This review is part of our Gay Writes celebration. Don’t forget to comment on the original post for a chance to win one of those prizes as well as commenting on this post for a chance to win a copy of this book.
After I read your last historical release, The Twilight Gods, I added you to my list of authors to watch and read regularly. The Twilight Gods was a great, historically researched novel that felt comfortably Dickensian. While I have yet to really dig into your contemporary novels, I know you have an admirable ability to write historical novels. I wasn’t at all worried about your latest release, and it proved to be just as good as the last one. While it didn’t capture me as intently as The Twilight Gods did, the quality of writing was lovely and consistent. This is so much more than a Christmas story.
The story, as many Christmas ones do, begins with a toymaker.
Abelard Bauer is a toymaker living in Bavaria in the mid-1800’s. His work is known to be meticulous and lovely, and many people in his village buy the toys from him to put under their trees. While toy making is his trade, what he really impresses people with is his knowledge of making glass spheres and ornaments. Princes and shepherds, and most recently, a tiny glass minstrel.
In the same tiny, Bavarian town lives a man named Andreas Schiffer. He knows Abelard well enough. Haunted by the tragic death of his son, and the darkened history behind it, Schiffer is hostile towards Abelard. Despite the fact that they share the tragedy of their sons perishing in the same accident, they also share another secret.
Their sons were lovers.
Set around the magical time of Christmas, The Glass Minstrel is the heartbreaking story of a toymaker who finds himself in the throes of depression. The last of his family has gone from him, just after he began to understand what it was like. It is a story of a broken friendship, of understanding, and of how loneliness affects us all. Especially around the holidays.
Reading your novels is always a quietly uplifting experience. Nothing immediately catches your attention, but you are pleasantly surprised by what the pages of the book hold. By the end of the story, you are invested in the characters and analyzing their motives like you would in the best of novels. Genre fiction is hard to pull off as something both original yet familiar, but books such as The Glass Minstrel manage to get it right.
Abelard was a protagonist I was amazingly fond of. It’s interesting to read a young adult novel where the adults are more centered than the teenager in the story, although there were several teenage characters in the narrative. His place in the story was simple yet powerful, and it was really touching to read about the dedication to his craft and how he missed his son. the fact that he was an accepting father was also a nice touch.
Schiffer was the black to Abelard’s white, though not in a bad way. Where Abelard deals with his grief by befriending a young teenager named Jakob (who is much like his son), Schiffer bemoans his fate and tries to make sense of the journal his son Heinrich left behind. His character is intense and angry, and seeing that anger slowly disappear as he became more accepting of his son’s passing was nice. It blended with the acceptance of what his son was, as well.
The story of Jakob was a pleasant side story that represented the love of the younger Bauer and Schiffer in a new form, although Jakob’s road to romance is not easy, and is not destined for a quick fix. He traverses the difficult waters of liking a childhood friend that is either straight or not accepting of their sexuality, and of liking someone that, while kind, is destined to never return those affections. Jakob’s character is the one that will resonate with teen readers the most, and I really enjoyed how real he was. I would have liked to know him outside the pages of your novel.
Your writing was as pleasant as always, and your style remains something unique yet accessible. Historical fiction enthusiasts especially will enjoy your attention to detail and the way you focus on characters of the middle class, as so few authors tend to do. Another thing that I really liked about this book is the journal entries from Heinrich that began each chapter.
Our books make for good props. It’s quite funny how everyone else sees us and commends us for being such a studious pair, with our books and notes spread out on the grass while we lie on our stomachs or sit against our favorite beech tree. Half the time we simply write notes to each other, which we pass back and forth. Sometimes I think we get a little too sentimental, but Stefan seems to take a lot of pleasure in it, so I try not to feel too self-conscious about being sweet on him.
– from the journal of Heinrich Schiffer
The plot was nice enough, though I think the subject of Christmas will deter some readers, despite the fact that the novel isn’t meant to be a Christmas story so much as a story that takes place around Christmastime. The setting was also thinner than The Twilight Gods, and I found myself not enjoying it as much. I would have liked more vivid descriptions of it, but it wasn’t so sparse as to deter readers. Merely, I felt that it could have been done better.
For readers that are unfamiliar with LGBTQ genre fiction and/or LGBTQ historical fiction, especially for young-adults, your work is a great starting point. Your stories are engaging and the feelings and situations you deal with are universal to all time periods. With enjoyable characters and writing that hardly misses the mark, I enjoy your work, and think that many other people will as well. You know how to write about LGBTQ issues delicately, yet you still manage to convey a wonderful message. We’re just like everyone else, and that’s what is important. B +
All the best,
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