One Night in Hartswood

Written by Emma Denny
Review by Ben Bergonzi

This gay romance opens with two brothers, Raff and Ash, sons of the Earl of Barden, travelling through Hartswood Forest to deliver their sister Cecily to the castle of Marcus, Earl de Foucart, for immediate marriage to his son William. But that night William escapes from his chamber and gets away into the forest. While almost freezing, the fugitive is discovered by Raff and taught how to light a fire. Both claiming to be of humble stock to conceal their origins from each other, William (using the name Penn) and Raff form a romantic attachment on that first night. The development of this relationship sustains most of the book, as for several days the pair travel together away from Hartswood, camping out together in frosty woodlands, and inevitably cuddling up for warmth. Eventually the truth of their identities comes forcibly to light. Lord de Foucart makes concerted and violent efforts to separate them, but a more tolerant attitude is shown by Raff’s family.

The book is nominally set in 1360, but this is no medieval England that I recognise. Instead of passing farms, villages, and monasteries (the latter being, I suggest, an obvious port of call), our young travellers’ journey takes them through endless forest broken only by occasional towns. The premise is ingenious and the dialogue is quite lively, but I feel Denny could have done more with the humour in the situation, or alternatively racked up the tension by showing us an angry pursuit. Instead, there are too many scenes of ponderous soul-searching from our young couple, as they gallantly edge along the way towards full consummation. This is not a book I could heartily recommend, though it may well find its admirers.