Three historical novella setting in three different moment of English history. There is a strange parallelism, from the first story by Cochrane, passing through Rowan's ones, till Erastes', the time goes back and the sensuality rate goes up.
Aftermath: Edward and Hugo are two young students at Oxford. The time is soon after the end of the WWI and England, and the little world of Oxford in particular, seems to not have fully recovered yet from the war. Edward is from a wealthy family, but he is not a nobleman. Money allows him to enter the college, an unthinkable event before the war, but now, the lack of youth and probably the times changing, set him among the few remaining sons of English aristocracy. But Edward is a shy and naivee man, innocent of life and experiences. He feels like an intruder among the others, more when he is near Hugo, the perfect epitome of a nobleman. Hugo is popular and loved, always among the right circle, always behaving in the right way. Nothing seems to link them if not something that no one of them has the courage to reveal: they are attracted to men, and in this moment they are attracted to each other. But where Edward has never experienced love, nor with women or men, and so he sees at it with wide and eager eyes, Hugo has had a disastrous experience that left him with a bitter taste in mouth and a disenchanted perspective.
Charlie Cochrane wrote a very tender and sweet novella. It reminds me a lot two of my favourite movies (and one of my favourite book): Chariots of Fire for the setting and Maurice (both movie and book) for the characters. Also like in Maurice there is the dilemma of one of the two characters if loving another man could be only limited to a spiritual sharing of minds, quite the idea that sex will taint a pure love, almost the feeling that for a noble soul, sex is something dirty. But when there is love, true love, can two lovers nurturing themself only with a sharing of minds and not of bodies?
Gentleman's Gentleman: Lord Robert is a Victorian nobleman, content with his ordinary life. He has served as Major and he still complies his duty for the Queen, here and there. And he has two sisters that kindly gave birth to more possible heirs to the title. So he is free to live as he likes, and he likes to be a bachelor and to be pampered by his man, Jack Darling. Former sergeant at Robert's command, Jack chose to leave the army with Lord Robert and now he is the perfect... wife. Yes, cause all he does for Robert is what a very good wife would do: attending to the house and to the master of the house as well. Only in one thing Jack is not like a wife: he doesn't share his master's bed. And not because Robert would not be interested, au contraire, Robert inside the private walls of his house makes not secret to prefer a male companionship. But not one time he proposes Jack and not one time Jack seemed interested in taking also that position. But not always what it seems is what it is.
Lee Rowan's novella has a lighter tone in comparison to the other two. Nor Robert or Jack have guilty feelings for what they are or what they feel. Obviously they are not open and careless with their inclinations. Probably their attitude and their apparently inability to share their feelings is due to their military extraction: men of actions more than of words. But when they arrive to the decision point, they are ready and willing to take the right decision, without regrets.
Hard and Fast:: Geoffrey is the third child of a wealthy family. Former Major, soon after the Napoleonic War, being in health and without apparently problems, he is expected to marry. The chosen bride, chosen by his father, not by him, is Miss Pelham, a rather shy but not unpleasant young girl. Unfortunately Geoffrey seems more drawn to Miss Pelham's cousin, Adam, a mourning young man. Geoffrey is not used to the feelings he has, not since they are toward a man, but since they are love feelings: he is not used to love. And discovering that his interest is awakened by a man and not by a woman is unsettling. Plus he doesn't understand Adam, who at once seems to draw him nearer and soon after to drive back him both from his cousin than from himself.
The most tormented between the three novella and yet the most sensual, it's also the one with the most unpredictable end. Erastes plays with the classical romance elements, the mother in search of a suitable husband for her almost spinster daughter, the unrepentant rake (even if it's a second line character without own scenes), the mourning but handsome gentleman, with a secret and unspeakable past, the former officer with a dislike for the social events... but then he turns the tables and the couples are not what you will expect, not at all, and not in the end... It's like a Georgette Heyer's novel (more since the Bath setting), where the main hero at once, decides to ravish not the virgin maid, but the debauched cousin! And the "breeches rippers" tag in this case is very worthy: indeed there are a pair of breeches which are ripped and in a scene that would be very right in a savage romance of the '70, even if the attacker is more the man with the breeches ripped than the man who rips them.