Review: Christina Pilz – In Axminster Workhouse (Oliver & Jack #3)

  • Author: Christina Pilz
    Reviewer: Natalie
    Publisher: Blue Rain Press
    Genre: MM Historical

    Rating: ★★★★★ 


    Summary:  In Victorian England, 1846, an ex-apprentice and his street-thief companion are confined inside a workhouse to await trial for a crime they did not commit.

After the seaside interlude in Lyme Regis, Oliver and Jack are arrested and sent to Axminster Workhouse to await trial for the theft of books that they only meant to borrow.

They are put in the less-than-tender care of Workmaster Chalenheim, who controls the quotas they must fill, the amount of food they are allowed to eat, and the punishments they must endure upon breaking the rules, however arbitrary.

Oliver struggles with the shame of being in a place he thought he’d left behind him long ago, and also with the contrast between the life he once enjoyed and the hunger and degradation inside the workhouse walls. Meanwhile, Jack is confronted by a predator who tests the limits of Jack’s endurance and the strength of his love for Oliver.

Together they must find a way to escape the workhouse before they succumb to the harsh conditions or are separated by the hangman’s noose, whichever comes first.

Review: Yet again, I am awestruck by the accuracy of historical detail and expression that Christina Pilz has invested in this series. As I’ve said before, the writing style expresses the essence and spirit of Dickensian literature, and early Victorian England so very well. Reading about Oliver and Jack’s sojourn in the Workhouse was difficult, often appalling and disturbing. I couldn’t help but compare it to similar institutional abuse we still see today, perhaps not as blatantly as Workmaster Chalanheim, but he was operating under the prevailing attitudes of the times. The story also explores the influence that events have on both Jack and Oliver’s mental and emotional states. In spite of his time on the streets, Jack hasn’t experienced the sort of casual abuse and cruelty meted out to orphans and inmates of these institutions. He understands more of where Oliver’s actions and mannerisms come from and discovers the lengths to which love can compel him. Oliver learns a great deal too, about holding onto his explosive temper, how easily he returns to the despairing mindset learned so long ago and his ability to combat it. He discovers the true depths of his love for Jack, as well. So, as horrible as many of the events are, I enjoyed the added facets to the characters and learning more about Jack’s history.

There are occasional detours from stark reality and I thoroughly enjoyed the interludes Jack and Oliver were given. There is only one sex scene in the book, written late in the narrative. It’s not written as erotica, as there is a purpose and reason, but it is a wonderfully tender moment. I wouldn’t consider this historical romance as much as I do historical fiction, although the romance is a strong component. I’d recommend this to those who enjoy good historical, fictional literature, with a somewhat modern interpretation. I’m enjoying the series far more than I initially expected as I started book one, and there are three more volumes I anticipate will delight me as well.

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