Author Erastes’ historical romance novel, "Mere Mortals," is a beautifully written, haunting story about three young men who are taken in by a mysterious benefactor to live in the lap of luxury at his English countryside estate, Bittern’s Reach.
Orphan Crispin Thorne is expelled from school when he and his friend and lover, Arch, are discovered in a compromising position. A year later, he is shipped off to a remote island where he makes the acquaintance of fellow orphans Jude and Myles, two boys his age who also just arrived under similar circumstances. Combined, the three young men know very little about their new guardian, Philip Smallwood, or the reason why he chose to adopt them.
From the outset, the author brilliantly depicts an eerie, ominous tone. En route to his new home, Crispin’s mere mention of Bittern’s Reach and its owner’s name raises the eyebrows of his fellow passengers--in particular, a man who introduces himself as Dr. Baynes.
As Crispin grows accustomed to his lavish surroundings, which include his own personal servant, Albert, he grows fond of Philip, and the aura of mystery surrounding his surrogate father begins to fade. He also becomes fast friends with his housemates, and soon develops a crush on Jude.
Erastes provides just enough detail of these boys and their mannerisms, but not so much that they become caricatures. Jude is sprightly, effeminate and helplessly flirtatious. Myles comes across as brawny and mischievous, meanwhile Crispin is the most sensitive and arguably naïve. The striking physical description of Philip, coupled with his speech, brings to mind an Oscar Wilde-like, quintessential gentlemanly figure from 19th century Victorian England.
Mostly by accident, Crispin discovers Philip’s motives for recruiting him and his two comrades, and accepting the reality of their predicament affects each of them differently. From then on, it is a veritable race to the finish, as they aggressively seek answers to their questions about Philip’s past, his home and what he expects in return for his generosity.
"Mere Mortals" is a compelling story and much more than just a gay romance novel. While there is plenty of physical interaction among the male characters--expected in some cases, surprising in others--the end result is an impressive combination of mystery and intrigue that is disturbing yet ultimately moving.
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