Title: Muffled Drum
Cover Artist: Croco Designs ( Frauke)
Publisher: Carina Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Muffled Drum
Genre: M/M historical romance
Length: 43,000 words
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
A super historical romance which is strong on character and situation.
They met in a port-side tavern, their lust-filled moments stolen from days of marching and madness. After eighteen months, Captain Rudolph von Ratzlaff and First Lieutenant Mathias Hofmann have decided to run away from everything they hold dear. Resigning their commissions is social suicide, but there’s no other choice. Someone will eventually see Rudolph’s partiality toward Mathias.
Now their plans have gone horribly awry… When Mathias goes to Rudolph’s tent after their last battle, his lover looks at him without a hint of recognition. Mathias can hardly believe the man he knew is gone. He wants to fill in so many of Rudolph’s missing memories, but the doctor says a shock could result in permanent damage. The pain of seeing Rudolph on a daily basis, when Rudolph doesn’t remember their love, is excruciating. Now Mathias must decide whether he wants to fight for the man he loves or forget him completely…
I’m not sure what it is about Erastes’ writing which resonates with me as a reader. Maybe it’s the spare, clean prose which manages to get across a wealth of emotion without the fussiness that you sometimes get with historical romance. Maybe it’s that her historical settings are seeped into the bones of the story without any need for unnecessary information because the characters are just there, in that moment of time. Maybe it’s that character and setting are so interlinked, so ingrained that I know I can trust her to produce something historically accurate as well as emotionally satisfying. Whatever it is, Muffled Drum certainly worked for me and I can highly recommend it to lovers of historical romance.
The story is set partly in Bohemia (which is mostly the Czech Republic today) and Prussia (which is now mainly Germany). The heroes are two soldiers fighting in Austro-Prussian war, but who are taking part in their last battle. They have made plans to escape the madness of war and resign their commissions so that they can be with each other. Despite the scandal this will inevitably cause, their love for each other is too strong to ignore. After the battle Mathias resigns his commission, much to the disgust of his superior officer, but when he goes to Rudolph, he is disturbed to find that, due to a fall from his horse, Rudolph has no memory of the last two years. Mathias is determined to stay close to Rudolph in the hope that he regains his memories soon and so decides to accompany him back to Berlin, but revelations about Rudolph’s life in Berlin threatens to break them apart.
The story follows two strands: Firstly there is the lost love between Mathias and Rudolph. The opening scene where we see the men together, and are shown the depth of their love was wildly romantic. I felt all their frustration at going to war, their fear that all may yet be lost and the nervousness of what they are about to do, to give up for each other. When everything goes wrong, my heart ached for Mathias when he takes the brave, and perhaps a little foolish, step of resigning his commission, only to find that Rudolph can’t remember him. It’s a poignant moment in the story which brought a lump to my throat. The love that Mathias feels for Rudolph keeps him going through the story, even after it seems that he is betrayed and all is lost. I found Mathias to be a most sympathetic character, one who does what he thinks is best, even above his own desires and wishes.
The second strand is the amnesia story which is seen mostly from Rudolph’s point of view. I’m quite partial to amnesia stories, particularly if the time is taken to show the effects of amnesia. In this story, Rudolph’s disorientation, his headaches and his general confusion at times are well shown. He remains cheerful most of the time, mainly because he’s living two years in his past. In some ways I found his narrative heartbreaking for Mathias, as Rudolph struggles to work out their relationship, thinking of Mathias as only a friend, whilst anticipating seeing what he thinks is his current paramour in Berlin. Mathias knows that he cannot tell Rudolph about their love for fear that it may make his condition worse, and I felt all his sorrow and frustration over that sitaution.
The setting itself moves from the battlefield, where we see the aftermath of battle in brief, accurate, bloody detail onto the opulence of Berlin and the rich lifestyle enjoyed by Rudolph. There’s enough in terms of description to ground the story and give a vivid sense of place, but we’re not overwhelmed by paragraphs of detail. I liked this because it meant that the story was focused on the characters, without the distraction of setting to get in the way of emotion. It also meant that the historical setting comes through strongest in the attitudes and feelings of the men. Prussia in the 1800’s is slightly more permissive than Britain, but the men still have to be circumspect and careful with their relationship for fear of scandal.
My only niggle about the story related to the character of Ernst. I felt he was a little hard done by considering that he was the male equivalent of a kept woman and therefore only doing what he felt he needed to do to survive in society. I quite liked his pragmatic character, although I knew he was supposed to be the villain. Maybe other readers wouldn’t like him as much as I did and would therefore feel he deserved everything coming to him!
My feelings for Ernst and his fate weren’t enough to spoil what was a compelling book for me. I was hooked by the characters and situation from page one and couldn’t put it down. Muffled Drum is chock full of emotion and romance and I highly recommend it.