A guest review by Jenre
Nicely written historical set in the 1940’s where love blossoms between irascible RAF pilot, Jack, and his calm welsh butler, Ifan.
Addicted to the soaring skies, brash high-flier Arthur Edward “Jack” Ratigan returns to Britain to fly bombers when his birth country goes to war against Germany in World War II. It also means a return to his ancestral home of Pren Redyn House in Wales—and risking his career and freedom if it comes to light that he is homosexual.
The drama and peril of combat will create profound changes in Jack both during and after the war, as will the influence of Ifan Griffith, the young butler at Pren Redyn and the one person who seems immune to the Ratigan charm. The sky has always been Jack’s true love, but when he faces a future of never flying again, he’ll discover he’s already found a surprising new home for his heart—with Ifan.
Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way, shall we. Per Ardua is obviously a piece of adapted Torchwood fan-fiction. I’ve only ever seen a couple of episodes of Torchwood, but even I could see the character of Captain Jack in Arthur ‘Jack’ Ratigan, and Ianto in the character of Ifan. Torchwood fans will probably find this book quite delightful as a result, and those who’ve never watched Torchwood can take the book at face value and still find it very much worth reading.
Set in Wales during the 1940’s this book spans a period from just before the end of the Second World War to a few months after peace is declared, although there are a few points where the story shifts back to during the middle of the war. Jack is the son of a Welshman who moved to the USA when Jack was a small child. When Jack’s uncle dies he inherits a large Welsh house and land, and although Jack allows his cousin, Bronwen, to live in the house, he feels a large affection for the house and Wales. When war breaks out in Europe, Jack joins the RAF as a Lancaster Bomber pilot and cheats death time and again, until a crash landing sends him back to Wales to recover, where he forms a friendship with the young, polite butler, Ifan.
The beginning of the story is tense and thrilling as we are thrown into the middle of a RAF mission in peril. My heart was in my mouth as I followed some of the intricate descriptions of the layout of the bomber and what was needed to bring her safely to the ground. After that point the story evens out and the plot is steady, but never dull. I was drawn into the life of Ifan, his relationship with his father and with the lady of the house Bronwen, both of which were interesting and well rounded characters. As you might expect, the plot itself is episodic, moving us gently through the developing relationship between Ifan and Jack, with a good balance of sexual tension, crisis and resolution. I was genuinely interested in what was going to happen to these characters and found them to be easy to like.
Another part I liked about the book was the way that Jack and Ifan complemented each other. Jack is all-action, charismatic and loves being the centre of attention. Ifan is proud of his role as butler, and is more of an observer, a quiet man, but not submissive or a push-over. In fact it’s the fact that both men are terribly stubborn which causes most of the conflict between them. I also liked that the two men were very much of their time. Jack fits perfectly into the role of RAF flying ace, and yet after his accident (and even perhaps before), his changing behaviour and attitude fit well the accounts I have heard of those who fought during WW2. Ifan too has his problems of bruised pride, summing up perfectly the feelings of those men who, for whatever reason, were never called to combat. This meant that as an historical piece, the feelings and views of the men seemed accurate.
There were other things to like too, such as the way the book gently addresses the change in social feeling after the war, for example, the growing number of women who were dissatisfied with being home-makers or the way that the gap between ‘upstairs and downstairs’ was narrowing. Although these ideas are only in the background, I felt they added yet another layer of authenticity to the historical setting.
My only real negative point about the book was that, after the initial scene in the bomber, there’s a lot of info-dump given to the reader. Whilst this was quite interesting, after a while I longed to get to the meat of the story, or even just some dialogue. This ‘telling’ also happened at intervals during the story, and whilst I understood it was an effective way of giving the reader all the information we need, it wasn’t particularly subtle.
Overall, despite the info-dumping, this was still a book which is worth reading. The time period is unusual in itself, and something I found myself able to relate to, having had relatives who served in WW2. If you’re looking for a book with a recent historical setting, with amiable characters, plenty of drama, a tender romance which still addresses some of the problems of being gay in the 1940s, and a plot which is absorbing enough to keep the pages turning, then this book will be for you. I liked it and would recommend it.