It is the year 1846. The location is the Norfolk Broads, a marshy area of Norfolk, England, that is bleak, empty, and cold when the story opens in November. Crispin Thorne has just arrived at his mysterious new home in the Norfolk Broads, Bitternâ€™s Reach. Also newly arrived at Bitternâ€™s Reach are Jude Middleton, a tall, charming tease, and Myles Graham, a brawny athletic lad. The three have been made the wards of a gentleman named Philip Smallwood, the owner of Bitternâ€™s Reach.
Philip is away on business when the three arrive at Bitternâ€™s Reach, leaving them some time to explore their new home and learn about each other. Bitternâ€™s Reach is an opulent, yet isolated mansion set on an island in Horsey Mere, one of the Norfolk Broads. Wandering around their new home they encounter drawing rooms, dining rooms, a library, gardens, and a boathouse. They soon begin getting used to having servants dress them and elaborate meals prepared for them. They eventually discover that among the things they have in common is that they are orphans who have been educated as charity students at mediocre prep schools, and whose prospects in the world of the Victorian age upper classes are dim. Another thing they have in common is that each was dismissed from their school for improper behavior with other boys. None of them had known or heard of Philip before he became their guardian.
When Philip returns, he inaugurates a series of courses to teach the three men proper upper class manners and activities in which a well-bred English gentleman is expected to engage: riding, fencing, music, dancing, and conversation. The three also begin to discover their feelings for each other. Why is Philip lavishing Crispin, Jude, and Myles with this unexpected and unearned attention?
Mere Mortals is a gay historical romance and a coming-of-age story. However, it is also a good mystery with an unexpected ending. It makes for light reading and is perfect for a dreary winter day in front of the fire. It is recommended for academic libraries and fiction collections at public libraries in gay- and lesbian-friendly areas.
Erastes is the penname of the author, a native of the Norfolk Broads. She is a Lambda Literary Award finalist for her gay romance novel Transgressions.
Mere Mortals: a Novel is also available in Kindle and Nook editions and in PDF format from the publisher.
Reviewed by, Paul Hubbard
Retired Public Reference Librarian