The author of Transgressions (the playfully pen-named Erastes) has set her novel in the England of the 1640s, a time of enormous political and social upheaval, as military forces under Oliver Cromwell came to challenge the authority and then the very throne of King Charles I. It’s a period long favored by historical novelists, but this is a book Georgette Heyer couldn’t have imagined in her wildest dreams.
In 1642, David Caverly’s blacksmith father introduces him to the shop’s new apprentice, a broad-shouldered young Puritan named Jonathan, and Bible fans might guess from the nomenclature what happens next: David and Jonathan quickly discover a love that surpasseth the love of women. Erastes portrays the heat and innocence of their initial pairings with a winning combination of fierce narrative intensity and surprising delicacy; this is neither tokenism nor pornography. Instead, it’s an intricate and extremely enjoyable fantasy of two very different young men caught in the tangle of their times but trying to stay true to their desires.
Given the strength of religious indoctrination and the claustrophobic nature of English village life, the actual 17th century would have made short work of David and Jonathan. But in Erastes’ more forgiving version of the times, pockets of tolerance and even happiness are possible. Both young men are briefly consumed by the civil war—David as a Royalist, Jonathan as a Cromwellian; Erastes’ period research is excellent (although her Puritan ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ tend to wander a bit), and her descriptions of the witch-finders Jonathan joins are fascinating, especially the psychotic Michael, who’s not only a villain but also Erastes’ concession to the psychological damage the time could do to its gay men. Transgressions is fantastic—highly recommended.