Shana's Reviews > Bonds of Earth

Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier
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's review
Mar 04, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-historical, fiction-glbt
Read from March 09 to 10, 2012 — I own a copy

Michael is home from the Great War and working as a rubber in a Manhattan bathhouse when his uncle strongarms him into accepting a position as a gardener at the country estate of a Society maven. With the only option being his sister finding out that he is an invert, he sets off to find his new life. At the estate, he meets John Seward, a broken, bitter man who never recovered from his own war. They butt heads from the start, each too bound by his own scars to even begin to consider--much less heal--the other's. When things begin to change, it's a revelation for them both, but will they be able to move beyond their pasts to find a common future?

Michael is an angry, conflicted man with a hard past. Driving ambulance at the front before finding a position at a convalescent hospital in England, he saw his share of war horrors, which have left an indelible mark on him. He's devoted toward his sister and her children, but the rest of his family garners only scorn at best, rage at worst. He has little patience with what he feels to be the failings of others and tends to push for what he believes is right, damn the consequences. This isn't to say that he's nothing but rough and tumble--he has a well-hidden sympathetic side, especially for those abused by others.

John (Seward for most of the story) is physically broken, having suffered multiple broken bones and injuries that, coupled with his stubborn resistance of treatment, left him weak and infirm after he returned from the war. He's almost Byronic, actually. His only ties to the world are the estate's caretaker, the caretaker's family, and the aunt who holds the estate, and he fights tooth and nail to keep it that way. He has a past of discarded paintings in the attic and a complete disregard for medical professionals.

The build of the relationship between Michael and John is best described as 'slow'. Note that this is not a bad thing! It's quite some time before they even meet, even longer before they have regular contact. Even once they're in regular contact, they're mutually antagonistic and confrontational. Things change gradually, so gradually that it's difficult to pin down just when they change; it's such a natural progression that one state of being blends seamlessly into the next. I particularly enjoyed that we got to see their relationship fully evolve, past consummation and into the future.

The supporting cast is very well done, with distinct personalities and characters both appealing and maddening. The estate's caretaker and his family are particularly lovely, while Michael's family hit the other end of the spectrum for me; the betrayal he faces made me want to hug him (a bonus in my book as not many characters engage me enough to be that invested in their well-being). Their relationships evolve just as Michael and John's does, so that they're different people at the end of the story as well.

The story itself is something that I initially blew off--I keep telling myself that I don't have much interest in pieces set in that particular period, before I remember that I'm a moron. The setting is well-realized without being intrusive, evocative of the times. The progression of the story is well-paced, told entirely from Michael's point-of-view so that everything is shaded by his experiences. The writing is a joy to read, with lovely turns of phrase and lively dialogue that kept me thoroughly sucked in, and few typographical errors. I thought it ended 30 pages before it did, with the pattern of the genre, but the story beyond where I expected it to end added a great layer to the characters and story that made it sad when it actually did end.

You don't have to be interested in historical pieces to enjoy this story, though it is a bonus. Intriguing characters carry this touching story effortlessly, making it far too easy to spend an afternoon with it. Bring some tissues, and be ready to lose yourself until you're done.

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