Title ~ Rite of Summer
Author ~ Tess Bowery
Publisher ~ Samhain Publishing
Genre ~ Historical M/M/M Romance
There are terrors worse than stage fright. Like falling in love.
Violinist Stephen Ashbrook is passionate about three things—his music, the excitement of life in London, and his lover, Evander Cade. It’s too bad that Evander only loves himself. A house party at their patron’s beautiful country estate seems like a chance for Stephen to remember who he is, when he’s not trying to live up to someone else’s harsh expectations.
Joshua Beaufort, a painter whose works are very much in demand among the right sort of people, has no expectations about this party at all. Until, that is, he finds out who else is on the guest list. Joshua swore off love long ago, but has been infatuated with Stephen since seeing his brilliant performance at Vauxhall. Now he has the chance to meet the object of his lust face to face—and more.
But changing an open relationship to a triad is a lot more complicated than it seems, and while Evander’s trying to climb the social ladder, Stephen’s trying to climb Joshua. When the dust settles, only two will remain standing…when they’re not flat on their backs.
Warning: Contents under pressure. Contains three men, two beds, one erotic piercing, and the hottest six weeks of summer the nineteenth century has ever seen.
There’s a lot to be said for the Regency when choosing a period to write about. Fabulous clothes, a poorly monarch, a profligate prince, a dangerous war against a foreign tyrant [at least from the British point of view], unrest amongst the working men at home and the strictest standards of manners and deportment. No wonder novelists are so keen on the period and it also has the added bonus that readers absolutely adore it – it’s by far the most popular period of history - so one can get straight on with the story without having to spend too much time setting scenes and building worlds. I think most romance readers must have at least dipped into a Regency Romance. And if they haven’t read one there’s an entire generation of young women who quivered at the sight of Colin Firth as a damp Mr Darcy.
The only problem with Regency is that it’s easy to get caught in the well worn groove of life in Bath and London and the activities related to The Season. Well Rite of Summer neatly avoided getting caught between those tramlines by using settings on the very periphery of polite Society and moving all the protagonists to the confines of a country house party.
Our protagonists in this story are Evander Cade, a promising young composer who is in the lucky position of having a patron in Lord Coventry, whose support enables him to live while he writes his music. Evander extends his support to long time lover and brilliant violinist Stephen Ashbrook, but at a price. Stephen is totally dependent on Evander, both financially and emotionally, and the exploration of the subtly abusive nature of their relationship is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. Then we have a third protagonist in poor relation painter Joshua Beaufort, who once saw Stephen playing and fell like a ton of bricks. Add a bunch of twittering and predatory debutantes, a collection of characters straight out of Hogarth and they are all in for a long summer. What could be more natural for three energetic young men with similar interests then to wait until the privacy of night, retire to Evander and Stephen’s somewhat isolated suite of rooms and amuse themselves by bonking each other’s brains out? Evander controls what happens with whom but Stephen is as smitten with Joshua as Joshua is with him and begins to wriggle out from under Evander’s thumb.
This conflict between what Stephen has in Evander – the source of his music – and what he could have in Joshua – a true soul mate – makes up most of the action of the book. The other tension is provided by the backdrop of the Vere Street Scandal of 1810 and the persecution of the unfortunate men apprehended, some of whom are known to Evander and Stephen.
At one point I thought the discussions of the scandal and the suspicions it aroused were going to be the catalyst for discovery, alarms and excursions but the focus soon returned to the emotional journeys of the characters. What you have here is a boy meets boys summer Romance – we all remember that feeling where the summer days seem to go on forever and the romances are all the more intense for being finite - with the added frisson that all three can’t be happy. Or even any of them unless Stephen grows a backbone. The ending, which I will not give away, was nicely achieved and plausible for the characters involved.
There were times when I got a bit impatient and desperately wanted something more to happen. The butler announcing a body in the library would have been nice. But the author didn’t set out to write a country house mystery. Instead she wrote a very competent summer holiday fling with a nicely different Regency setting and a satisfying conclusion. Romance readers will love it.