A Recondite Matter
Author: G.S. Wiley
Cover Artist: Alessia Brio
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: time travel
Length: 14,800 words
Francis is an Edwardian gentleman who prefers the quiet life. When a mysterious gift from a more adventurous friend, Sir Desmond Rivest, transports him a hundred years into the future, Francis needs to use every wit he possesses to fit into a world of smart phones, fast cars, and paper plates. Simon, an antiques dealer, seems uniquely equipped to help Francis adjust, and to help him find a way back home. But as Francis' feelings for Simon begin to emerge, an encounter with a descendent of Sir Desmond's threatens to take Francis away from Simon before they really begin to know one another.
As behooves a time-travelling story, the roots of both the tragedy and the happiness lie in one era, but are resolved in another. For Francis Holden-Burrell, the man he loves dearly lies dying at a time when the papers are full of the sinking of the Titanic. What he and Sir Desmond Rivest can be to one another is limited by the times and by Sir Desmond’s unwillingness to risk himself and his bosom friend by stepping any farther from propriety than they already have.
Sir Desmond, a late Victorian adventurer and polymath, would paint Francis in classical poses that required much exposure, well enough that he’s instantly recognizable as Ares, even without his shield and spear. They might as well have had the complete pleasure for all the hatred Lady Rivest feels toward one she knows for her true rival.
A final gift bestowed by Sir Desmond to Francis flings him across a century’s gulf, where he’s a fish out of water. His home is no longer his own, nor is any sight on the street something he understands, from the absence of horses to the masses of dangerous self-propelled vehicles, and people would rather stare at small glowing rectangles than speak politely to men standing before them. If he hadn’t been scooped up by Pam, Simon’s nosy but good-hearted assistant, things might have gone badly indeed.
Antique dealer Simon finds Francis’ provenance intriguing—as is the man. Having come close to marrying his lover, Simon’s saddened and appalled at how little Francis could enjoy his love back then. Together they find clues to what’s happened to Francis, if not precisely how, and help him find his way in this new strange time.
This is the perfect setup for exploring what went wrong between Simon and his former intended, who has a cameo role, and for Francis and Simon coming to enjoy each other and to find love, but none of that happens on page. Fast forward three years to the HEA. We learn more about Pam’s wayward daughter and her taste for thugs than we do about how Francis and Simon come together as more than traveler and native guide.
I would say I love GS Wiley’s writing, but what I probably love is her skill with words and her ability to generate a scenario more than her telling of a complete story. I recall her YAs fondly, but her more adult pieces less so because I’ve met this tendency to break off the narrative just when the relationship starts. The absence of sex is not a problem, because that almost has to belong somewhere in the relationship arc which doesn’t appear on the page.
But given the huge issues raised by Francis’ love for Desmond, who is as recent as last week in Francis’ personal timeline, and Simon’s need for growth after the debacle of his failed engagement, the skip to the HEA is abrupt and full of unanswered questions. Just as I was getting invested in Francis and Simon, it was over, and I wanted to shake the rest of the story out of my Kindle. What’s there is great. But where’s the middle of the story? 3 marbles