how much you enjoy it
Jonathan Williams has inherited Trevaglan Farm from a distant relative. With his best friend, Alayne, in tow, Jonathan returns to the estate to take possession, meet the current staff, and generally learn what it’s like to live as landed gentry. He’d only been there once before, fourteen years earlier. But that was a different time, he’s a different person now, determined to put that experience out of his mind and his heart…. The locals agree that Jonathan is indeed different from the lost young man he was that long ago summer, when he arrived at the farm for a stay after his mother died. Back then the hot summer days were filled with sunshine, the nearby ocean, and a new friend, Nat. Jonathan and the farmhand had quickly grown close, Jonathan needed comfort in the wake of his grief, and Nat basked in the peace and love he didn’t have at home. But that was also a summer of rumors and strange happenings in the surrounding countryside, romantic triangles and wronged lovers. Tempers would flare like a summer lightning storm, and ebb just as quickly. By the summer’s end, one young man was dead, and another haunted for life. Now Jonathan is determined to start anew. Until he starts seeing the ghost of his former friend everywhere he looks. Until mementos of that summer idyll reappear. Until Alayne’s life is in danger. Until the town’s resident witch tells Jonathan that ghosts are real. And this one is tied to Jonathan unto death…
This book was released in November 2009 so it is likely that many of the regulars here have already read it. But if you haven’t, let me encourage you to put this at the top of your TBR list. It was one of my favorite books for 2009 (a major accomplishment, coming late in the year. It bumped a few others off the list). When Wave and I realized it hadn’t been reviewed here and she suggested I write a review, I was thrilled to have an excuse for a re-read. Also, if you haven’t read this yet, this is a good time of the year to do so. In keeping with my “summer-themed” books post from the other day, Lover’s Knot takes place during the spring and has a poignant scene at the conclusion that takes place on the Summer Solstice, which really makes this the perfect time of the year to read it.
The blurb summarizes the story quite nicely so I won’t repeat a précis here. Instead, let me dive into the reasons Lover’s Knot worked so well for me and quickly vaulted itself onto my lifetime favorites list.
First, it is a perfect piece of historical fiction. It epitomizes everything I love about historical stories: I am totally pulled into the time, the place, the characters, their speech, their habits—every detail had me breathing Cornwall, England in 1906 and 1892. It made me wish I could be there but in lieu of that, I was there, through the author’s eyes and his wonderful writing
Second, it had a mystery that was complex, but not so complex that it wore me out. I think there is a very fine line between keeping the reader guessing and totally confusing the reader with too many details, red herrings, and so on. In this respect, Hardy nailed the story flawlessly. I kept thinking, “Is this where it’s going? Is this how it is going to work out?” When an author can do that successfully up until the final chapters, even pages, the book is a winner.
Third, it was a page turner. I was totally absorbed in the story from the opening paragraphs and it never let up. If a book doesn’t catch me early on, it is very easy for me to drift away from reading—I can’t tell you how many unfinished books populate my bookshelves. Lover’s Knot kept me glued to the page from the very first word. In fact, this is one of those books I read fast because I was so enthralled with the story and wanted to know how it would turn out—then the minute I finished it, I dived right back in from the beginning to enjoy slowly and savor. For me, this is the highest compliment I can pay any book: it deserves an instant re-read.
Fourth, it was full of terrific characters. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch. No wooden or cardboard secondary characters littered the storyline. Every person was a real person, with a complex personality, full description, and reason for being included. My impression on this extends to the story, too. There wasn’t any “padding” or superfluous scenes (and notably in this regard, no extraneous sex scenes that cause one’s eyes to glaze over!). Even though it was a full-length novel at 368 pages, every character, every scene, every word was essential to the overall finished product. There wasn’t even a period that I would excise from the final novel.
My fifth point is more personal. The story moves back and forth in time, in this case, between 1906 and 1892. This is a writing device I enjoy when done well and in Lover’s Knot, Hardy handles the shifting time perfectly. At the beginning, we spend most of the time in the (1906) present, but then as the mystery deepens, the focus moves to the earlier era (1892) but still keeps one foot firmly anchored in the here and now of Jonathan’s present life, always contrasted with his past. Hardy handles this deftly and I think it is particularly well done because it is only a difference of fourteen years. When stories are written from the now-now to the past-past, the author has the luxury of two different, but parallel storylines with different characters, etc. In the case of Lover’s Knot, Jonathan is the constant but Hardy very clearly shows how he has grown and changed—and not changed, too because of events in his life—that makes for a very compelling character study.
Sixth—perhaps most importantly and also the hardest to accomplish—Lover’s Knot transcends the “m/m” label and is truly just a love story—one for the ages. It is all about emotion and feelings and love and blood oaths; breaking hearts and tragedy and revenge and betrayal; anger and grief and redemption and finding love amidst the ruins of a lost one; in short, the qualities that make love stories so eminently readable and totally unforgettable. The fact that Jonathan, Nat, and Alayne are men is immaterial. They are just people, with real emotions, raw on the page, that pull the reader in and leave you gasping for breath at each new revelation. I have recommended this book to several friends—some of whom don’t usually read m/m—and they have all come back to me praising the story and thanking me for the recommendation. Of course, this is a little bit of a double-edged sword. I am always trying to bring people over to “the dark side” of reading m/m (I say this jokingly but I think readers at the site will know what I am talking about). It’s great when I have a book I can easily recommend and know that someone will love. On the other hand, it’s hard to say this is “typical m/m”—because it isn’t. It isn’t even a typical “good book.” It is one of those rare, elusive, and always wonderful to find and read novels: a deserted island keeper.
So, in sum. Have I gushed enough? Have I convinced you to read this? Let me just say…I read a lot of books. Many of them are forgettable but I never give up hope. Every time I open a new book I think to myself, “Maybe this will be one of those…” and when I am rewarded with a book that sears itself onto my mind and psyche, I am very happy, because I have found a new treasure: a book to keep forever. Do yourself a favor and acquaint yourself with this wonderful book post haste. You’ll be glad you did.