A journey into an alternative historical period? Anytime!

A Hyacinth for his Hideousness by Tharah Mester

(translation by Ian Notsnall)

I received an advance review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I’m a sucker for good historical fictions, and if it’s a story taking place in a realistic, well developed alternative historical period, all the better. And because I like my fictions believable and entirely realistic, I want it to make me believe if I search for the imaginary country or regions, I would find them on a historical map. And I totally got this feeling while reading this book, so let’s check it out in detail.

About the book

Blurb (Goodreads)

Following a public humiliation, Hyacinth Black is on the verge of being beaten to death by his father. Of all people, the man who is commonly referred to as ‘Your Hideousness’ comes to his defense; but his intervention has a price. Hyacinth must marry his rescuer.
Since the murder of his brother, Gavrila Ardenovic has been on the trail of a secret society, but in the city where he is only mocked, he has few allies. Therefore he keeps his distance from others and is used to suppress any hint of emotion. Will lies and intrigues prevail or can Hyacinth succeed in battling the shadows of the past and break through his husband’s cold-hearted façade?

Cover

The cover perfectly grabs the atmosphere of an alternative-victorian period and shows one of the main characters – Hyacinth. The environment surrounding the young man gives away an eeriness I really liked. The narrow street with the spooky light behind him could be an aura of something foreboding. Although I don’t really like covers showing the face of the characters (I prefer them letting me imagine the protagonists as I wish 😀 ), but in this case I had no problem with it. Every bit of the cover just clicks perfectly together.

There is an other cover as you can see here. I find the above one a bit crowded, therefore I think I prefer this one, because of the voilet and purple tones and because of its simplicity. I usually like simple covers with birght, well-chosen colors. I don’t say the cover above is not good enough or not beautiful, beacuse it is. It’s eye chatching and I would definitely pick it up in a bookstore to check out the story. However based on my personal prefence if I was given the choise to pick one of the two books, I would definitely choose this one.

The world building

The imaginary country and world is just simply amazing: the Wywarrick Empire where the story takes place, and where gay marriage is legal. And there is a long running conflict with the neighboring empire due to this principle, because in the other country being gay is abominable. Gavrila experiences this hatred on his own flesh, before he arrives at the Wywarrick Empire and settles in Ascot with his brother.

I really got the feeling that this two rivaling countries could be found somewhere between Germany and Poland due to the german, slavic and polish sounding names (both for places and persons).

Although the book isn’t too generous with historical facts, we only know that there was a long war between the two empires, almost costing Gavrila his life and leaving him with a lot of scars both on his body and his soul. I wanted more information about the empires, but even with this amount the story-setting was easily comprehensible, just not sufficient for me, it’s just my personal curiosity. However the Victorian atmosphere was perfect, and the characters were all authentic. The world was original and I can totally imagine a system/regime working like this two. 

The characters

There is a whole variety of characters in the book, and every single one of them has a name. There is no “strange neighbor” or some “distant acquaintances”, therefore everyone seems to be important and being related on some extent to the main characters. Therefore you will have to pay a lot of attention at the beginning of the book or you won’t be able to follow who’s who, and what role they have in the town of Ascot.

Due to the large number of characters I only list the most important ones and my favorites.

Gavrila Ardenovic: One of the 2 protagonists. The people of Ascot knows him as His Hideousness because of his repulsive looks. He’s a war veteran abused by his fellow soldiers, the battles, his injuries, but most of all, by is brother. He’s a very damaged and broken individual who thinks himself incapable of love or to be loved. And he was my absolute favorite in the book.

Hyacinth Black/Ardenovic: a young man pursuing love and affection on the streets selling his body to anyone showing compassion towards him. When he’s publicly humiliated when his secret comes to light, Gavrila is the only one who wants to do anything to save him. He marries Hyacinth to save his life, and though he treats the young man very poorly at the beginning, as the story progresses we understand why.

Sergei Percovic: at the beginning of the book Sergei is a homeless, alcoholic living under one of Ascot’s bridges. He works at the city morgue, this is where he first meets Gavrila when he comes in to identify his brother’s corpse. They fast become best friends, when he helps the other man to survive his loss.

Seymour Wiplay: he is the former teacher of Gavrila and the only father figure he had ever known. Seymour loves the wild tempered man as if he was his own son, and he tries everything to help Gavrila to create and maintain a real, emotion-based relationship with Hyacinth. And to be honest, Gavrila needs every guidance possible in order to make him capable to function like a normal human being.

Thornwauld: he only has a little role and 2 appearances in total, he’s a beggar living in the slum-island of the city and he’s the one helping Gavrila with hints during his investigation in pursuit the murder of his brother.

Bartholomew: one of Gavrila’s few friends, helping him in his investigation, and helping him and Hyacinth to find love with each other. As a lot of people around Gavrila he has his ulterior motives to help him.

Dimitri: off page character, he is Gavrila’s murdered brother, he was dead before the beginning of the book. He’s an evil man, torturing Gavrila without end, he even succeeded in breaking him and destroying all of his self-esteem.

Pros and Cons of the Story

Strong points of the story making it worth (more than) 4 star

  • The description of sentiments and the portraying of the human soul, how torture and cruelty can destroy anyone.
  • The system of Gavrila’s nicknames. His friends call him Gavrii and Hyacinth calls him a more affectionate name, Vrila. This latter is the more important one, because as Gavrila accepts Hyacinth’s feelings towards him, he slowly becomes the man the young man loves, finally becoming Vrila who always takes care of his dearest one.
  • The dynamics among the characters.
  • The character development, both Gavrila and Hyacinth becomes new men, strong together saving each other from their past.

Problematic points due to which the story lost a star

  • Gavrila and Hyacinth’s jealousy even in case of the most innocent or harmless happenings, flaming every other page, which is not even justifiable in most of the cases. This creates a lot of misunderstanding between them, making me roll my eyes in a “not again” fashion.
  • The plot twist… I saw it coming from 200 miles.
  • There is a lot of unnecessary exclamation marks in the text. I think its over-usage makes the text unnecessarily aggressive, not to mention that it breaks the flow of the reading.
  • Difficult language. As I mentioned above, I’m not a native English speaker, and the problem is not the fact I didn’t now some words, but that my Oxford dictionary didn’t know them either… I know this book was translated from German, and its language is elaborate and rich (which should be a huge plus), but not knowing a lot of words when reading can be unnerving. These words might originate from the Victorian era, but I think some of them can be challenging for native speakers too.

Conclusion

I really liked this book, but it couldn’t become my favorite even if the potential was there. The imaginary empires were great, the inspection in the Victorian environment was promising. And Gavrila is a great character of his sort I ever have read about. He’s impulsive, aggressive, bordering on being a bully, unpredictable and untrusting as everyone would be in his place. His and Hyacinth’s development as a couple was heartfelt, the tragedies they got through together was heartbreaking. So anyway give it a shot if you want a good historical fiction in a creatively imagined and built alternative world, hop on this emotional roller coaster and let it sweep you off your feet.

Notes
  • Source of cover image: unsplash.com (Kristine Tumanyan)
  • Source of book covers: Goodreads
  • Source of other images: unsplash.com (Andrew Neel, Elena Mozhvilo)

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