Title: Bless Us With Content
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Bless Us With Content
Genre: M/M historical romance
Length: 240 pages
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
An interesting idea is marred by choppy pacing and paper thin characterisation.
Ashton Laytham came to Fayerweather, his uncle’s estate, as an orphan at the age of seven. Family and servants alike perceived Ashton as an unlovable child and shunned him; as an adult, the occasional illicit rendezvous aside, Ashton remains aloof and alone. When his uncle dies, yet more abuse falls upon Ashton’s shoulders: the estate is bankrupt and Ashton must make good on his uncle’s gaming debts.
With the family talisman stolen and the suspects fled, Ashton faces certain ruin until the arrival of Geo Stephenson, who holds all of Sir Laytham’s IOUs. Geo proposes a solution: Ashton will accommodate him in his bed, thereby paying off the debt. Attracted to Geo in spite of himself and desperate for any human kindness, Ashton agrees… never expecting to lose his heart to a man who claims he will never give his.
I picked up this historical because I thought the plot sounded interesting and it reminded me slightly of the sort of story that happens in Harlequin historicals. I love those plots where the hapless heroine (or hero in this case) through no fault of their own is indebted to a rogue and so was looking forward to seeing how this author played with those conventions in an m/m setting. In some ways the author does satisfy in that regard, but the writing was so overly melodramatic, the characterisation two dimensional and the pacing choppy, I found myself frustrated with this book on many occasions.
The actual main meat of the story doesn’t begin until over 60 pages into the book. Before then the reader is introduced to Ashton as a child and shown how he is mistreated by his uncle and aunt, their wards and the staff for the whole of his childhood. As Ashton becomes an adult the sudden death of his debt-ridden uncle brings him the title, but Ashton is shocked to discover that the son of a family friend has bought up his uncle’s debts and expects Ashton to pay up in nights spent in Geo’s bed.
One of the things I liked about this story was seeing Ashton become more self-confident. At the beginning of the story Ashton is a rather sullen and bad-tempered child and, to be honest, I didn’t really like him very much. He’s emotionally distant and cold to everyone, and yet constantly bemoans the fact that it is others who are cold towards him. He’s also a complete doormat, and never stands up for himself. This carries on into adulthood until Ashton grows a spine and start to stick up for himself. Once Ashton does grow in confidence, he becomes a little more likeable, mainly because he’s decent and hard-working with a love of the house and land he’s inherited. He’s honourable and willing to do what is right, even at a personal cost and I found that by the end of the book I liked Ashton a great deal and wanted him to be happy.
I also found that the book was a bit of a page turner in that I read it quickly. This might be because the book is written as a series of episodes all centred around a scene, which suggests that perhaps this book was once serialised. There are often times when the story skips forward by weeks or even months and that kept the momentum going. However, this also led to the pacing being rather choppy as we’d be settled into the story and then suddenly thrown several weeks into the future which left me wondering what had happened during that missed time. Also, sometimes these shifts in time were so sudden, moving from a morning scene to evening or the next day from one paragraph to the next, that I was sometimes confused which pulled me out of the story whilst I worked out what was happening.
What didn’t work so well for me was the overly melodramatic tone to parts of the book. This didn’t happen all the way through and so when it occurred it, again, jarred me out of the story. The story would go from a perfectly realistic piece of dialogue or a tense, emotional scene to something that tips too far into melodrama. There’s a whole sub-plot involving a valuable ruby which sat uneasily besides some of the better written scenes because it was all too over the top.
Another part which didn’t work was in the characterisation of the secondary characters. Ashton is a complex and interesting character but next to him all the other characters were two dimensional at best with next to no reasons given for their motivations during the story. Even Geo, who is supposed to be the other hero in this story is barely given any characterisation. In the book we are only told that he goes on dangerous missions and he is the son of a family friend whose mother died of a broken heart – and that is it! We are not told how he is wealthy, what these missions are all about, why he bought out all Ashton’s uncle’s debts, why he is attracted to Ashton or pretty much anything about him. This meant that the whole romance section was a bit of a failure for me as I couldn’t see the attraction from either man, other than a physical one.
One final niggle is that there are occasionally errors in continuity. One huge error occurs near the beginning of the book where Ashton goes upstairs to change out of his evening clothes so he can inspect a hay field. On the way he is sidetracked by his aunt’s wards and after a short while he follows them back downstairs without having got changed or gone out to the hay field. It was mistakes such as this that made me lose faith in the writing.
So whilst, I liked the growth in character of Ashton and the fact that the story moves swiftly, the choppy pacing and thin characterisation let the story down and made it just an average read for me. I am, however, only one reader and there may be others who didn’t have the same problems that I did.