Title: The Diary
Author: R.M. Jane
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Pages/Word Count: 161 Pages
At a Glance: The Diary doesn’t sustain its early charm through to the end.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: John Bridly has been enamored with Paul Duvant, son a of a rich American merchant, since the moment he laid eyes on him. But though the love proves mutual, John is a marquess, second son of a duke, and as such has a duty to his family.
When Paul has to return to his homeland, John’s duty forbids him from following Paul, and the lovers part ways. One year later, John finds a mysterious diary, dated from the last century…
Review: R.M. Jane’s The Diary is a short novel that gets off to a promising start, as we’re introduced to Paul Duvant. Paul is a street rat and the bastard son of an obscenely wealthy American who’d rejected both his mistress and Paul; then, Paul’s mother subsequently abandoned him as well. Rather than defeating the boy, though, his hardships have left him scrappy and suspicious of everyone, save for his sister Emily, whom he adores, and the affection is mutual. The author makes it easy to warm up to Paul and feel the empathy for him one would naturally feel toward any child left to fend for himself in a world he’d never asked to be born into.
For reasons, none of which include caring about Paul but more about looking after his daughters’ futures, his father takes him in and subsequently buys the boy’s way into an English boarding school populated by aristocratic young snobs who hate Paul on sight, simply for being the son of an American merchant. It’s at this point we get a clearer picture of the boy, and a bit of foreshadowing of the man he’ll become—Paul is nothing if not a survivor.
John Bridly is one of these aristos, but that’s where his likeness to most of the other boys at the school ends. He’s the spare son of a Duke who doesn’t take much interest in his second son. John is largely dismissed by both of his parents, which puts him in immediate sympathy with Paul. John has been assigned to look out for Paul, though he soon discovers the new student is quite adept at taking care of himself. John, however, soon becomes Paul’s dearest friend and champion. I liked both of these characters from the outset, and enjoyed the sweet and subtle way their relationship blossomed from friends to lovers. Unfortunately for me, however, the book didn’t sustain its early charm through to the end.
If you’re a reader of historical romance, you can guess at the plot of this book—the social climate, the pressure for John to marry and fulfill his duty to title and family, the desire for a son to finally be accepted by his father—these are familiar tropes in gay historical romance in which an aristocrat and a commoner are involved. They were not only very real issues for those men who needed to keep up appearances, but they also offer a convenient means of conflict for an author in a historical setting. The challenge we lovers of historicals give an author, then, is to deliver a fresh and believable twist to the relationship, especially if there’s to be a happily ever after ending. Or, to give us a side story that complements the romance and keeps the action moving forward, pulling us along with it. Without these things, The Diary sadly became a fairly commonplace 19th century gay romance, with characters who created their own conflict, held grudges, and finally gave in to their feelings on the way to their fairy tale ending. Even the inclusion of the diary alluded to in the title I felt offered only a convenient means of resolution, something both characters could have come up with on their own if they’d tried hard enough, so when all was said and done, it felt more a handy coincidence than a unique way of bringing Paul and John together again, especially since its significance to John largely fell by the wayside as the story continued.
Having said that, I’ll admit I’m demanding when it comes to historical fiction, and I have a few expectations in the genre that others might not share, which is why I won’t say The Diary is unreadable. I will say, though, one of the things that pulled me out of the story, time after time, was the contemporary language, some of it very easily researched modern slang, that wasn’t appropriate to the post-Napoleonic era setting. Picky? Yes, I own that, and I’m sorry to say that this, paired with the middling plot, left me disappointed in what began with so much potential, with characters I felt quite a lot of compassion for.
While I can’t say I loved this book and would recommend it, I can say that if you enjoy a romance with a healthy dose of missteps, misunderstandings, and melodrama, The Diary is a book you might be interested in taking a chance on.
You can buy The Diary here: