Dear. Ms. Mitchell.
I’ll pretty much read anything you’ve written, so I was thrilled when you posted that you’d written a historical short. An Improper Holiday was a lot of angsty fun, and I really enjoyed it, especially with the delicious little flip at the end of figuring out how two men in the early 19th century are going to live together without suspicion. I’m not too fond of relying on a near-death experience to force a main character to accept the love offered to him, but this is a minor blip on the delicious goodness of this story.
Ian has been told by his brother the Earl to take their sister to the Carleigh’s Twelfth Night’s festivities in order to court the Marquess as a political ally. Ian is not too happy with this, considering the Marquess’ heir, Nicky, is Ian’s first and best love from whom he estranged himself when he went away to war as a good second son must. Ian is self-conscious of the loss of his arm at the Battle of Badajoz (a slick way of getting past the issue of how Ian himself acted during the British Army’s disgraceful sacking of the besieged city: he was out of his mind from the amputation), and he’s also sick of the obligations on himself and on Nicky as sons of the aristocracy, scared of his own sexuality and has spent the last five years celibate.
Nicky, on the other hand, has spent his five years in England without Ian gaining sexual experience and self-confidence. And he is now determined to get Ian back permanently and plans a complex campaign of siege and surprise. Every now and then Ian was a little tedious with his conscience-stricken withdrawals from Nicky. And after the most devastating of his withdrawals, it takes the contrivance of a near-death skating accident to bring him back to Nicky, a plot convention I find annoying.
The plot twist in which most of the story’s tension is located and which dominates the ending is easily discernible on page 15. How will the men find a way to be together and yet still fulfill all their familial obligations? I will leave other readers to figure it out, but it’s cute and interesting and I hope it works for them all.
Despite a very strange problem I had of not thinking the men’s names fit them — I just couldn’t get a handle on “Ian” and “Nicky” and kept having to remind myself who they were — I enjoyed the distinct characters and their obvious deep affection and feeling for each other. One line wrenched my heart and made me believe in them: “There had always been so much laughter between them. For years, that absence cut as keenly as the loss of Nicky’s touch.” Couples who laugh together can weather much, in my experience.
For some reason, this story didn’t have the sparkle for me of your contemporary stories. I don’t know if it was the historical voice, which I think you did very well with, or just my own mood. I enjoyed the story a lot, I can’t find anything wrong with it particularly, but I probably won’t reread it. I think the ending (Ian accepting Nicky’s love and the contrivance of how they would live together) was too situation-dependent for me. And while the angst was hot-and-heavy through the rest of the story, it fell off with the ending focused on Ian’s reaction to a relationship between a secondary couple, rather than focused on strengthening his relationship with Nicky.
I will say, however, I enjoyed the narrative treatment of Ian’s amputation. And I very much liked the secondary characters, well-developed even in such a short story. This story is a typically wonderful Mitchell book and a quick and heart-warming holiday offering. I recommend it heartily.
This book can be purchased in DRM FREE ebook format from Samhain.
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