Title: Solemn Contract
Author: Morgan Cheshire
Publisher: Manifold Press
Characters: Jem Bradley, Will Middleton
POV: 3rd person
Sub-Genre: Historical Romance
Connecticut, 1720: In an attempt to give his family financial security, school master Jem Bradley hires himself out as an indentured servant – and thus begins an odyssey which will take him to the small settlement of Kennet and a burgeoning friendship with enigmatic blacksmith Will Middleton. Trouble is never far away, however, and when Jem is accused of committing a bloody murder his future begins to look very bleak indeed…
Neil Iveson’s ambitions, coupled with a poor choice in investments, have landed him and his wife Meg in a problematic financial situation. Neil is faced with the prospect of debtor’s prison for defaulting on payments to his creditors, and the Iveson’s are fearful for the state of their family, as repaying the debts is an impossible undertaking.
Jem Bradley, Meg’s young, single brother, is a school teacher by vocation and has done all he can, on his meager wages, to help the family, but even then, it’s not enough. An offer of epically selfless proportions finds Jem proposing he give up his teaching career to become an indentured servant for a period of five years so Neil can keep the collectors at bay and keep his family intact.
Left with little choice but to accept Jem’s offer, Neil arranges a position for Jem with a kindly farmer, an arrangement that is facilitated by the wealthy and ruthless Amos Tanner, a man who, once he sets his sights on Jem, is bent upon manipulating the young man into a sexual relationship, quickly becoming a dangerous adversary and a threat to Jem’s security.
An act of brutality leaves Jem physically broken, though it is through an act of good fortune that blacksmith Will Middleton is there to come to Jem’s rescue. Taking Jem to his home to recover from the vicious beating he’s suffered at Amos Tanner’s hands, Will becomes Jem’s protector, champion, and fiercest supporter, helping him to escape his servitude to Tanner by way of buying his Indenture from the man himself. When Tanner turns up dead, a case of cold blooded murder, Jem is accused and must face down the entire town to defend his innocence, and it is there the truth of why Jem was beaten comes to light, while even more lies are leveled against him, causing the town to turn its back on him, leaving him unemployed and a pariah within the community.
As Jem’s future grows bleaker with each passing day, the bond between the teacher and the blacksmith begins to deepen into something more than friendship, something nearly unrecognizable to both men in the beginning, because neither had realized that falling in love with another man was a possibility for either of them. Fear keeps the men from acting upon or even expressing those feelings for each other, until the threat of separation prompts them into action.
Set in 18th century America, Solemn Contract is an understated novel perfect for those who appreciate a more reserved romance, one that flows along without causing a terrible burden to the emotions, nevertheless allowing the reader to sympathize with the plight of the characters and the challenges they face as they find the courage to love each other in spite of the danger of discovery. While I personally would have preferred a bit more exposition of the relationship between Jem and Will, to have witnessed the development of the friendship a bit more closely, it was not meant to be. What I was offered, however, was a pleasantly diverting.
Reviewed By: Lisa