The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas by Alice Keats
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The book cover and description made the novella look like a typical Boys Love manga, and it really did read like one. The usual tropes were there: a school setting, an unrequited love, and at least one of the boys was handsome and had great appeal to the opposite sex, generating groupies and predictable jealousy issues. The only thing missing was the obligatory consummation scene at the end, which was a disappointment. Oh well. It didn’t affect my rating negatively.
What could have affected my rating negatively was the angst. As a hater of angst, I appreciated how the brisk pacing and viewpoint shifting kept the angst to a minimum. I liked how Caleb’s viewpoint was the dominant one but not the exclusive viewpoint. Thus, I didn’t have to deal with Caleb’s brooding for any minute longer before the desire to skim started to arise.
I really liked how both boys were friends from the start because it made the boys’ feeling very believable. There was no blemish of instant love. Caleb’s obliviousness and Gabriel’s longing feelings could have easily come off as annoying but didn’t. I liked how it didn’t take too long for them to get together, and even though a lack of communication remained I liked how they made efforts to overcome it. Caleb and Gabriel were adorable.
Also adorable were the boys’ two friends who sat with them at lunch. Jinx and Elliot were a gay couple, and they could have rivaled Caleb and Gabriel for the reader’s attention. Yet, they nicely shared the spotlight and never took it away from the book’s main couple. I loved how for all four boys the issue of being gay was largely a non-issue and that the focus was on the boys’ feelings for their lover.
I was also fond of Emmeline. She was decked in pink and sparkle and had a stubborn and airheaded demeanor like a fairy cliche. What stopped her from being a nuisance was her genuine efforts to grant the wishes of true love. Emmeline was actually quite droll.
One character that did have me concerned was the evil female cliche. In this novella, the cliche took the form of a schoolmate who did not want the boys to be together because she had a crush on one of them and wanted that boy for herself. Thankfully, at the end she turned out to be a nice girl and things resolved amicably. I did wish, however, that the conflict with her had been resolved sooner. It lasted too long for my liking.
I rate The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas 3-stars for I liked it. In addition to reading like a typical Boys Love manga, the novella also read like a contemporary fairy tale. Small magic brought the two boys together but it was true love that bonded them. It was that kind of fairy tale. I liked the nice balance between angst and sweetness. The writing was kind of cheesy but jovially so. The novella was a safely enjoyable mm-romance.
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