RT’s Morgan and Whitney are back to discuss a digital historical romance as we continue our month of e-Book Dishes. This week it’s a look at The White Swan Affair by Elyse Mady. When Hester’s beloved brother disappears, she turns to landlord Thomas Ramsey for help. Hester has loved this swashbuckling man from afar, and he is equally entranced by her. But with Hester’s brother in prison (and her scandalous past) standing in the way of a happily ever after, does this couple have any hope for a future together?
Whitney: This story is a historical romance lover’s dream. With an uncanny accuracy for both setting and language, The White Swan Affair sweeps the reader back in time to 1810 London.
Morgan: The author goes to great lengths to craft an authentic tale. And because I’m not first and foremost a historical romance reader, the story’s language — all the “whilsts” and such — threw me a little, but it wasn’t long before I fell headlong into the story.
Whitney: I can say without a doubt that this e-book has the most compelling plot I have read in a very long time.
Morgan: I was surprised (in a great way) by the subject matter. Mady tackles a controversial topic often untouched in historical romance, and she does so with grace and sensitivity.
Whitney: The story revolves around the fate of Robert Aspinall, a man who is incarcerated in the famous Newgate Prison after he is caught during a raid on a club for gays during an era when sodomy and other acts that fell under the banner of “homosexual activities” were illegal.
Morgan: But this isn’t primarily a male/male romance. Robert is a secondary character, the heroine’s older brother. The story is really all about Hester’s struggle to survive after her brother’s arrest — and the relationship that develops between Hester and Thomas Ramsay.
Whitney: Thomas is a successful businessman and third son of a baronet, who has become independently wealthy. He owns a lot of property, including the building where Robert Aspinall rents space to do his work as a tailor. But Thomas is a sailor at heart.
Morgan: A wanderer in every sense of the word, the only reason that Thomas is even in London is to take care of some accounts. (Also, he doesn’t mind so much about being marooned because it means he can catch glimpses of Hester, his tenant’s sister.)
Whitney: The long distance longing between Thomas and Hester is so cute. Neither knows how the other would respond to romantic overtures, so instead they’ve danced around each other for three years, not knowing quite how to act.
He was always very careful not to reveal his interest, for she had never given the least indication that she would reciprocate, and he did not wish to unsettle her.
Morgan: But their “tap dance of maybe” ends when Hester finds herself in a precarious situation: penniless, with nowhere to turn.
Whitney: With Robert imprisoned while he awaits his trial, both of the Aspinall siblings are completely shunned by their social circle.
Morgan: Robert’s fiancée breaks their engagement; the Aspinall’s landlady terminates their rent agreement (although she is sorry to have to turn Hester out, the older woman makes the point that Hester’s reputation would be destroyed by living alone at the boarding house). But the real shocker is that even the Aspinall’s pastor repudiates Robert and the man of the cloth wants Hester to do the same.
Whitney: Poor Hester thinks that she’s figured out how to stay fiscally stable and pay for Robert to get food and good lodgings in prison, but even this comfort is cruelly ripped away.
Morgan: Hester decides to live in the back room of her brother’s store, which just happens to be owned by the handsome Thomas, so what do they say in real estate? Location, location, location —
Whitney: But that’s before Robert’s ex-fiancée’s father arrives and doesn’t just steal merchandise the Aspinall’s have already paid for, the older man strikes Hester and incites a mob of people fueled by anti-Aspinall (and anti-gay) sentiment.
Morgan: I was completely and totally shocked by the rampant hatred these Londoners have for anyone suspected of being gay or even family members of gays.
Whitney: Mady really shows her skill when she writes this violent scene; Hester surrounded by haters is really one that will stay with me for a long time.
Morgan: When Thomas arrives at the shop, Hester and Robert’s store has been destroyed and Hester is literally unconscious on the street in the grasp of the angry mob. Thankfully, Thomas swoops in and takes her to his house to recuperate.
Whitney: He is a real hero. But even more importantly than just whisking Hester away, what really makes Thomas so amazing is that he stands by Hester and Robert when nobody else will.
Morgan: The mark of a true Prince Charming!
Whitney: Although I have to admit, Thomas isn’t the only hero I fell a bit little bit in love with in The White Swan Affair. While Robert is in jail he meets someone too. A man who helps him come to terms with his sexual preference for men as their relationship develops in ways that are both romantic and frankly sexual.
Morgan: But don’t think that Robert is the only person who dealing with his sexuality in this story. Before Hester met Thomas she had a fiancée and a physical relationship. However, her lover died before they could be wed and this has an indelible effect on her relationship with her new beau.
Whitney: When Hester starts to get close to Thomas, she wants him, but with the restrictions at the time for women to explore their sexuality, she is unsure how to proceed. Nonetheless, she is not ashamed of her past.
Morgan: Hester is not ready to share her past with society at large, but Thomas makes her feel comfortable enough to let down her guard and be honest about herself.
Whitney: I think it is wonderful the way Hester opens up to her new lover. And it really makes Hester’s character “real” for me.
Morgan: All the way through, honesty and self-realization are hallmarks of this story. So even though the book is historically set, modern day readers will find a lot meat in the story that makes it very relatable.
Whitney: And frankly, it’s a story that I don’t think would have come from one of the more traditional publishing house channels. But that’s just one more reason that I’m enjoying trying new authors during our month of focusing on e-books!
Do you want to try something off the beaten path? Be sure to download your own copy of The White Swan Affair by Elyse Mady and while you’re browsing through the digital bookstore you can also scoop up a copy of next week’s featured Dish e-book, Soul Bound by Anne Hope.