Wherein Kristen is supposed to be finishing her pile of NetGalleys but instead reads m/m romance because of Sara and Para. SPARA!
It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him.
He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.
It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.
Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.
It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun…
There was an intercom buzzer: he tore off one glove and pushed that with his thumb instead, like a sane, quiet person, not at all like a renegade motorbike vicar about to break every door and window in this place until his lover was restored to him.
Welp. This is among one the best romance novels that I have ever read, full stop. I guess I’ll start there.
It’s the story of Rufus Denby, who is an archaeologist doing work on a small Greek island. It’s 1946, and Rufus, a former soldier, is suffering from some pretty severe PTSD and amnesia as a result of something that happened at a base in France. He doesn’t have any memories of the actual events, but he blacks out and attacks his colleague on the island, and ends up getting sent home to England and further sent off to a small village to investigate a small medieval church. So, he heads off to Droyton Parva, with nothing but the bag on his back and the dog that he somehow adopted from a bombsite on his way.
The vicar of the village, Archie Thorne, is a former army chaplain who also served in the war. He’s fond of motorcycles and cars, and generally takes in anyone who doesn’t have a place to go in the village, such as Elspeth, the young daughter of Drucilla, a woman who is quite mad, and staying with some of the locals. Unless she’s running naked in the moonlight. Oh, and he’s an atheist. He’s lost his faith over the years. He’s just the kind and wonderful vicar of the village who does anything in his power to protect his parishioners.
The world is wonderfully built, and I just wanted to visit this little village church and poke around at the old murals and stuff. I’m a bit of an archaeology/mythology nerd, and so the plot of this one, with all its labyrinthine shenanigans, pushed all of the correct buttons for my enjoyment. Each character is really well built, and the setting itself is atmospheric and easy to fall down into. By the end of the book, I had pages and pages of quotes highlighted.
I ended up loving nearly every character that was presented (except for the obvious antagonists). Even secondary characters that we don’t see too often, like Caroline, who is Rufus’ boss, and Archie’s cousin, and is really the reason that they ended up together in the first place. Giles, a young transgender man, and Alice, a grieving woman whose fiance died in the war, were other characters that I latched right onto and wanted the very best for.
The romance between Rufus and Archie was slow, sweet, and really adorable. As with many historical m/m romances, the general homophobia of the era is addressed, in this case by Rufus, with him having to explain it to Archie, who is so kind, trusting, and a little oblivious and really just wants to shout about love from the rooftops. Archie’s desires were largely suppressed over the years, with his having a wife for much of his adult life, while Rufus has lived as a gay man as carefully over the years as he could. It becomes an issue that needs addressing over the course of the book, and I thought it was interesting how different characters reacted to the romance at the forefront.
Archie is absolutely my favorite character in this thing (other than the dog. The dog was amaze), and so I wanted absolutely everything in the world for him. There is a good deal of strife in this one, between manipulative family members, and repressed memories of awful events. My feels were suitably jostled along the way, in a way that made this book an experience more than just a book I read. But it is a romance, and so all things being as they are, it was still bound to end at least partially happily, and so my poor feels held onto that thread where they could.
So, all told, this was a fantastic and adorable historical romance, with a fantastic kinda magical realism plotline happening, with amazing characters, plenty of emotional ups and downs to keep it interesting, and an amazing dog. An easy 5/5 stars for me. This book pressed all the buttons of things I like in a book. I’m definitely going to be investigating some of Harper Fox’s other books!