As far as Lord Duncan Aldham is concerned, war is a thing which affects other people. He’s quite content to sit in the ancestral pile, ride his horses, and defend himself against his mother’s attempts to marry him off. So when Duncan meets the Manor’s new stable hand he’s thoroughly unprepared for the desire which the man ignites within him.
William Fossett is handsome, muscular, and utterly forbidden. A kind and gentle soul, William is a pacifist in a country which is about to force every man to test the strength of their convictions.
Confused by his yearning for Fossett, Duncan will soon be forced to work out whether he dare act upon this illicit attraction to another man - and to a Commoner, no less. But Fossett has bigger problems: the Military Service Act has been passed into law, and even absolutists are at risk of conscription.
This book is very contained. The language is perfectly sculpted, stilted almost. The historical details are accurate. Everything is as it should be.
But where is the passion, the emotion, the love?
The MCs, one of whom is an earl, the other a mere stable hand, have a forbidden friendship, which turns into a forbidden love. They take long horseback rides together and have one brief frotting encounter in a barn.
Most of their interaction take place off-page. Duncan proclaims his love for William soon after meeting him. He'll do anything to make sure William doesn't have to go to war (this is set circa 1916). But I didn't see enough of the men together to believe such unbridled agony, nor the ease with which William embraces his homosexuality (which he'd denied for 25 years).
The lack of steam was disappointing, the lack of an emotional connection even more so.
William is an interesting character, a pacifist in the midst of a country at war. He is kind, intelligent, and wonderful with horses. I wanted to know more about him, but he was only vaguely sketched, Duncan even less so.
The stable master and Duncan's mother turned out to be more complex characters than I had predicted. I liked that they weren't cookie-cutter villains, or villains at all really.
There is a HEA of sorts, but it's constrained by the time period and traditions in place.
All the Arts of Hurting is well written and fairly interesting, but the story has a dry, detached quality I found frustrating.