Mere Mortals

Title: Mere Mortals
Author: Erastes
Cover Artist: Ben Baldwin
Publisher: Lethe Press
Buy link:
Genre: M/M historical romantic drama
Length: 80,117 words (254 pdf pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Jenre

Summary Review:
A superb Victorian historical romantic drama telling of three young men who are brought to a house in the isolated community of the Norfolk Broads.


Orphaned Crispin Thorne has been taken as ward by Philip Smallwood, a man he’s never met, and is transplanted from his private school to Smallwood’s house on an island on the beautiful but coldly remote Horsey Mere in Norfolk. Upon his arrival, he finds that he’s not the only young man given a fresh start. Myles Graham and Jude Middleton are there before him, and as their benefactor is away, they soon form alliances and friendships, as they speculate upon the sudden transformation of their circumstances. Who is Philip Smallwood? Why has he given them such a fabulous new life? What secrets does the house hold and what is it that the Doctor seems to know?

Trust acclaimed author Erastes to tell a moving story in the field of gay historical romance.


Before I talk about the content of this historical, I just want to mention how beautifully done that cover is in my opinion. It’s also very apt. It’s not often that a cover manages to capture so well the ambiance and themes within a book, so hats off to the cover artist for doing such a good job here.

This is the third Erastes historical I’ve read so far and I have to say she just keeps getting better and better. Mere Mortals begins with our first person narrator Crispin travelling to the home of his new benefactor, Philip Smallwood. Crispin has been an orphan from birth and has never known his parents or any family, although he suspects that his father is influential because someone has been paying for his schooling. A year previously Crispin had been caught in a compromising position with another boy, but instead of being expelled to what would have been a life of poverty, Crispin gains a new guardian on the condition that he see out his final school year. Crispin’s obviously curious about the man and is even more surprised when he discovers that there are two other young men at Horsey Mere who are also orphans and now wards of Smallwood. The three men become fast friends, but Crispin is concerned that things may not be as straightforward as he first thought with his new guardian.

There was much to like about this novel. I’m a huge historical fan and I enjoyed being immersed in early Victorian country house life. There is much fun to be had with the fact that Crispin is rather overwhelmed by the opulence of the house and by the services provided by the staff, including his own valet. The servants form a backdrop to the actions within the story and I liked that they didn’t overstep that role. It annoys me sometimes in historical novels when the ‘upstairs’ people become overly familiar and chummy with the ‘downstairs’ people. It just didn’t happen, and so Crispin’s initial bewilderment at the large staff, the way he deals with his impassive valet and the imposing butler was realistic and added a lightness to the tone of the story.

The setting of the Norfolk Broads was also a plus point for me. Modern day Norfolk is rather different to its Victorian counterpart and I liked seeing how the people coped with not only the isolation but also the myriad of rivers and streams that needed to be used if any travelling were to be done. The setting also provides a great deal to the overall mood of the story. The cold November weather, the fact that the boys are essentially cut off, the hidden nooks and crannies and locked doors of the house, all gave the book a sombre and eerie quality, which when added to Crispin’s worries over the reason why Philip has taken such an interest in him and the other men, provided a chill which permeated the book. This tone doesn’t overwhelm the story, rather it’s a slight but constant presence, like a cold breeze to the back of the neck, that gives the impression that all may not be what it seems.

Another part which worked well was in the relationship between the young men. There’s a realism in their dealings with each other especially as they are only just out of school and still retain the pettiness and jealousies of children which then wars with their developing maturity into adults. Thus they get along famously one minute followed by fallings out, sniping, cold shoulders, followed by being fast friends once again. Over and above this is their curiosity in why they have been brought to the house and their relationship with their guardian and mentor, Philip. Philip is a benign but enigmatic father figure for the young men and I liked how as the plot enfolds we learn more and more of Philip. My sympathies for him as a character ebbed and waned as the story continued.

In terms of plotting this is quite a slow moving book with few action scenes. Instead the plot flows through the emotions of Crispin, through conversations between Crispin and the other characters and through a few set scenes which are meant to show Crispin’s developing abilities to move in society. Having said that, the story does not drag at all. The growing sense of unease in the tone of the book compelled me through the narrative and I read this almost in one sitting.

I have very few niggles with the book – hence the reason I gave five stars. In fact, apart from wishing I knew more about Crispin’s parentage, I can only think of one, very minor thing. Towards the end of the book Crispin is given some medication for a migraine and when he wakes up he is violently sick over the side of the bed. He gets up and goes to get some food because it is too early for the servants to be up. On the way back he bumps into Myles and they go back and have a lengthy discussion in Crispin’s room. The whole time this conversation was taking place I was worrying about the vomit and how they could stand to be in a room with a puddle of sick on the floor which must smell awful. Only minor, I know, but it spoiled what turned out to be a very emotional and dramatic scene. Still, it wasn’t enough to ruin what was a fascinating book.

Overall, if you like historicals then I would urge you to read Mere Mortals. I don’t think I’ve read a historical that manages to blend drama, romance and suspense with such skill, and I’d highly recommend this book.



  • This is the second review I’ve read about this book and I have to say that I’ve gone ahead and bought it. There was a comment in the other review that hinted at what was possibly going on with the characters. mulls on that a bit

    However, the other reviewer made sure to keep the identity of the romantic pairing a mystery which both made me do this o/ (I simply hate it when reviewers spoil a book) and this O_O (since I’m feeling mighty curious as to who that pairing will be.)

    Anyhoo, great review, Jenre. Thank you for giving me that final push towards getting a book I’m sure I’ll enjoy. 🙂

      • I meant to say However, like in your review, Jenre,, the other reviewer made sure to keep the identity of the romantic pairing a mystery […]
  • Hi Jenre, I already have it and in paperback, no less (preordered and in paperback, I NEVER preorder anything in paperback these days lol, can you imagine my impatience), but I am getting a bad feeling now :(. I mean, your review is excellent, but tell me (I know you can’t tell spoilers) is this partially an horror story? See I am trying to be as vague as I possibly can, so if you can answer, please do? If not, I will understand of course, I mean, I always look in the end anyway, but I am trying so hard to resist now. Resistantce is futile lol.

    • Hi Sirius
      No, there’s no horror in this book, just suspense. The slightly creepy atmosphere comes from Crispin not knowing why he’s at Horsey Mere and suspecting that all may not be as straightforward as he first thinks.

      You look at the end? Oh, no! I could never do that. I love the surprise too much :). Believe me this book will be so much better if you don’t look at the end!

      • All right, I am feeling a little better now. In romances? Oh yeah, I am one of those wierdos, who wants to know the endings, who loves spoilers, etc, etc. I know, in some books looking at the ending can really spoil the journey, thus in the mysteries I give myself really long pep talk lol. However in romances, I seriously want to know at least that nobody dies (can we have warnings for deaths of major characters? Please? Ignore me whining Jen, it is obviously not directed at you :)), because I again really need to be in the mood for such ending. And if I pick up a romance, where main character dies, I get annoyed and sometimes even angry :). I always think “just do not market it as romance”. I do understand that despite myself craving the warnings for the death of major characters that it is a major spoiler, so I am not really that selfish :), but if you are not marking it as a romance, I know that I can expect anything at the end. Genre expectations, you know? For me they play huge role. I remember reading a het romance with mystery suspense subplot review elsewhere (Dear author I think), where main romantic lead turns out to be a killer at the end. Woo, boy, people were angry about such ending and you know, honestly I think they had every right to be. If author just took out the words “romance” out of there and left mystery/thriller/suspense, whatever, I would have had totally different jenre expectations. I mean, I have not read that one, but I could totally relate with the many frustrated fans, who claimed they will never trust this author ever again. You know what was the funniest part? Author could not even be bold and stand up by her decision, she came up with very convoluted explanation as to how he is not really the killer.

        Sorry Jen, again I am just babbling here, and sorry for going a bit off topic 🙂

        Thanks for answering Jen, we shall see if I manage not to look 🙂

        • I remember reading a het romance with mystery suspense subplot review elsewhere (Dear author I think), where main romantic lead turns out to be a killer at the end.

          Ooh like that film with Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges!

          I completely get your frustrations, Sirius. I think I would be fed up too if one of the heroes is bumped off at the end. I read a book recently that was labelled a mystery but had a romance sub-plot and the love interest died at the end. I wasn’t best pleased :).

          • Yep, although I have not seen the movie, but you know though, if I would have been reading a mystery, my reaction would have been completely different. Remember that story by Christie where narrator turns out to be the killer? I never forgot it, although I forgot the title lol. And I totally thought it was a cool ending. Anyway, all I am saying that for me genre expectations play humongous role and same thing with main character deaths. From time to time (NOT too often) I subject myself to reading classics like At swim two boys or Front runner (which I still have not read even though bought it months ago lol), but I know what I am going into and this is simply the case of weighning desire to not be deprived of excellent writing versus not wanting to read about main character deaths. But as a rule I avoid the books like that, if the writing is even good, not excellent 🙂

            So just let me know somehow that this is what you are writing, because I am *not* your target audience then and really, you can only lie to me once (not you Jen, of course, the hypothetical author :)), because even if your book will have the most happiest ending ever, I will never come back again, period.

            Eh, sorry Jen, can’t you see this is one of my huge pet peeves lol? (inaccurate labeling and not enough labelings lol)

            And may I just say here as long as I am ranting away while I wish Dreamspinner would put more warnings of different sorts on their books, how much I REALLY REALLY appreciate and love that they did Bittersweet dreams series?

            I am so happily staying away from these books :). Although, funnily, I wonder maybe I should not, I thought death is a guarantee in those series at the end, and I have read a book from these series recently enough that has quite a happy ending. But as a rule, I am not buying these books, only as exception, there is too much to choose from anyway.

            Jen, again thanks for listening. I can totally see that it does not really have to do with Erastes’ book, but I can talk a lot 🙂

  • Wonderful review, Jen, and I am very much wanting to get this. I am a sucker for Victorian-set stories and it sounds like this one would be perfect for me.

  • Jen
    Great review as always. Like everyone else I’ll have to read this book to find out the answer to the question everyone is asking. LOL.

    Thank you for this. 🙂
    Ben Baldwin’s cover is incredibly beautiful! WOW!


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