Secrets Clad in Light
by Kyra Gregory
Product Description (from Amazon.com):
London, 1888. Henry decides to abandon all social conventions and rescue his lover, Seth, from an abusive household. He has replayed the moment in his head and has always known it wouldn’t be easy. He has never thought that it would be Seth who would cut his time too short. With Seth barely breathing, Henry must make the hardest decision of his life: try to save Seth, possibly condemning him to a life of suffering, or let him pass on in peace. But the arrival of a young stranger forces Henry’s hand, doing little to ease his qualms of uncertainty as everything he thought he knew changes.
Caught between self-doubt and his own selfish desires Henry learns to fight it all, using this stranger as a light to shine on what he hopes is the right path… All the while aware that there is still so much he doesn’t yet know…
Like many mystery lovers, my introduction to Victorian England was through the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. While Kyra Gregory’s novel Secrets Clad in Light doesn’t feature any detectives at all, she’s captured an underside of London that Holmes and his Baker Street irregulars would find familiar. Add to the general mood a subterranean lair in the sewer tunnels and, later, and abandoned bakery turned into a home, and the vivid descriptions will have you (at least at times) wishing for a hot shower and a change of clothes.
But a sense of place is only part of a story, and in the other parts – character and plot – Gregory does not disappoint. Her lead character, Henry is complex and three-dimensional. You see his love for Seth, his concern for him, his concern that he is forcing a relationship, or not making the right choices. In the mysterious Mary, part healer, part helpmate, we glimpse the way women of this period were still hobbled by the conventions of society. And then there’s Seth, Henry’s love, who is injured in the first pages of this novel, and remains essentially mute through the end of the book. In other hands, such a character would fade into near-nonexistence, but Gregory uses body language and non-verbal noise to convey his thoughts and feelings, and leaves us with a man who is no less vivid as his speaking associates.
Also of note is Gregory’s choice to do a period romance about two men. While the story is, itself, chaste (especially as modern romances go), in the late 19th century, such a relationship was certainly not one that would ever be displayed openly – even if “openly” meant “to other denizens of the sewers.” Still, the book puts plot and setting above social commentary. The lovers happen to both be men, but that relationship serves the story without overpowering it.
It struck me, as I was writing interview questions (check back here on 9/25 for the answers) for the author, that the late 19th century, right at the cusp of electricity obliterating gaslight, was really the last time that people in the modern world could live “off the grid.” I have to wonder if that knowledge inspired the author at all, but whether or not it did, Secrets Clad in Light is eminently readable, and even has a compelling twist ending.
Goes well with a steaming mug of English tea (Darjeeling perhaps?) and a bowl of stew.