Judith’s review of The White Swan Affair by Elyse Mady.
London, 1810 . . . After the tragic death of her beloved, Hester Aspinall vowed never to be ruled by her passions again. Still, she is drawn to her landlord, handsome adventurer Thomas Ramsay—but she doesn’t fool herself that a man of his station would look twice at a poor tailor’s sister.
With the sea for a mistress, Thomas has no intention of entering into matrimony. And yet, he can’t get the plain-spoken and desirable Hester out of his mind, even though she’s never tried to secure his attentions as other women do.
Everything changes the night Hester’s brother is arrested during a raid on a gay brothel, the infamous White Swan. With no one else to turn to, and terrified Robert will hang for his crime, Hester accepts Thomas’s offer to bear the cost of the defense. A true gentleman, Thomas expects nothing in return—but Hester can no longer deny her own desires… She may offer her body eagerly, but can she protect her heart?
The right of gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgender persons to co-exist in our society today is still very much a hot-button issue. History reveals that it has been a hot-button issue for most societies–mainly because they are “different.” Whatever one’s religious or political beliefs may be, it is difficult to imagine a time when being gay and “coming out of the closet” was a capitol offense. Yet that was the case in this novel that is set in the early 19th century and which reveals not only the danger to Hester’s brother, but the bent of a society that was delighted to declare anyone guilty by association. Thus, we have a novel that is full of disappointment, hurt, condemnation, and one that reveals that anyone “different” is disposable. It made little difference that Hester and her brother were kind, hard-working, generous, and honest people. As soon as the stain of homosexuality touched Hester’s brother because of the raid on The White Swan, her home, her livelihood, her reputation were gone.
But this story is also about a man whose family connections in society, while legitimate and worthy, gave him little expectation for the future and one that clearly made no effort to understand his love of adventure and his abhorrence of building one’s life around the tradition and routine activities of the ton. Thomas Ramsey was a man who had made his fortune and he had few financial worries, but his lover was the sea. Yet he, too, was a many of generosity and kindness, a man who saw beyond Robert’s involvement in The White Swan and its clients, one who was willing to set aside his own immediate plans to aide Hester in a time of dire straits. Little did he realize that her presence in his life would change the direction of his life forever.
I have had the privilege of reading several of Elyse Mady’s books and have been impressed with her expert use of words and phrases, her grasp of history and the ability to extrapolate a wonderful story from the dry pages of a history text. Few contemporary Americans realize that the pain of LGBT persons as disposable people is not new, that ancient societies have railed against their presence. This story exposes much of the horror of the 19th century prison, the brutality individuals encountered simply for being accused, long before they were tried and convicted. It also exposes the greed and conniving of those who would prey on the helpless and ignorant, and were it not for Thomas’ wider knowledge of the legalities involved, Hester’s brother would have probably hanged. This is a nail-biter of sorts, yet it is very much filled with the erotic affair of Hester and Thomas, one that continued on even when knowledge of the affair was thrown in Hester’s face. There is strength here–personal fortitude that withstands the buffeting of a society that was the personification of a man-eating shark to those who broke its rules.
I think this is one of those historical romances that bear reading and shouldn’t be missed. I was drawn to it because of the author. I delighted in it because it was a darn good book.
I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5
This book is available from Carina Press. You can buy it here