At fourteen, Kit St. Denys brought down his abusive father with a knife. At twenty-one his theatrical genius brought down the house. At thirty, his past and his forbidden love Â— nearly brought down the curtain for good.
This is a compelling Victorian saga of two men whose love for each other transcends time and distance and the society that considers it an abomination. Set in the last twenty years of the 19th century, The Phoenix is a multi-layered historical novel that illuminates poverty and child abuse, theatre history in America and England, betrayal, a crisis of conscience, violence and vengeance, and the treatment of insanity at a time when such treatment was in its infant stage. Most of all it is a tale of love on many levels, from carnal to devoted friendship to sacrifice.
The Phoenix is an epic historical saga that chronicles the lives of two English boys raised at the end of the nineteenth century. Jack Rourke is introduced as a troubled youth living in a ghetto district of London, attempting as best he can to care for himself and his ailing twin brother Michael. The parents of the twins are both abusive, especially Jack’s father Tom. He beats his wife and sons mercilessly, until eventually his wife leaves him, abandoning her sons in the process. In a fit of rage, Tom beats his frail son Michael to death. Jack reacts defensively and stabs his father. Then he flees.
Jack befriends a young woman named Lizbet who takes him in. Eventually Jack is adopted by Lizbet’s wealthy brother who owns a theatre. Jack changes his name to Kit St. Denys, educates himself, and pursues a career as an actor.
Nicholas Stuart is the son of a country doctor in a very religious, rural community. Young Nick is groomed from a very young age to eventually take over his father’s medical practice. His personal aspirations, however, conflict with his father’s wishes. Nick wants to go to university and learn modern medicine, which his father regards as worldly and ungodly. Their disagreement results in a rift in their relationship, and Nick’s father ultimately disowns his son.
Jack and Nicholas meet one another in London and almost immediately fall in love. A series of tragedies interferes with their ability to remain together happily, and the story leads the reader down the rocky road of their separations, reunions, and conflicts that arise during the course of their lengthy relationship.
There are so many things that I want to say about this book, that I’m not really sure where to begin. There is no question that the strong writing and meticulous editing of this novel set it apart from most books of the m/m fiction genre. In fact, in terms of literary quality, I would compare the book to the writing of Jeffrey Archer, Maeve Binchy, or Robert McCammon. The writer’s voice of this author is magnificent, and the story itself is beautiful.
The plot is riveting and gut-wrenching in manner similar to that of Brokeback Mountain. It is an epic love story in which life circumstances seem to be conspiring to keep the central characters separated from one another, but love somehow always manages to find a way.
The book is so masterfully written that I honestly see it as a major motion picture, or at the very least a television mini-series. It truly is a delightful read which is filled with humor, action, romance, violence, and passion.
The book bravely tackles several meaningful themes, one being that of the turmoil and anxiety that Nicholas endures as related to his religious convictions. Throughout the story he struggles to reconcile his sexual orientation with his religion. Viewed in the historical context of the setting, it is especially poignant. The topic of mental illness and the tragic effects of childhood physical and emotional abuse is also addressed.
Most interesting is the inclusion of numerous historical personalities, inventions, and events. Oscar Wilde makes a cameo appearance. The graphaphone, telegraph, and shower bath are brand new technologies which are woven into the plot. The author included extremely interesting details and graphic descriptions which made the setting amazingly real.
I would be remiss if I did not add a couple caveats, however. The book is not a lighthearted m/m romance. If you’re expecting a read similar to the writings of Ally Blue, Carol Lynne, or Keta Diablo, this book would not be a wise choice. Secondly, if you have difficulty with a storyline which includes infidelity, this book may be a challenge. In my opinion, the historical setting of the story all but necessitates the infidelity. It made sense to me that in this era it would be assumed that men married women and produced offspring. If they happened to be homosexual, they secretly fulfilled their sexual needs outside the marriage.
Overall, I regard this book as an exceptional read. The prose is beautiful, the storytelling is captivating, and the plot is riveting. It is a must-read.
Review by Jeff