Muffled Drum is an absorbing page turning historical story. In fact I didn’t want to put this down as the setting and characters sucked me in from the beginning. The story is poignant and often bittersweet but with a solid HEA ending that should definitely please fans. The writing is very strong with a rich, descriptive setting and lots of contrasting interests. The characters are intriguing with flaws and nuanced depth. My only slight issue is with the predictable “villain” character thrown in towards the end that I’m not sure even needed to be there. It adds a certain tone to the story but I disliked the obvious nature of his inclusion and furthermore the treatment of the character. However those could be personal reader preferences too and others won’t be bothered.
The story starts out with Rudolph and Mathias deeply in love and planning their escape from the military. They agree on a plan to resign their posts later that day, thereby causing a definite scandal, and run off to be together. The opening scene is very romantic with a touch of melodrama and foreboding. It establishes how deeply in love the two men are and their hopes for the future. Unfortunately that future never comes to pass as Rudolph takes a spill that very day and loses his memory. Mathias, already having resigned in a rash move, accompanies Rudolph home in hopes the other man will remember their love affair at last.
The writing is immediately absorbing and interesting. Set initially during a fighting campaign, the bleak conditions of the military are very well portrayed. The setting is definitely a third and very important character from the fighting to the various small inns and towns they pass through and even to the rich and lush lifestyle of Berlin. This is all juxtaposed the very intimate relationship with Rudolph and Mathias. There are various secondary characters but the story focuses on the two main men and their relationship, both past and present. This creates an intimate feel between the men and also kept my attention firmly on their interactions.
This isn’t a hardship either as the amnesia theme is handled very well with well thought out characters. Both men are interesting with strengths and weaknesses. Mathias is an easy character to feel for as the depth of his emotion is played out in almost every scene. I couldn’t help but feel for his plight as he struggles with his feelings and what the very real future may be. Rudolph is not as intriguing, mostly because he’s more of the centerpiece that everyone revolves around than the most interesting character. He’s well developed and his amnesia is portrayed very well and convincingly. He does pale though when compared to Mathias and even Ernst.
This is my other slight issue with the story, the inclusion and handling of Ernst. He’s Rudolph’s old lover and since Rudolph loses two years of his memory, he thinks the two are still together. Ernst is portrayed as the classic villain and used to throw tension and conflict between Rudolph and Mathias. Unfortunately I found this somewhat obvious and unfortunate. The writing does a good job of making this entire side plot believable and understandable, yet I found it the most obvious distraction. I wish something else had been used as Ernst feels too one sided and easily handled. I personally felt he deserved more of a nod to his depth than the somewhat shallow treatment he got. But then again I can’t say I liked the character of his inclusion at all. He’s in the story for a reason and thus has a purpose but I wish the story had taken a different direction.
This is however a slight issue amongst a real page turning novel. I didn’t want to put this down and watching Rudolph and Mathias discover their love for each other again is very absorbing. The great writing and fascinating descriptive setting all combine to deliver a really great historical story. It’s not necessarily one I’d read again but it’s definitely a story I’d recommend.