The Doctor's Discretion by EE Ottoman - Transgender M/M Historical Romance
MARCH 23, 2020
New York City, 1831.
Passion, medicine and a plan to break the law ...
When Doctor William Blackwood, a proper gentleman who prefers books to actual patients, meets retired Navy surgeon Doctor Augustus Hill, they find in each other not just companionship but the chance of pleasure—and perhaps even more. The desire between them is undeniable but their budding relationship is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious patient at New York Hospital.
Mr. Moss has been accused of being born a woman but living his life as a man, an act that will see him committed to an asylum for the rest of his life. William and Augustus are determined to mount a rescue even if it means kidnapping him instead.
Their desperate plan sets William and Augustus against the hospital authorities, and the law. Soon they find themselves embroiled in New York's seedy underworld, mixed up with prostitutes, spies, and more than a lifetime's worth of secrets. When nothing is as it seems can they find something real in each other?
This book begins with the meeting of two doctors, William (a Black cis man) and Augustus (a white trans man), in 1831 New York. Another (white) trans person, Moss, is arrested, locked in his hospital room, and set to be imprisoned in a mental institution after dehumanizing experiments on his body. Augustus—as a doctor in the hospital Moss is locked in and as a trans man who lives in fear of facing that reality himself—plans to break Moss out with William's help.
The plot following Moss's liberation quickly dominated the narrative and left little room for the actual romance between Augustus and William. The project that William and Augustus started collaborating on quickly lost importance in the story, and was a rather unnecessary place to start the narrative. I felt that the intimate connection between William and Augustus never moved beyond "we are both severely oppressed, and also are both doctors." I did not feel particularly attached to their relationship, or to any of the characters in general. Overall, I think my favorite character was a sex worker named Lake, who only appeared in three scenes.
This book was self-published through the publishing platform Pronoun, which has since been acquired and then discontinued by Macmillan. Although I love self-publishing, this book could have been vastly improved with an editing team. On top of typos and simple grammar errors, there were places where the wrong character was mentioned in a sentence, words were missing altogether, or a sentence ended in the middle of a phrase. Several phrases and stylistic devices were used in successive sentences, coming off sloppy and unpolished. I also think the story would have benefitted from a sensitivity reader for William as a Black character.
I found the plot in equal need of workshopping. The story basically became centered around how terrible the 1830s were, which, although is historically accurate, did not make for a terribly enjoyable read. Towards the end, the plot slowed down even futher, providing long, unnecessary, era-specific descriptions instead of fleshing out the resolution.
From my perspective, the characters were much too patriotic. At this time, slavery was still legal in the U.S. (as noted in the text) and trans people were considered to be insane outlaws (as noted in the text). I did not understand how these characters could live the lives they do, experiencing the terrible things they experience, without critically thinking about their relationship to the U.S.
This is the third book I have read by EE Ottoman, and although I have been considerably underwhelmed by these stories, I plan to keep reading his work. There are so few romances-or any genre-featuring trans people, and even fewer ownvoices trans stories. But, with several big ownvoices books coming out this year, I am very excited for the future of trans literature.