Review: Song of the Loon by Richard Amory

Loon coverPublished way ahead of its time in 1966 by Greenleaf Classics, republished in 2006 by Arsenal Pulp Press. A lusty gay frontier romance that tells the story of Ephraim McIver, a 19th century frontiersman, as he travels through the American wilderness. Ephraim meets a number of characters who share stories, wisdom and homosexual encounters. Unique among pulp novels of the time, the gay characters are strong and romantically drawn – traits that have earned the book a place in the canon of gay American literature.

“A groovy little curiosity piece”

Review by Lee Benoit

I was a toddler when the Stonewall Riots occurred, and it was really difficult to approach this book without being subconsciously aware of the enormous impact Song of the Loon had on the intervening generations of gay literature, erotica, and porn. If you’re anything like me (40 and queer) you’ll recognize no end of snippets that made their way into gay canon, or were drawn from pulp fiction. In other words, I had to turn off my camp meter, no mean feat when confronted with such passages as the one in which the protagonist composes a poem for his lover containing the following lines: “Seeking your chest, your loins, your hips / My hardened penis downward dips / Into your asshole darkly tight / Warmly endlessly lost from sight” (p. 132-3 in the Arsenal Pulp edition).

Deep purple moments aside, I found I enjoyed the book immensely on its own merits. These include a tone of earnest sweetness that overcomes the camp factor. I ended up feeling quite affectionately towards the characters, especially the protagonist, Ephraim MacIver, who falls in love with practically everyone he meets, including the putative villain. I became involved in his travails, and vicariously delighted in his triumphs over convention and ill will. That a post-Stonewall queer reader could experience Song of the Loon as so emphatically fresh, forty years after its publication, attests to the power of Amory’s work.

Amory’s message is, in essence, that being homosexual is inherently good, and only through honesty with oneself and unapologetic openness with the larger world can one escape the constraints and negativity of mainstream society. It’s about freedom and pride. Speaking of freedom, the book is also about free love, that old chestnut! In Amory’s hands, the sex is simultaneously earthy and reverent, and exuberant in a way we sadly have lost. The ideas that love is infinite, and that love shared is love multiplied (and, conversely, that jealousy is a sort of violence), seem almost quaint.

In the long, erudite introduction by Michael Bronski and in the series of contemporary interviews with and articles by Amory (from which the quote at the beginning of this review was taken and which include a delicious reproduction of the poster for the 1970 film based on the book but unendorsed by Amory), it becomes clear that Song of the Loon was unusual. It’s a pastoral in the classic sense, a bucolic piece that sharply contrasts the idylls of country (in this case wilderness) life with the miseries and harshness of “civilization.” It is easy to understand Ephraim’s behaviors and motivations if we remember that, “The characters in such works are often vehicles for the expression of the author’s moral [or] social views.” Something else I learned about pastorals while researching for this review was that, “the pastoral convention sometimes uses the device of ‘singing matches’ between two or more” characters. That explains all the poetry! (Merriam Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature [1995].) (To be fair, much of it is structurally quite complex and follows demanding forms.)

Is Song of the Loon realistic? No way. Historically accurate? Not by a long shot! But it’s not supposed to be. It can’t even be described as revisionist history for as Amory himself said, “…the most important element of the book … was its poetic distance from reality, which per se has little or nothing to do with the homosexual experience….” The book presents an idealized vision of a gay utopia, and the historical setting was necessary to drive home the contrast between the Society of the Loon and the intolerant townsfolk. As an example, consider Amory’s presentation of Indians as speaking “the Indian language,” a sort of universal symbolic code. A trained anthropologist, Amory declares in an epigraph that he has “taken certain very European characters from [Spanish pastoral novels], painted them a gay aesthetic red, and transplanted them to the American wilderness.”

As a homoerotic fantasy of freedom (to paraphrase Bronski’s introduction), as a pastoral novel, as an artifact of its time, and as an benchmark in gay literature it’s well worth strapping on your loin cloth, hopping into your canoe, and crossing a river of history, braving eddies of social movement and sandbars of camp, to experience it.

Amazon USA Amazon UK

A Rake Ain’t Nothin’ But A Garden Implement

by Tracey Pennington

You see them everywhere in the romance genre. Some are young; more are in their mid-thirties to early forties. The vast majority of them are handsome and desirable. Most are in professions strongly associated with masculinity—soldiers, sailors and ships’ captains, cowboys, pioneers, police and private detectives, knights, rebels. Frequently, they are of royal or noble blood; at the very least, they are well-bred gentry. If they are commoners, they have learned the speech and the manners necessary to speak to those of high society. They are intelligent, charming and witty, the men of the virginal heroine’s dreams.

I refer, of course, to those romance heroes who belong to the most under-acknowledged group in the romance genre:

The repressed homosexuals.

Now, of course, men with these qualities do not have to be repressed gays. It’s just that, based on their behavior, they so often seem to be. Despite their authors’ best efforts to make them attractive, their actions tend to be a little bit…off, thanks to the unrealistic, even ludicrous, expectations of the genre. It is, for example, highly unlikely that a man who had been at sea since he was thirteen would be as virginal as a child oblate cloistered in a medieval monastery. It is also highly unlikely that a thirtysomething or fortysomething lord described as a “rake” and as having scandals swirling about him would be coming to his marriage bed as pure as well water.

Yet romance readers want the heroes to have shunned sex and prostitutes, to have the heroine be the only woman he has ever touched. Which is patently ridiculous. It also carries with it the implication that sex is inherently bad and dirty, and you must only ever do such a disgusting thing with your soulmate, because only Twu Wuv can make sex endurable.

And heaven forfend that the man ever notice another attractive woman for a single second after he and his dewy, limpid-eyed, brain-dead little bride have fallen in love, become affianced, or, perish the thought, married. It is clearly impossible, say the conventions of the genre, to appreciate the beauty of one woman while being married to another…even though, down through millennia, males of all races, nations and cultures have done this with considerable ease.

Thanks to that whole “Sex is Bad” attitude, not only are romance heroes not allowed to look upon other women with desire, their authors frequently compel them not to look at their girlfriends, fiancées, or wives with desire, either…which leads to some silly situations. If your historical romantic hero exhibits most or all of the following traits, your reader may be excused for thinking that he is flamingly gay:

a) He’s a veteran of a bloody war recovering from a wound, and never exhibits any sign of trauma or pain, despite the somewhat limited medical treatment of his day…yet he almost faints when he sees his bride walking up the aisle toward him.

b) He tells his bride after the wedding that he shouldn’t have married her.

c) He tells his bride after the wedding that marrying her was very, very wrong.

d) He tells other people—when he is stone cold sober—that he should not have married his wife, and that the marriage was a complete mistake.

e) Shortly after the marriage, he finds an excuse to go off on a dangerous mission which will separate him from his beloved bride for an indefinite period of time.

f) He feels insanely guilty when he looks at her, for reasons that are never discussed, or even acknowledged.

g) He regards kissing his own girlfriend/betrothed/wife as “taking advantage of her,” and again feels severe guilt.

h) He pushes his girlfriend/betrothed/wife away in horror when she kisses him.

i) Despite the author’s insistence that he is deeply in love with his girlfriend/betrothed/wife and respects her mind, he avoids speaking to her unless other people are present, and shuns all private conversations with her.

j) He tucks her into bed as if she were a three-year-old, then scurries off to his own bedroom on the opposite side of the house.

k) Although physically capable and mentally sound, he has never had sex with his wife, whom he claims to love and respect, and shows absolutely no interest in ever doing so.

l) He has a male best friend from whom he is absolutely inseparable.

m) The best friend lives nearby and makes frequent overnight visits where the hero lives—if he doesn’t live in the same house/barracks/ship/etc.

n) The hero spends every evening, as well as every spare moment, with this best friend, and tells him things that he would never dream of telling his wife.

o) The hero tells the reader in vast detail just how handsome and attractively dressed the best friend is. He does this repeatedly, chapter after chapter.

p) His best friend shares his interests, has known him forever, hugs him “roughly” and “in a manly way” during moments of great emotion, often takes the hero’s hand while talking to him, and takes long contemplative walks in the moonlight with the hero as they discuss the hero’s troubles.

q) The best friend is either not married or not happily married. If he is not married, he shows no inclination to wed. Ever.

Honestly, people. DO THE MATH.

Some will clearly say that these are the conventions of the romance genre. But conventions can change and expand; they have in mystery, science fiction and fantasy. Romance, however, seems to be stuck between two extremes—the more modern romances which start with passionate, improbable sex in the first chapter and the more traditional romances in which love = virginity = sexual repression. I tend to think that the former is, in part, a reaction to the latter.

I think that it’s possible for a hero to have visited prostitutes for sex before his marriage AND to still be more than capable of loving his wife. I think that he could have personal, societal, cultural, legal, even medical reasons for wanting to remain chaste before marriage…AND feel and experience plenty of Unresolved Sexual Tension. I think that the hero can have a best friend that he loves—yes, let us use the right word for once!–and yet not come across as if he is secretly longing to elope to Massachusetts with the man.

I would like the hero and heroine to be intelligent adults—not nymphomaniacs or convent-raised schoolgirls who swoon in horror at the thought of S-E-X.

Romance. With grown-ups. Grown-ups who act like grown-ups, and not like boy and girl idiots of thirteen.

Wow. What a concept.

Any takers?

Review: Living Upstairs by Joseph Hansen


by Renee Manley

From the Publisher

When Hoyt Stubblefield ambles into the cavernous bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard where nineteen-year-old Nathan Reed works, his good looks and wry Texas charm hold the boy spellbound. Within a week, Nathan has packed up his few belongings and moved in with Hoyt – into his upstairs rooms in a rickety old house, and into his bed. And so Nathan embarks on the happiest adventure of his young life, and the most ominous. For Hoyt inhabits not just the world of ideas, books, music, and paintings, which Nathan eagerly shares with him, but a secret world as well, a world of danger Hoyt forbids the young man to enter. Against the vividly evoked background of shabby side-street Hollywood in the 1940s, Joseph Hansen draws on his own real-life memories to people Living Upstairs with a large cast of colorful, outrageous, tragic, and hilarious characters from those far-off times. On a deeper level, this is a love story about lies, dangerous acquaintances, and the betrayal of innocence. Its often sunny hours are shadowed by masks, mirror images, and merged identities, by murky politics and paintings so dark their naked sexuality is almost hidden. Last, and first, it is haunted by an unsolved murder.

Review

Joseph Hansen’s Living Upstairs is a disappointing book despite its intriguing premise (I actually love the setting and the basic storyline). The presentation was, to me, too dry and bland, and of all the characters involved, only Nathan stuck with me. The story’s written in present tense from start to finish, which can put some readers off, but that’s not the problem.

The writing’s devoid of emotion. Hansen’s style is sparse, and I mean sparse. Short and choppy, his sentences tested my patience after a while because they forced a certain distance between me and the characters that I simply couldn’t bridge. It’s the same effect that Hemingway’s writing has on me (which is why I dislike Hemingway so much). The characters are almost interchangeable, and since I couldn’t get myself to care for any of them (save for Nathan), I couldn’t remember who they were whenever they appeared in a scene. Though we have Nathan for the main character, the large cast lends the novel the feel of an ensemble movie, which isn’t bad if it weren’t for the risk the writer runs while attempting what would’ve been fascinating character studies. And they are fascinating if one were to consider the quirks of each man or woman who appears in any given scene. Unfortunately, they come away feeling anemic in varying degrees, again because of the emotional distance created by Hansen’s style and because there are so many subplots being juggled at the same time. Nathan and Hoyt move within Hollywood circles, so everyone’s work is practically the same (writer, talent scout, actor, and a variety of sleazebags), and that makes it even more difficult to distinguish one character from the other.

The erotic elements of the novel are beautifully rendered, however. Hansen touches on them in fleeting, subtle ways, so much so that one’s imagination is stoked enough and then allowed to explore on its own (certainly a far, far cry from the step-by-step sex-scene-writing techniques that seem to pervade many erotic titles nowadays). In this case, Hansen’s staccato literary style works to perfection. And while the characters aren’t as interesting as they can be, the pathos of their respective situations can be sensed and appreciated if only on a very small, very limited scale.

As far as Nathan goes, I liked him because he’s such a sweet, naïve kid, but he does pose a few problems. What can be his greatest flaw is that he’s a bit of a cliché. He’s young, he’s innocent, he’s bumbling his way through the story, and everyone wants to shag him. Whether or not you want to, you’ll always be reminded of how devastatingly beautiful Nathan is because he’s always getting groped, propositioned, kissed, and called Adonis by men and women alike.

A real shame. I read the book description and loved what I saw, but it was a frustrating process for me in the end.

Buy it

Discussion: Happy Ever After/For Now…

Posted by Erastes

One thing that I have a great deal of trouble with, as a writer in this genre, is the Happy Ever After.

It’s wonderful now of course, that any writer of contemporary gay fiction can literally include the “Will you marry me?” into their plot and even go on to describe the wedding. This is something that would once have only been believable in a fantasy universe.

I read blogs from gay authors and gay friends and it’s so wonderful to see them getting married, doing the whole “I do” thing (or “I will” over here, for the historical accurists!!)

There has always been a lot of gay marriage in fanfiction and there will, I’m guessing, now be more, now the laws are loosening round the world. In fanfiction the writer can assume enlightenment in future worlds or Alternative Universes. In Harry Potter, a thousand Remus Lupins have already married a thousand Sirius Blacks because J K Rowling hasn’t said “there is no gay marriage in the Wizard World,” and as the WW’s laws are different in many respects, it’s not a great leap of faith to write speculatively on the subject.

For the fantasy/spec-fic writers, all they need to do is have a world far far away, create their own rules and they can have men only planets, male marriages even male pregnancies.

And so now for the first time writers of contemporary fiction can encompass the Romance Genre more than ever they did before. Their gay heroes can not only fall into each others’ arms at the end of their novels but they can get married too. Good for them!

Not so though the men loving men of yesteryear…

My first novel was based in the Regency – 1820 onwards, and while the two heroes have myriad obstacles to their relationship throughout the book, (as befits a romance), the biggest obstacle of all is the time they live in.

Homosexuality was not only illegal in England and Wales (right up until 1967 in fact) but in the 19th Century it was still punishable by hanging. It was harder to convict than it had been; the law required a higher burden of proof than it had done in previous centuries, – penetration and ejaculation had to be proved and two witnessess were required, so you can see how difficult that should have been to prove, but even so, in England, the first quarter of the 19th century had more hangings for sodomy than at any similar time span before.

Even if the death sentence wasn’t pronounced due to that higher burden of proof, the court could reduce the sentence to one of “Assault with Sodomitical intent” (with the horrible twist that the person being “assaulted” could also be found just as guilty for acquiesing to such assault)

As you will see from the wonderful resources at The Old Bailey, this was a “misdemeanor” and NO TESTIMONY was required. Sentences of 6 months to 2 years were common, often with “hard labour.”

In this day and age this would not be a particularly scary sentence, but even a few months in Newgate Prison might kill you then: from disease which was rife; or if you weren’t strong, or didn’t have any money to pay for “extras” (such as food and bedding and your (strictly unofficial) release fee)

This may not have stopped the casual encounters around St Paul’s Churchyard or prevented men from visiting the Molly Houses that had been springing up for some time previously, but it must have made co-habiting difficult and dangerous. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, hell – we know it did! – but it would have had to have been done with some discretion. Even noblemen had been dragged from their homes under this suspicion, and you’d be a brave man to trust your servants when the rewards of betrayal might be more money than they had ever seen in their lives. Then add the constant threat of blackmail to the mix… The kind of fic I like to read emcompasses this reality.

As for earlier times? Hanging was too good for ‘em. Burning, castration, banishment (as outlaws!), castration FOLLOWED by stoning to death, and other such wonders.

So how to end it?

In “The Highwayman” (review to come) Emily Veinglory manages her Happy With Each Other Perhaps Forever very deftly, without making it unrealistic. Lee Rowan’s officers, both aboard the same ship in “Ransom” and “Winds of Change” may not find it easy, but close proximity and dark enclosed places aboard help a little – in spite of the risk of the dreaded Number 29 Article of War. You don’t doubt that they will do anything they can to stay together, but you do know that it won’t be easy and it may not last long. I LIKE that uncertainty.

Personally I like to leave a lot to my readers’ imaginations. I want the reader to think at the end -”What will happen? Will they find somewhere they can live out their lives? Or will the weight of society destroy them in the end? What must it be like, not even to feel safe when you lock the door at night?”

I like them to weigh up not only the danger of the period and make a decision of their own.

What about you? Are you a fan of Happy Ever After – the slow fade at the end and undying love? Or do you like a bit of bite to your historical? Will you only read a story that you know how it ends (e.g. a category romance) or do you revel in the fear that “SHIT – they might not make it!”

Do tell!

Review: Street Lavender by Chris Hunt

Review by Lee Benoit 

Street Lavender cover 

In the current issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide literary critic David Bergman describes four dynamics that define gay literature: creating art; providing positive images; changing attitudes; and market viability (see comment below).  In Chris Hunt’s Street Lavender we get all four, neatly and delightfully packaged.  And it wrung tears from me, which isn’t something Bergman seemed concerned about, but which secures Hunt’s twenty-year-old novel a place on my “do not lend” shelf.

 

The book is set in 1880s London, around the time of the passage of 1885’s Criminal Law Amendment Act with its Section 11 that effectively (re)criminalized all male homosexual behavior; the law is mentioned once in passing, it figures not at all in the story.  Why not?  Because Willie Smith, our protagonist, couldn’t care less about what Parliament was up to, and neither does the reader, for the reader’s completely swept away by Willie’s distinctive voice and story.  The novel apes the style and structure of Victorian bildungsromans to great effect.

 

Willie is the best kind of unreliable narrator.  He’s got a terrific sense of moment (Hunt lets him Capitalize Important Things, which might grate on some but I found charming), he’s cheeky, and even as a lad (like any good Victorian epic we begin at the beginning) he’s blithely cognizant of his own shortcomings and his personal responsibility for the trajectory of his journey through life (until we leave him some 340 pages later at the ripe old age of 17).

 

I didn’t expect to laugh out loud at the adventures of a Victorian child prostitute, but I did.  The novel itself is gently tongue-in-cheek in parts, but Willie is genuinely funny.  And the humor matures right along with Willie.  For instance, at twelve, Willie arrives from his slum to live with his middle class aunt Louisa, her husband, and their young son Georgey, with whom  Willie is already half in love upon arrival.  The first order of business is to give the little guttersnipe a bath.  His delicate, histrionic aunt quails at the prospect of doing it herself (the idea of Helping a Poor Relation appeals, but the flesh-and-blood reality is another matter):

“When she contemplated the actual me … she pressed the back of her hand against her forehead in a theatrical gesture of stress and despair.“‘Mrs. Braddon!’ she cried [to the housekeeper].  ‘See to him.’“Georgey giggled.  I grimaced.“‘Mamma, may I stay?’ Georgey pleaded.“‘How does Willie feel about such an impudent request?’ asked my aunt who adored him.“‘Yeah, stay,’ I appealed to my sweet little friend.“I needed some support at the idea of being seen to by Mrs. Braddon.  She had the inevitability of a machine.” (pp. 67-68) 

At the risk of irritating you with another passage, I offer this as an example of Willie’s sense of humor at 17.  He has been living and modeling for a houseful of artists in Bloomsbury, and chafes at the callous way they bring street people in to model for them, giving them a glimpse of an alien, alluring life, only to dump them back onto the streets before the paint is dry.  Unbeknownst to his benefactors, Willie undertakes to keep a pot of soup at the ready, using the proceeds of his own modeling to feed his fellows:

“Oh! The eruption when I was found out!“Franklin was furious, Clara upset, and Charles rampant with sarcasm.” (p. 285) 

This passage reveals another of Hunt’s triumphs.  Willie’s knowledge of his world grows with his knowledge of himself, and Hunt never lets this boundary slip.  The power of the writing shows in the attention to period detail, both physical and psychological.

 

Willie is the sort of fellow who notices details, so it’s perfectly natural for him to describe a room, a nighttime street, or a whore’s dress.  What’s remarkable, however, is that as Willie travels from one strange land to another he grafts his observations onto those he had before; he sees and describes objects and settings and characters through the newly ground lens of what he’s experienced in the mean time.  This device brings Victorian London alive in a way I didn’t expect (for example, the younger Willie describes bedbugs as an unpleasant fact of life in his Aldgate digs, but when he encounters them again after one of his many reversals of fortune they’re a horror salient of the physical and psychological distance he’s traveled).

 

Which brings me to another point of interest for historical fiction aficionados.  There’s no taint of psychological gentrification in Willie’s story.  Self-reflective though he is, no 20th century sensibility seeps in, not even when Willie decides he’s proud of being an “Urning.”  The classically-influenced German idea that men who love men comprise female psyches in male bodies (better known, I think, as “Uranian”) gives Willie a sense of connectedness to men like himself throughout history, but that history extends no further than its 1880s parameters.  Willie knows there’s a wrongness to his interest in his young cousin Georgy, but at the end of the day he’s more worried that the spoiled, simpering Georgy doesn’t approach his Ideal than that it signals any moral turpitude on his part.  No Freudian imagery in sight – very refreshing.

 

Each of the six parts of the novel gives us one discrete leg of Willie’s journey, each with its own narrative arc.  That the six parts hang so elegantly together is due to three factors: Willie’s inimitable voice; a cast of characters that winds in and out like a cat through chair legs; and two overarching themes.  The first theme, Ideal Love, is established at the very beginning of the story with Willie’s elder brother Charley as the ideal (squick alert: incest and underage tampering, even by the standards of the day).  The theme is developed and refined throughout the narrative to the deeply satisfying conclusion.  The second theme is political.  Don’t groan!  Willie’s a remarkably political animal and gets himself in trouble with folks high and low for his critical and idiosyncratic approach to social justice.  Willie’s own self-awareness is molded in large part by his political opinion of himself (at one point, poignantly, he hangs a picture of Saint George in the room from which he prostitutes himself, as a model for his own behavior, tilting at the dragon of poverty and injustice).

 

Believe it or not, these two themes twine together perfectly.  In some sense, Willie is Love, caroming through his life in search of a Beloved worthy of him, and of whom he must be worthy.  If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that Willie has to hit rock bottom before he can merit the love he seeks.  While, Hunt remains true to his character in that Willie himself sees the purgatory of his adolescence as a sort of extended purification rite, I thought I smelled Moral Judgement in the air around my reading nook once or twice.

 

This minor criticism shouldn’t deter readers.  By the thoroughly delightful, carefully hinted-at surprise ending Willie is ready for love, self-assured enough to stake his claim, and mindful enough of the consequences of living without love to defend that claim fiercely.  And we readers are so firmly allied to his cause by then that any ending other than the bittersweetly happy one we get is unthinkable.

Review: Dangerous Moonlight by Mel Keegan

Reveiw by Lee Benoit

Years ago, when I used to search desperately for anything and everything in gay fantasy (that is, when I would read anything), I came across Mel Keegan. The early works, regardless of genre, had a “boy’s own” feel that bored me after a while. The emphatic exceptions were Keegan’s historical novels (Fortunes of War, The Deceivers, White Rose of Night, and Nocturne [if historical fiction can be allowed a vampyre or three]). Dangerous Moonlight is the newest, set around the accession of George II in 1727, and I recommend it highly.

Like Keegan’s better works, Dangerous Moonlight is densely plotted, with fully realized characters and enviably palpable settings. It’s the story of Nick Gray, bastard son of a wealthy jewelry merchant and horse breeder, and Harry Trevellion, erstwhile law student paupered by his father’s rash investment in one of Britain’s corporate colonization enterprises. They meet when Harry, turned highwayman to raise capital for a stud farm of his own, holds up the carriage in which Nick is transporting goods to a well-heeled client of his father’s. Sparks fly, but no one falls into bed with anyone – yet. We’re not given a drawing-room romp; indeed, anyone with a title appears fleetingly or off-page. This is an historical adventure: romance lies at its core, but as lifeblood rather than life itself. Eroticism, likewise, provides grace notes to plot and character, but never overtakes the story. Given the historical setting, the personalities of the characters, and the plot itself, the restrained (though nevertheless hot-blooded) treatment of romance and eroticism are exactly as they should be.

In another gratifying auctorial decision, Keegan gives us two fully adult and self-aware men as protagonists, then deftly deploys then in such a way that neither overshadows the other. Nick is the “good son,” scant months older than his father’s wastrel of a legitimate heir. He has learned his father’s businesses, undertakes the perilous duties of courier for the jeweler, and has studied sword and firearms to great effect. He’s humble and principled, and loves his father. Therefore, the father’s decision to disinherit the nasty Paul in favor of Nick seems logical. This is, naturally, the source of a great deal of trouble.

Harry is a bit of a Robin Hood figure: he chooses his quarry carefully, preying upon slavers and coal barons and abusers of animals. He is self-interested, arrogant, and unscrupulous, but Keegan saves him from caricature by giving him a romantic heart and fierce sense of loyalty. His moral compass turns upon honor among thieves, but pragmatically rather than romantically. Nick has a hard time seeing Harry as one of the good guys when Harry robs him a second time, nearly seducing him in the process. The confrontation that ensues is the germ of love, and the bedrock of respect, between the two men.

Here I must mention another of the most welcome aspects of the novel. Both Nick and Harry are experienced, self-accepting lovers of men. There is no moral hand-wringing, no tremulous surrender of virginity, no whiff of alpha-beta action at all. Nick and Harry meet as equals in bed and out; each admires and respects the other’s skills and personality (among other things!). They are canny about the risks of sodomy in their time, and carry on carefully (one wonderful detail has Nick refusing to kiss Harry before he’s shaved, in order to avoid tell-tale whisker-burns). Keegan gives us a story with homosexuality placed firmly in its historical context, but in which being outed is not the fulcrum of the plot. Furthermore, their sexuality doesn’t exist in a vacuum – former lovers of both protagonists figure in the plot in important capacities and the mature responses of each lover to his beloved’s past is gratifyingly real.

The conflict is carefully developed, perhaps a bit slowly, but with 349 closely printed pages to work with, many readers will welcome the fermenting process. There’s plenty of description here, but it’s all organic to the plot (if a sunset or horse race or Roman road is described, there’s a reason for it), and delicious (even at its ugliest). Likewise class relationships are carefully explored without being overdone: Harry and Nick are decent to servants and rent boys, disdainful of the idle (or predatory) rich, and judge everyone else on their merits and usefulness to their purposes. That pragmatism, while not the stuff of romantic heroes, perfectly suits two young men trying against steep odds to make their way in a world that has scant place for them, and represents a literary risk by Keegan that pays off in spades.

Nick’s father’s new will is at the center of the conflict, and without spoiling anything I can tell you there is no heroic, anachronistic triumph of the good bastard over the dissipated former heir. There are court scenes that unfold, not as a starry-eyed 21st century reader might wish, but exactly as one would expect in an age that valued birth status over character. Nick’s half-brother Paul is the bad guy, but the system is the real villain here. There are nice indictments of the aristocracy, but none that ring untrue given the state of the world in the first quarter of the 18th century. (Disclaimer: I’m not a particular student of this era in Europe, but rather of colonialism, so I can’t vouch for my interpretations except to say what rang true to me and what didn’t. Not much didn’t.) The characters we cheer for are the ones who work, neither the hapless victims nor the genteel parasites. That seems a pretty modern concept, but after all, the modern era was young and fresh in Harry and Nick’s time, old enough to know itself, young enough to rebel a little, rash enough to revel, wise enough to hedge its bets – just like Keegan’s protagonists.

The book is available only through Keegan’s web site, which is a shame as it makes the price high (the shipping from Australia accounts for a lot of that). It’s worth a read, regardless.

Buy it

Review: Gaywyck by Vincent Virga

Gaywyck is the first gay Gothic novel. Long out of print, this classic proved that genre knows no gender. Young, innocent Robert Whyte enters a Jane-Eyre world of secrets and deceptions when he is hired to catalog the vast library at Gaywyck, a mysterious ancestral mansion on Long Island, where he falls in love with its handsome and melancholy owner, Donough Gaylord. Robert’s unconditional love is challenged by hidden evil lurking in the shadowy past crammed with dark sexual secrets sowing murder, blackmail, and mayhem in the great romantic tradition

Review by Erastes

Considered the “grandaddy of gay historical fiction” “Gaywyck” is certainly one of the first of its kind, and although not the most literary or beautifully written of the genre, it is essential reading and deserves more than a little respect that, despite being out of print, it is still being read and sought out after more than 20 years.

On the surface, it’s a familiar story: Robert Whyte does not want to conform to his father’s plans for him and through the good graces of a friend he obtains a post at Gaywyck, a mansion on Long Island in early 20th Century America owned by the mysterious Donough Gaylord.  There’s everything you expect in a Gothic Romance: faithful retainers, an animal who is almost human, mysteries of long-dead fathers and twin brothers, locked rooms, instant attraction between the protagonists and plenty of misunderstandings and conflict to keep them apart.

But it does have flaws; the language is over-blown at times and there’s a tendency to info-dump with information on architecture, flowers, paintings, decorations, furniture that I often found myself skipping forward to get to the next section that moved the story along.  Robert Whyte did not endear himself to me until the end, and even then I wouldn’t have been too unhappy if Gaylord (oh Lord…) had stuck the boy’s head in a bucket and put his foot on it.  I know I’ve written a physically frail protagonist but sheesh – he does improve. Robert – when he’s not weeping, fainting, angsting or trembling in fear is getting himself into dangerous situations that Catherine Moreland would have paid good guineas to be in and then has to be rescued by all and sundry.

It has to be said that he doesn’t exactly do much work, either, for all that he’s being paid quite a decent sum to do so.

There are some excellent secondary characters, although everyone appears to be gay (friends and servants) which is always an irritant, but I particularly enjoyed Gaylord’s New York friends who were some light relief from all the brooding and fainting.  Despite all that, I did like the way the love affair progressed and the internal conflicts the characters had to overcome to get close to each other.

The solving of the mystery was actually a surprise to me, and a really good one, so stick with it because there’s a good twist at the end.  Oh – and the epilogue broke me into tiny tiny pieces and I cried my eyes out, but then I’m a big soppy.

There’s a sequel of sorts in Vadrial Vail, where Whyte and Gaylord make a cameo appearance but I haven’t read that yet – review when I have.

All in all, a decent Gothic romance.  It is showing its age a little, in my opinion. “Master of Seacliff” is similar to this but superior in many ways, but as one of the forerunners of the genre, it is worth a spin.

I would have given it 3 stars as it didn’t light any fires under me or do anything I hadn’t seen before, but due to its age and durability, and the fact that it made me cry, I’m adding an extra star.

It is out of print at the moment, but you can get hold of copies here and there for a reasonable price with a little searching.

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Review: The Charioteer by Mary Renault

It’s hard for me to do a review of this book for many reasons.  It seems a bit cheeky for me to even try – and it’s  been around for so long I would imagine that just about everyone I know has read it, but if this review tempts one person who hasn’t to give it a whirl, then I’ll have achieved something. So perhaps it’s less of a review and more of a personal rave. That I love it, is a given.

It’s a simple enough story on the surface. Laurie, young idealistic, attempts to defend Ralph, the head boy at his school, when he is about to be sent down for “misbehaving with a younger boy.”  Ralph finds out before Laurie can act and warns him off. During the discussion Ralph gives Laurie a copy of Plato’s Phaedrus which he keeps with him and uses as a model for his life. Time moves on – World War 2 happens and we next catch up with Laurie in hospital where he’s developing a heavy crush on a concientious objector, Andrew – and then he meets Ralph again.

The Charioteer is the thread and metaphor which runs throughout the book. The Charioteer of Phaedrus handles two horses, one runs smoothly and obediently, the other fights against the control – it is up to the charioteer to make them run as a pair.  The parallels for the charioteer are myriad – the comparison between “normal” sexual behaviour and the homosexual – the love that Laurie feels for Andrew and the relationship he eventually forms with Ralph to name just two.

I’m sure there are tons of themes that the more intellectual have found/discussed to the skies, but the best thing for me is that it’s a lesson in how to write – without actually writing.  The book is sparse to the extreme, it’s like she wrote a much longer book and then cut huge hunks out of the middles of each scene. Conversations are handled in real time, characters don’t finish sentences, and there are utterly intriguing gaps where the reader “loses time” – where something may have happened, a look, a kiss or a sex scene.  It’s amazingly skilful and all I could do was smash my keyboard to pieces in frustration that I’ll never come close to that.

The characters are indelibly imprinted on my mind, all except  perhaps Andrew, which is probably deliberate because we see him only through Laurie’s eyes and Laurie isn’t objective. I found him too remote to be interesting, whereas the characters that Laurie meets at the queer party he attends are stronger – and my heart broke over the young airman who comes over brash and unbearable until you think about what he’s doing, for his job. Ralph is irresistable – as Laurie finds him to be, and I really felt the attraction, he’s quite my favourite character – but all of them are amazingly well done, complex, contrary, stupid and real.

One of the best books I’ve ever read – regardless of theme – and one of the Essential Reads for anyone interested in the genre, in my opinion.

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Textbook: Gay & Lesbian Historical Fiction

 

£40.00

Description

The first extensive study of gay and lesbian historical fiction, this book demonstrates how the highly popular sub-genre helps us understand gay and lesbian history. It shows not only why the sub-genre should be taken more seriously by historians but also how it implicitly works to ameliorate divisions between Christianity and homosexuality.

Contents

Can We Talk?
Spot the Homo: Definitions
Revisionist Histories from Mysterious Hauntings
Coming-Out Stories as Conversion Narratives
Chosen Communities: Familiar Stories from Strange Bedfellows
Romancing the Past: The Uses of Identification

Author Biographies

NORMAN W. JONES is Assistant Professor of English at The Ohio State University, USA.

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Review: Standish by Erastes

Posted by girluknow

Standish is a lush, intensely romantic love story between scholarly Ambrose Standish and worldly Rafe Goshawk. Though the men are thoroughly unalike, the author does an excellent job of persuading the reader that theirs is a love almost predestined in its depth and steadfastness. Never once did I doubt that Ambrose and Rafe loved each other and continued to love each other, despite brief entanglements with other men in the course of the story. This was the story’s strength; the author has a distinct talent for conveying the passion between his characters.

At the same time, the various driving forces in the relationship are realistic. Jealousy and doubt cause separation, but the greater force of their love eventually brings them back into contact with each other. The two men behave as men, not communicating when they need to most, acting rashly when they shouldn’t, allowing pride to make a difficult situation worse, and occasionally succumbing to pure lust. The author did a good job of making me want to smack both men at various moments in the story. I was emotionally invested and if an author can make that happen, he gets big points from me, no matter what other errors I felt existed in the work.

The point of view switching was a little frustrating. Just when I was beginning to involve myself with the reactions of one character, I was abruptly handed over to another character’s internal musings. This prevented me from getting as attached to the characters as I could have been. I think Standish would be a more powerful reading experience had the author switched points of view chapter to chapter or at least scene to scene.

The author has a good grasp of realistic character development. I enjoyed seeing how much Ambrose changed from start to finish. I liked him much better as a person by the end of the story. He was stronger and wiser without entirely losing his romantic heart. His words to Rafe at the end revealed how much he’d changed and how much he hadn’t. I especially liked his last line of dialogue; both romantic and matter-of-fact. I felt the ways in which he’d changed did make him better suited to a lifetime with a man like Rafe. Rafe changed more slowly or was still the process of changing for the better by the story’s end. That was to be expected, considering his upbringing. He had much more to overcome, but I did feel he was beginning to overcome it just in time.

The author made character motivations clear to me in all but one instance. Alvisi’s motivations remained something of a mystery, so I felt perplexed by his involvement. I also found it bothersome that Rafe put up with Alvisi as long as he did. I understand that Rafe felt like a debased creature who deserved to fall into darkness, but most of the time, that seemed nothing more than a personal justification for satiating himself. He might have been suffering emotionally but he wasn’t suffering physically–to say the least. His grief and self-abasement would have made more of an impression on me if he had denied himself pleasure instead. Of course that wouldn’t have been as realistic, so maybe I’m being unfair. I just wanted to see a little more nobility on Rafe’s part, I guess. I wanted a sense that he was cleaning up his act, so to speak, instead of wallowing in debauchery disguised as some sort of penitence. I was mad at Rafe for that and mad at Ambrose for not really being fair to Rafe earlier on, though they were both just being human.

That the author made me care enough to be angry with her characters’ behavior says a lot about her ability as a writer. One other thing I wanted to briefly note is the author’s way with intimate scenes. The sex in Standish was scorching and yet did not go into so much mechanical detail that I got tired of it and wanted to skim. The author included the right amount of description and all the emotion needed to make such scenes meaningful. Rafe and Ambrose were very sweet together, when they were together. I really liked that Ambrose brought out the best in Rafe. I think that was part of why I was irked at Ambrose when he was upset with Rafe, though I appreciated that Ambrose needed to have a taste of the hard realities of life in order to come to a better understanding of Rafe’s frailties. I felt the author expressed all this exceptionally well and that made the ending all the more poignant.

The author included details throughout that provided a strong verisimilitude and evoked the era without overburdening the story. The characters behaved true to their time period in speech and manners (as far as I know) and yet they stayed accessible to the modern reader. That’s another difficult balance to achieve but I felt the author was successful in this instance. Despite the problems I’ve mentioned, I enjoyed the book. It was told with the sort of passion necessary in good story-telling, a passion that kept me reading despite point of view problems. I think if the author overcomes the frenetic point of view switching in future works, he has wonderful potential for continued success.

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Review: Historical Obsessions – A romantic quartet by Julia Talbot

Four historical tales. Gentleman of Substance, Post Obsession, and two shorter stories, Remembering Pleasure and Thrust and Riposte. In Gentleman of Substance, colonial America has never been hotter than when gentrified Michael meets country bumpkin Daniel and sparks fly. The two are irresistibly drawn to one another, but will their love ruin their lives? Post Obsession gives us Markus, a bored aristocrat who begins to receive some very steamy letters from an admirer. Will the intrigue and interest continue when he meets his mysterious writer in person? Remembering Pleasure sees Alistair forgetting what a man’s touch feels like as he does his duty to wife and title. He begins to remember the pleasure of it all when his best friend, Griff, sends him a very special stable hand to help him out. And in Thrust and Riposte, swordsman Rene Godard finds ways to challenge his young pupil’s tutor Owen Tregarth, at every turn. Whether fencing with swords or words, these two duel happily, but can they survive the trouble that comes with kidnapping and strife?

Review by Erastes

A nicely balanced quartet of historical stories of men in delicious costumes and frilly shirts which they shrug off on a regular basis! Talbot does a lot of things right in these stories, her characters are deeply sexy and memorable – and all different; the sex is hot and arousing without being coarse and there is plot which – more particularly in the two longer stories – is not neglected for the sake of the sex scenes which is often the case.

Thrust and Riposte is one of the shorter tales – and is a steamy story of tutor and fencing master who spar with words, spar with swords and then finally spar with… other kinds of swords. *cough* I am a complete ignoramus when it comes to fencing, but Talbot writes the fencing scenes very convincingly and I enjoyed them a lot. I couldn’t work out when the story was set though, as it mentioned The Promenade des Anglais in Nice which wasn’t named that until the latter half of the 19th century when it seemed to be happening in the earlier half.. But all in all, a good story, full of conflict and nice exchanges, both verbal and physical.

Post Obsession is a darkly wicked tale which uses letters as its theme. I have a particular weakness for epistolary fiction and plunged into this most happily. Markus, Viscount Farringdon, starts to get letters from a mysterious man, simply called “E” who seems to know his every move, especially those moves in certain male brothels. At first Markus thinks he’s going to be blackmailed but then he realises that the man is obsessed with him – a early stalker perhaps – and he becomes obsessed with finding out who his tormentor is.

It’s a nicely paced story, leading both Markus and the reader along by the nose and throwing out red herrings and clues as it progresses. The sex when it happens doesn’t disappoint, although I wasn’t turned on by the BDSM elements – there was rather too much talk of dark marks blooming on pale skin, but I realise that others will find that more than arousing, it just didn’t interest me.

Remembering Pleasure is the short story of Alistair, a repressed man who seems to have forgotten how to enjoy himself. He takes on Mick Cole, a gorgeous and darkly handsome stableman who he finds “abusing” one of the stable lads. Instead of chucking him out on his ear he finds himself drawn into Mick’s dominant sexuality and learns that he enjoys himself. Very erotic, and lots of spanking.

A Gentleman of Substance introduces us to Michael St James – a handsome dandy who has been banished from Boston by his father for his homosexual behaviour and has to join society in Virginia. There he meets the rough and handsome Daniel Calhoun, a well-heeled gentleman farmer who thinks more of his stock than he does of society, and Michael is piqued by the challenge that seducing the man would be. He sets out to tease and torment but gradually both men realise that they mean more to each other than that, and they have to make their decisions as to where their lives will take them.

This was the story I enjoyed most, although I was once again confused as to when it was supposed to be set. The back cover said “colonial America” but there were mentions of Empire dresses and roman hairstyles which only came to the fore in the Regency.

Overall, I like Talbot’s men very much, she doesn’t fall into the habit of having her men behave as anything else but men – they aren’t chicks with dicks which is a big point in her favour. I could smell the testosterone!

I’ve mentioned the not knowing what time era I was in most of the time and yes that did bug me. In three of the tales I was completely clueless as to when they were supposed to be set, and in the fourth the blurb seemed to be wrong.. In historical fiction I find this pretty essential, it’s not enough to give me verbal clues like carriages and duels, I want specifics. Some of the language jarred me: cut off sentences abounded, as did words in the narrative like t’was and t’would which were obviously put there to evoke a sense of olde worlde but they should have be confined to a character’s thoughts. But they appeared with annoying regularity in every tale.

But, an enjoyable, arousing anthology all in all, and if you are looking for a pretty decent historical read, with good characters and some deliciously erotic m/m sex, then I do recommend Historical Obsessions.

Author’s Website

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Review: Peridot by Parhelion

Steve is a jeweler who specializes in rare gems. He’s a rare gem himself for the 1950s, a bachelor with a certain reputation. Nate, his best friend and business partner, has never had that sort of reputation, so when Steve gets the call that Nate was caught in establishment that caters more to his type, he goes home to see what’s up. Nate’s got problems of his own, as well as the most supportive and nosy family a man could ask for. He has things he wants to tell Steve, but will society allow it to happen? Parhelion’s Peridot is the tale of an unconventional romance in a very conventional time, full of laughs, tears, and ultimately, friendship.

Review by Erastes

I’ve read a lot of gay short stories since I started in this game, and not many stand out, sad to say, I do have favourites that I return to… but that’s another story…. It generally takes something like a Saki short story to stick in my head.

So the discovery of this little gem (pun not intended but unable to avoid) was a nice surprise. I had no idea who Parhelion is, never heard of him/her before, so I had no expectations going into the story – I read it because it was marginally “historical” being set in the 1950’s but actually that wasn’t obvious in the slightest, as it turned out it was being told in flashback. There’s not much actual sense of historical context – other than the masquerade that gay men had to live under (but then, they still do) but once I’d read a couple of pages I didn’t particularly care.

Basically, it’s the story of Steve Corvey, who – although he has aspirations to cut loose and travel the world – is forced through circumstances to take over his father’s jewellery store in a small town in California, and becomes entangled with an extraordinary extended family called the Jowletts and ends up staying in the small town. He takes on and sponsors a young man called Nate – who he admits that he does not feel attracted to at all – but who over the years becomes his best friend and eventually his business partner. Having a partner enables Steve to travel and to indulge in sexual activities he’s unable to do in his small town. So when in Burma on a buying trip/sexual holiday he gets a call that Nate’s in trouble, he flies home to do what he can to help, unaware that the trip will change his life.

I can’t say more than that, but please, if you haven’t read this, I highly recommend it. It’s well written, thoughtful, unexpected and has a real resonance that will (should) hang with you for days after you’ve read it.

The only thing that disappointed me was that at 14,500 words it’s just too short. There is material in this for a full-scale novel, there’s so much richness and back story half hinted at – and the Jowletts alone could easily fill a book by themselves.

However despite the truly TRULY awful cover, this little tale is reminiscent of “Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck and as that’s one of my favourite books of all time, that’s a big thumbs up for me. If you like your homoerotica to be tinged with angst and internalisation, then you’ll love this.

Parhelion – if you are out there, say Hi, will ya? I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff.

Author’s Website

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Review: Smokescreen by Stevie Woods

Lord Richard Douglas (known as Chard to his best friend Julian) has just returned from the continent with a new wife. Sir Julian – seeing them together realises he loves his friend in a way that would not be acceptable to law or society.

Review by Erastes

This is a very simplistic story which way overstayed its 12,000 words by at least half.

Quite readable, but no more than a PWP and very little porn to reward you for wading through the previous 11,500 words. It’s reminiscent of one of those Harry Potter fics where Sirius and Remus struggle with the realisation that they are gay and then end up boinking at the end.

And I couldn’t find anyone called after a type of spinach arousing… I’m not Popeye.

There’s far far too much angst. Six thousand words of repetitive angst where both men wankst on internally about how much they love each other and how the other one must never know and how it can never be when this could be dealt with quite swiftly, and have the story move along to some substance.

Another problem for me was that the author sets “Chekov’s gun” up in the first couple of paragraphs with a reference that Lord Douglas’ new wife is no better than she should be, but the gun never really goes off – so there was a promise that the plot could have been – well, a plot – but I was left feeling let down that there wasn’t any to speak of.

As to historical accuracy, I lost my eyebrows to my fringe a couple of times; there’s no mention at all of the fact that Europe is plunged in a bloody war for a start. Then there’s this quote which nearly had me ripping the thing in half

Softly interrupting, Richard asked, “Are you afraid?”

Julian frowned, puzzled. “Afraid?”

“The sentence is still death. I know it hasn’t been carried out in decades, but still, it would mean prison…Is that what’s worrying you?”

Julian was concerned, though. “Conviction is very difficult, but just an accusation…I just don’t want to ruin your life.”

Um – No. Sorry, Stevie Woods, but During the first thirty-five years of the nineteenth century more than fifty men were hanged for sodomy in England. The law had to prove BOTH penetration and ejaculation to make it a hanging offence – but a lot of accusations were reduced to assault with a sodomitical intent, which meant at least six months in prison, sometimes with the pillory and a very hefty fine.

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/history/crime/crimes.html#sodomy

I suppose part of the reason that I do point this kind of inaccuracy out is that I don’t want gay regency to follow the leader in the way that some heterosexual regencies do – where Heyer is considered canon. It was illegal, it was a death sentence, to say nothing of queer bashing, and a complete loss of reputation.

Talking of penetration… When we get to the sex I found it more textbook than arousing, and found it a little bit strange that Julian, who had never done anything with men was (from what he’d learned in books – and I’d have liked to know which books?) more knowledgeable about what to do than Richard who admitted that he had had sex with men at least a couple of times before, and really, the men were a little too girly for my taste.

So all in all, I was disappointed. I’m always excited to find a gay Regency, but this just didn’t do it for me. But if you are a fan of angsty feminine men, and don’t give a stuff about period feel, then you’ll probably like it more than I did.

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Review: Sound and Fury by B A Tortuga

Running from his past, Declan Murtagh arrives in London and immediately sets it on its ear, earning himself so many duels with his temper that he never needs to shoot for target practice any more. One early morning assignation leads him to the most intriguing, and infuriating, man he’s ever met. Seth Rhodes.

Seth is a old rakehell, and he sees something of himself in Declan, vowing to take the young man in and teach him a few things about controlling his temper, polite society, and debauchery. When they come together it’s like lit gunpowder, but what will they do when their pasts catch up to them?

Review by Erastes

Once more I encountered a problem I see again and again with these gay historicals, that don’t tell you WHEN they are occurring. When you pick up a book at the library or in a bookshop you flip over to the back and read something like: Fresh from Waterloo -Captain Carter is ordered by Lord Wellesley to quell an uprising in the SoandSo province. Will Carter be able to infiltrate the warlord’s defences? Blah blah…

So we know where – and when – we are!

But this (and many others I read recently) has no clues as to setting it firmly WHEN. And call me picky, but I like to know! The early and mid 19 th Century was a hugely transformative century, the modern civilisation was being born and even 20 years here and there made a large difference to the fashions, the language, the transport etc.

So I had to ASSUME it was pre-Victorian, even Regency perhaps but I had no idea, and as I said, it’s about the sixth book I’ve read recently (more if you count the four short stories of J Talbots) that has this problem and I’m getting more and more sensitive to it. /rant

However, the books starts in a promising fashion, our hero Seth is acting as second to a friend’s duel. The antagonist Declan Murtagh (who is surprised that Seth knows he’s Irish!!…no jokes please) is a kind of D’Artagnan figure when we first meet him, and he admits that he’s been in eight duels in a fortnight. Seth becomes attracted to the young man, invites him back to the house for breakfast and Declan stays for good, and they are shagging before you can say “what era is this?”

If you like long long LONG sex scenes you’ll love this – the first sex scene goes on for 22 pages!!! – about 5000 words. I have trouble writing entire short stories of that length… The book is 35k words long approx and about 18k of those are sex. They are fairly hot, but really, who wants to wank for 5k??? Ouchie.

However – unless my version had something missing – I couldn’t find any actual plot at all. There’s a “conflict” shoe-horned in half way through which causes Declan to bolt but the resolution is weak and the reunion is unrealistic. After its promising start the book deteriorated into a series of rather strange arguments which seemed to have no point, a lot of scenes of the characters eating rather anachronistic things and the marathon love-making scenes as mentioned.

The writing isn’t bad, at all, it’s engaging and I warmed to both characters early on – surprisingly they are three dimensional but I’d like have have seen them given something to do other than.. well, you know. The trouble is that it got boring and I just thought OMG NOT AGAIN – flipped forward for pages – which meant I only read about half of this book at most because when I saw them (after a break of about five paragraphs) getting into another clinch I just kept turning pages until they’d both spent. Again.  It actually feels very much like a converted RPG, now I come to think about it.

If you want huge tender sex scenes, you’ll love it, but if you want some story with your sex you’ll be disappointed, it’s probably one of the longest PWP’s I’ve ever read.

Author’s Website

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Review: An East Wind Blowing by Mel Keegan

Set in the very depths of the Dark Ages, in the northeast of a country not yet known as England. The Romans have recently departed, though fragments of their world still linger on. The native Britons are being pressed back by the barbarian Angles from over the water, as they sail in on the east wind seeking new land to settle. Ronan and Bryn are two young men eager to defend their land against the invaders, but Ronan is a common freeman, and Bryn the son of an overweening lord. As with his Fortunes of War and White Rose of Night, Mel Keegan conjures up an atmospheric tale in which love between men is forged in the battles they must fight.

Review by Erastes

I don’t know much about post Roman “England” (as it wasn’t yet called England) at all, but this book certainly did enough to convince me that the author knew what they were doing.

Ronan is a son of an artisan in a village in what is now Yorkshire and he goes to the cheif’s town (Deventio) to help train a horse. There he persuades the chief to train him as a warrior and falls into a brief relationship with a beautiful cripple boy, whilst at the same time having a UST relationship with the chief’s son, Bryn.

Then the Angles come, warlike and ravaging, from the East and Deventio is destroyed.   This is where the story begins, really.

It’s a good adventure story, with action, romance and some nice sexy scenes. there are a few negative reviews on Amazon but I didn’t really find the problems they talked about. The characters did seem to get together a little too easily but they were both sexually active and there weren’t any taboos about m/m sex in their world. (How accurate that is, I couldn’t tell, and I doubt that there’s any historical evidence to say one way or the other, but the main characters are pre-christian and I would imagine that the Christian prudity only came in later)

There are rather a lot of m/m relationships actually, and it does lean towards OKHomo – “Everyone’s Gay and Everyone’s Fine About It” but I let that slide and concentrated on the story. After all, how do I know what the attitude to homosexuality was in the Dark Ages? Keegan bases it on a warrior culture, along the lines of the Sacred Band, and it’s believable enough.

All in all, pretty enjoyable. Not an earth shattering read, it won’t grab your heart and break it, there’s no real conflict and conflict resolution (relating the characters, at least) but it’s a decent enough page turner.  It almost struck me as a prequel and I would have liked to have seen what happened next.

The editing, though, was appalling, far too many mistakes in the text to forgive and not the quality I would have expected from a professional publisher (the now defunct Gay Mens Press) and the cover is just giggleworthy. There is also a lot of repetition which seemed to be there just for filling and some of it is contradictory to earlier canon.

The other snag is that Mel Keegan’s books are being withdrawn and will soon only be available on his website. You can pick up this book on Amazon at the moment, but you can’t get all of them there, and some of them are outrageous prices.

I don’t know if I’d be tempted to read another MK book, though, it was good but not good enough to tempt me to rush out and buy all the others.

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Review: As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

Narrator Jacob Cullen, educated but now a servant, flees his royalist household, taking his bride of just an hour and his brother after a cold blooded murder. In a second act of terrible brutality, he beats and rapes his wife. Becoming a pikeman in Cromwell’s New Model Army, he befriends Christopher Ferris, an idealist disaffected by the Army and in search of a less tainted freedom. And so the two desert and head for London and the pleasures of Cheapside–and each other. Jacob becomes “a fornicator of unnatural appetite, in thrall to an Atheist… I was in love”. But Ferris is intent on establishing a commune, a prospect Jacob reviles, yet to keep his lover he has no choice but to join the motley band.

Review by Erastes

Jacob Cullen, a man of hasty temper and with an unstable temperment is forced, for reasons I won’t divulge, to flee the manor where he serves with his wife and his brother. Very soon he falls out with them and they desert him, leaving him to attempt to walk to Bristol. He falls in with The New Model Army (Cromwell’s Army) and joins them for a month or two in which time he becomes obsessed with Christopher Ferris, a troubled but basically good man.

This is a very clever book, in a lot of ways. It’s incredibly well researched, and makes my version of the English Civil War seem rather shallow in comparison. Tthe immersion into the period is deep, convincing and realistic. It does what I always appreciate in a book, it tells of the world without over describing it. After all, when you walk into a room you don’t think “I walked into the room where there were two Persian rugs four Hepplethwhite chairs, some red velvet curtains and a desk with…. ” You simply describe what is immediate. This book does that; it’s not to say that there isn’t superb period detail in there, there is, but it’s only brought out when it’s necessary. Clothes for example. Jacob’s clothes are described in exquisite detail at one point, right down to lace and buttons but they are amazing clothes, nothing the like of which he’s seen or worn before – so it makes perfect sense for him to describe them. And so it goes, that’s how the book is, never info dumping, but making you feel you are there.

What really impressed me more than anything else is the sure bravery that the author shows in writing this 1. from the point of view of a man, a soldier in that time – knowing that she was going to have to show his view of the war etc but 2. That Jacob is just about as unpleasant a character as I’ve ever read about. I can’t believe that Ms McCann meant him to be anything else, and as far as I am concerned she suceeded admirably. As an author, I can’t imagine how any writer can embark on a story like this and yet – why not? Most of us are pretty unpleasant types! However, my hat is off to her. Not only did she write about a man with (as far as I was concerned, your mileage may vary) no redeeming qualities save that he loves another man but she kept me hooked into the book so deeply that I was willing him to have some kind of redemption, to bring about some miraculous ending which I could tell, even quite early on was never going to happen.

Jacob is truly unpleasant, but so brilliantly written that he’s hardly even aware of it himself for most of the book. Of course, this is perfectly sensible – how many of us actually think we are awful people? Jacob’s sense of self-loathing however, is ingrained in every page, less so at the beginning and ebbs and flows throughout, but gradually working into a crescendo ending with the last two heartbreaking lines. It again shows such skill that I wanted to smack/kick/kill Jacob for most of the book and yet he had me sobbing when I reached the last page.

I suppose in this day and age he would be known as a Sociopath – and in fact if you read the list of Sociopath social traits on this page you would think that Ms McCann made a note of all those character traits and started with Jacob using this as a base. What I don’t understand , even though I’ve re-read the first chapters several times to get a gleaning of it, is WHY he did what he did at Beaurepair. I can’t see any reason for it, other than he just “wanted to”.

I pitied him, immensely, because I could tell that he wasn’t going to change, but I pitied Ferris even more because he’d fallen in love with the wrong man, and that’s something I can relate to, big time. But Ferris was a grown man, and he had plenty of choices to cast Jacob aside – and could have done – and didn’t. He even dumped poor Nathan without a word, and as far as I know nothing more than a shirt looted from Basing to run off with a man who he knew he couldn’t change. He was taking a risk too, as at that point he didn’t even know if Jacob was going to be acquiescent to a homosexual relationship and he was leaving behind an established one for an uncertain future. But I guess I understand that. Better to leave a lesser love for the promise of The Big One. And Jacob could have been The Big One if he hadn’t’ve stuffed it up, like he stuffed everything up.

As a nice change this book wasn’t OKhomo (everyone’s gay and everyone’s OK about it) and I didn’t expect it to be as it isn’t a Romance and I was expecting it to be an accurate historical novel. In fact the men are’nt “GAY” at all, in the way that we would know it today, they’ve both been married and allegedly in love with their wives. They both consider marrying again. Ferris I think knows his sexuality better than Jacob (who is more opportunist – I think he would have had Nathan had he offered himself up) but Jacob is (I think) drawn to Ferris first as a friend and then finds he love him. But the risks they run are very real, are reflected in every single sexual encounter they have, even when they are “safe” in Ferris’s Aunt’s house in London. I did wonder about the wooden floorboards and the wooden beds though as I found it difficult to imagine it would have been easy to muffle the sounds of male sex which can be quite acrobatic. But the danger is there, hanging, lynching, burning – all of them a very real dange, even though even then, they knew that proof would have been needed.

There was one point when I had a WTF moment and that’s when Jacob met up again with Zeb; I didn’t see the point of this – I didn’t understand how Zeb had the knowledge he had, why he didn’t use it and what the meeting was set up to do – it seemed rather pointless. But then, I guess that’s realistic – not all meetings we have in this world are filled with meaning.

All the minor characters were great. I don’t think one of them was pallid or forgettable. I think possibly because Jacob hates them all in varying degrees, partly in jealousy that he can’t bear anyone to get close to Ferris. In fact the only character that I think that Jacob truly loved was Aunt, and possibly because she was more of a mother to him than his own mother was. It was so touching when she said “don’t worry, your hair will soon grow back” and Jacob looked around “eagerly” – like a child so desperate for affection and he found she was speaking to someone else. It was a briliant moment because Jacob had actually been empathising with the woman who had been shorn, and after that, I think he lost the empathy.

The “venture” was doomed to fail from the begiining, I don’t know if any of these ventures DID suceed and there were a few of them, you can’t blame the people, they’d had Cromwell and his cronies banging on about how everyone would be granted land, and all men were created equal so it wasn’t surprising that a few people formed communes in this way.

As to the ending – the Voice – and Jacob’s gradual descent? I don’t know. It’s the kind of book that has had me thinking all day. I cried at the end, bitter frustrated tears at the stupid stupid man – but then, if he had behaved differently he’d have been with the commune at the end. Then I went and bored my dad with it for about an hour and I’m still running it through in my head. I need to read it again. Did Jacob know the date was different at the end? Did the letter get it wrong? Was it Caro? Or had Jacob’s mind broken at the loss of Ferris? Was it “Caro” with Ferris in the wood? There’s so many questions I can’t answer. On the surface it all seems plain sailing, but we are inside the head of a man on the brink of madness, and frankly – how much of it all can we trust?

And the ending – stellar. It was the only thing he could do really – he wasn’t going to kill himself, after all – not with those character traits, he’ll blame everyone else in the world before he’d blame himself – although perhaps if the colony had ALL gone on a flipping ship it would have been a different book!

So yes – I loved it. Impressed impressed impressed. By the way, there is quite a lot of sex, but it’s quite subtle, but there is a lot of it.

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Review: The Boy I Love by Marion Husband

A tangled web of love and betrayal develops when war hero Paul returns from the trenches. He finds himself torn between desire and duty, his lover Adam awaits but so too does Margot, the pregnant fiancée of his dead brother. Set in a time when homosexuality was the love that dare not speak its name, Paul has to decide where his loyalty and his heart lie.

Review by Erastes

I devoured this book. It was like comfort food. English to the core and had (for me) the same effect as scoffing steak and kidney pudding. I wallowed.

It’s based just after the First World War and Paul has returned home after 18 months in a mental hospital due to a severe case of shellshock. His brother, whom he and everyone else adored, has been killed – ironically after the armistice -in a car crash. Paul’s “queer”, and is discreetly continuing a relationship with Adam that he had started before the war. When his brother’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant by Robbie, Paul has some choices to make. It’s further complicated by Pat, a man damaged by his past, who was Paul’s sergeant and who has, or so he thinks, an unrequited crush on Paul.

What I loved about this was the frank and bleak look at men returning from the trenches. None of them are whole, Paul’s eye was “dug out by a rusty spoon” and he still wakes up screaming with shellshock, Mick (Pat’s brother) has lost his legs, Adam was “unfit for service”, and most families in the town have lost someone, but still – it’s a very English novel, with the world moving on, people drinking tea and getting quietly on with their lives.  The country is changing, women are working, women are smoking, women are going out when pregnant!  (Another nice touch about this book is that there are women characters who resonate and aren’t just there for decoration or to be The Bitch.)

The author is deft and skilful in the way the story unfolds – which is told partly in flashback. There’s a mystery at the heart of the book too; we are told that something happened to Paul in the trenches (other than the normal!); something involving a man called Jenkins and it takes the book to unravel what happens whilst still coping with about six different plotlines. Impressive.

If I have one tiny quibble, I’d say that it didn’t, to my mind, get deep enough into the character’s points of view, I think Pat was the character who’s head we were deepest into, and with such dark subjects – and with such choices to be made I would have like to have known more of what people were thinking.   Perhaps it should have been longer to try and encompass this, perhaps it was a tiny bit ambitious for a first novel.  That being said, even without a deeper POV, the characters are very memorable and I was rooting for all of them even though I knew that it couldn’t ALL work out in a pat fashion.

Author’s website

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Review: Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

Trouble befalls Lord John Grey (fresh from minor roles in Gabaldon’s bestselling Outlander novels) when he accidentally discovers that the Hon. Joseph Trevelyan, his cousin’s betrothed, may have what those in 1757 termed “the pox” or “the French disease” syphilis. Before he can figure out an appropriate way to handle this delicate matter, he becomes involved in the investigation of the mysterious and grisly murder of a military colleague suspected of being a spy.

Review by Erastes

I actually read this in one sitting, which surprised me, it’s quite rare that I do that. It was, as you can guess by it’s unputdownableness a good read and an intriguing and interesting “mystery.”I quantify that word because it was about as much as a mystery as an episode of “Columbo” as in it was fairly obvious what was going on from the first chapter but I enjoyed the rather circuitous path that DG sent her protagonist.

Lord John is an officer in the Jacobite period, and he’s a bit of a detective. He was, I understand, a minor character in her larger sagas “Outlander”, “Cross Stitch.”

As a period piece it was pretty good, and as an British historical written by a non-Brit she does a pretty good job. There are points in the book where I felt she was rather too heavy handed with the period feel and I was jolted out of “being in the time” to “being taught” but they were few enough and didn’t spoil the enjoyment.

As a slashy piece it was nicely done. She writes a homosexual character in a mainstream book and writes the sex in a dot dot dot way that is very sexy, leaves a lot to the imagination and the fanficcer, without really upsetting the sensibilities of people who DON’T want to read about throbbing cocks. I have been wondering whether I should split my writing into erotica and less-so, to appeal to the mainstream a little more. I haven’t decided yet. Lord John is an interesting and nicely angsty character, but I didn’t feel that there was enough of the essential “him” in this for me to get to know him. I know that a lot of people who pick up this book will have already met him in other works, but I hadn’t so I didn’t even know what he looked like and it wasn’t till about half way through the book that I discovered that he had blond hair and I was rather shocked, she’d left it so long that I had already put a face and appearance to him. I would have liked a description earlier on. Sharpe is described at the beginning of every book, as far as I can remember, for those readers who have picked up the books out of order.

The writing is good, a fine mix of period and yet doesn’t leave the reader struggling through run on sentences worthy of Austen.

If I have any one quibble about it was it’s predictability. The whole plot didn’t give me any surprises – it led (for me) inexorably to one fact to another. I think that she COULD write something that would make me say “OMG I didn’t see that coming” in the way that George RR Martin always manages to do, but she didn’t manage it in this book, and if she’s setting Lord John up to be an historical detective then it’s something she will need to do, or Lord John will be as predictable as Jessica Fletcher.

All in all I’ll give it a 7 out of 10. I’ll get the next Lord John books, but I’ll probably get them from the library rather than buying them.

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Review: Winds of Change by Lee Rowan

In 1802, a love worth dying for is more than just a romantic notion. Lieutenants William Marshall and David Archer, of His Majesty’s frigate Calypso, have been lovers for more than a year. Courage, devotion, and extreme discretion have kept them from the hangman’s noose-the price they must pay if their relationship is discovered. The occasional night of passion ashore is all the more precious to them for its rarity. But in the Royal Navy, nothing lasts forever. A transfer to a new ship brings with it a bizarre turn of events: their Captain orders them to behave as though they are involved in an illicit relationship in order to smoke out a suspected traitor, blackmailer, and saboteur.

Winds of Change” is the sequel to Lee Rowan’s “Ransom” and continues the adventures and misadventures of Lts William Marshall and David Archer after their capture and escape in the book of that name. And it’s a very good read.

The two men are transferred to a new ship, together with their captain; a “Trouble ship” where there is unrest and sabotage. A method of smoking out the sabateur is proposed but it is not without a great deal of risk for David and William, and for their growing relationship.

The characters are wonderfully drawn, they would slide into any of the Hornblower novels without even causing the slightest bow wave. William is a career man and his duty is every bit as important to him as it is to Nelson himself. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does, whether it’s managing a 74 gun ship of the line, or loving the love that dare not speak its name. David is my favourite, I have to say, for his innate love of life despite everything he’s been through.

For my money, this book has everything. It’s a wonderful love story, without underplaying the very real danger that homosexuals faced in His Majesty’s Navy in the late 1700′s and early 1800′s. It’s meticulously researched, but Lee writes in a way that doesn’t bore you with facts of the time, she writes simply as if she were writing in that time, and the period detail becomes as unobstruvive as if it were a contemporary novel. It’s a mystery, a thriller and it has lines that made me giggle, parts that made a hard boiled cynic like me cry (twice) and some wonderfully tender sexual moments.

If you found Ransom a little slow, then you’ll be happy with WoC, as it’s faster-paced, tighter and there’s a very real tension throughout.

If I had one tiny quibble, I was dissapointed that the ending of the mystery was done off screen, I was expecting as much adventure in the last part of the book as I’d read in the first part, but in reality, what Lee decides to concentrate on in the final pages doesn’t spoil the story at all.

In the growing genre of homosexual historical fiction, Lee Rowan is at the forefront. She never sacrifices period detail or excellent writing in an attempt to dumb down at any time.

Very highly recommended.

Author’s Website

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Review: Ransom by Lee Rowan

For a young Englishman in 1796, the Navy is a way to move beyond his humble origins and seek a chance at greatness. Captured by accident when their Captain is abducted, Archer and Marshall become pawns in a renegade pirate’s sadistic game. To protect the man he loves, David Archer compromises himself-trading his honor and his body for Marshall’s safety. When Will learns of his friend’s sacrifice, he also discovers that what he feels for Davy is stronger and deeper than friendship. The first challenge: escape their prison. The second: find a way to preserve their love without losing their lives.

Review by Erastes

I found this book, completely by accident and I was intrigued by the blurb as it was a a Regency Gay Romance, which made me beam, because there are just Not Enough of those, but more excitingly, it’s a nautical tale, set in the same time period as Master and Commander and Hornblower – so if any of you have ever slashed Archie and Horny or Horny and Pellew – you are going to LOVE this. It’s 1799 and not only is homosexuality on land punishable by prison and death – on His Majesty’s Ships the Articles of War give an automatic death penalty for it – and very little proof was needed – if a man of a higher rank gave evidence against one of a lower, that man would hang.

But it’s more than just “oh whoopee another historical homoerotic romance do buy” This is excellently written. It could easily be Forrester on a Slashy day, and I’ll stick my neck out and go further to say that the writing surpasses Forrester. It’s also immaculately (as far as I can see) researched and what brings it alive to me is that the language is in the tone of the TIME.

Nothing jars me more than reading about 21st century men who just happen to find themselves on a 18th century warship.

The sex is beautifully described and perhaps some readers won’t find it as graphic as they’d like, but it is all there, it’s just written so beautifully and so lightly that it’s inferred rather than explicitly shown.

Anyway – HIGHLY recommended especially for all of your who moan that there’s no historical slash out there.

Don’t miss her sequels – Winds of Change and Eye of the Storm.

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Review: The Back Passage by James Lear

Agatha Christie, move over! Hard-core sex and scandal meet in this brilliantly funny whodunit. A seaside village, an English country house, a family of wealthy eccentrics and their equally peculiar servants, a determined detective — all the ingredients are here for a cozy Agatha Christie-style whodunit. But wait — Edward “Mitch” Mitchell is no Hercule Poirot, and The Back Passage is no Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Mitch is a handsome, insatiable 22-year-old hunk who never lets a clue stand in the way of a steamy encounter, whether it’s with the local constabulary, the house secretary, or his school chum and fellow athlete Boy Morgan, who becomes his Watson when they’re not busy boffing each other.

Review by Erastes

Thoroughly enjoyable. This book very clearly makes the point that gay historical fiction needn’t be po faced, full of deep meaningful literary merit and serious as hell. This is a romp, from start (hero found groping his friend in an understairs cupboard) to the finish which I won’t spoil. Imagine how I squeed when I read the first page and found that it was set about 10 miles from where I sit right now, on the North Norfolk coast in 1925.

There’s a lot of sex in this book, and I mean a LOT. This is the kind of book where the reader can be happy that there’s sex in every chapter and it isn’t boringly escalated, you know what a mean, starts with a grope, moves on to a blow job, then a 69 and so on – the Hero “Mitch” takes advantage of every opportunity.

And there’s PLENTY of opportunity. Even though you must suspend your belief at the door, although, to be honest, a remote Norfolk aristocratic family – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this house set-up hadn’t actually happened, so it’s actually quite plausible and the reasons for why everyone seems to be gay are very cleverly explained. It’s not just the power of Mitch’s sex-appeal that gives him the sex-filled week of his life!

It’s a classic who-dunnit, too. Big house in the middle of no-where with a cast of larger than life characters, unexplained murder and it could be any one of the occupants, like all of Christie’s stories I was hopelessly led down one blind alley after another, suspecting everyone in turn and happy doing so.

What I particularly liked was the lovely little touches of the language. When Mitch talks he says ass, and when Boy Morgan speaks he says arse. I heartily approve of this.

I also liked the fact that Mitch isn’t some Gary-Stu private dick (although his that part of his anatomy is anything but private…) solving everything. He’s just nicely curious, and is not averse to asking questions and using other methods to get what he wants. He doesn’t get it right all the time too, in fact I loved the fact that when he’s listening to one of the witnesses he frankly says “I couldn’t help but think that Sherlock would have already grasped the salient point” (paraphrased)

The sex itself is graphic, along the same graphic level as say – Alyson’s short story collections.

So all in all, recommended. I dislike asking an author for a sequel, but, in Mitch, he has a character who could cheerfully go on to other gay mysteries. I shall go and seek Lear’s other works now, and will look forward to his next. A nice afternoon’s read, which got me hot and made me smile too.

And really – any writer who uses whence and glabrous is always going to win my heart…

Author’s Website

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Review: The Phoenix by Ruth Sims

At fourteen, Kit St. Denys brought down his abusive father with a knife. At twenty-one his theatrical genius brought down the house. At thirty, his past and his forbidden love nearly brought down the curtain for good. This is a Victorian saga of two men whose love for each other transcends time and distance and the society that considers it an abomination. Set in the last twenty years of the 19th century, The Phoenix is a multi-layered historical novel that illuminates poverty and child abuse, theatre history in America and England, betrayal, a crisis of conscience, violence and vengeance, and the treatment of insanity at a time when such treatment was in its infant stage. Most of all it is a tale of love on many levels, from carnal to devoted friendship to sacrifice.

Review by Erastes

What a joy to read this book proved to be. From the very first page I was drawn in with the action, was instantly attracted to the characters and was very impressed how with so few strokes of her pen, Sims managed to draw the situation, the era, the environment and the characters. Language is certainly Sims’ gift but she doesn’t drown you in it. It’s an intelligent read, but steers clear of being a morass where the words become more important than the story itself.

Jack Rourke and his sickly twin brother Michael live by the river in London, picking a living any way they can, (which in Jack’s case means a bit of stealing) while they wait for sporadic visits by their father, away at sea. As the boys grow they dread his visits more and more, as Rourke is increasingly violent, both to them and to their mother. Matters come to a head with such a violent visit that Jack is forced to flee, and friends he has made in local theatre take him in.

The book is marginally longer than some of the books I’ve read recently, but there are points (like this early section) where I’d like it be even longer. I felt it – wasn’t rushed, exactly – but I’d have like to have seen more of this early life explored in the same lush detail that Sims goes on in other sections of the book. Jack’s (soon to renamed Christopher, and then Kit – and yes, this is important) rise from guttersnipe to an heir of a small fortune and a damned good actor could have been padded out and I wouldn’t have minded a bit. He had a worrying tendancy to be a little Sue-ish, or tainted with “Woman-of-Substance-itis” but I overlooked that for he does have faults, and these are brought into sharp relief when he meets Nicholas, a dour doctor – brought up in a strict religious environment who has fallen quite in love with Kit without Kit knowing.

It’s a lovely seduction and love affair, Kit’s licentiousness is contrasted starkly with Nick’s puritanical ideals and when the invevitable happens and both behave far too much like themselves for either of them to forgive each other….. Well – I don’t want to do too many spoilers, but this is where the book really kicks in.

Characterisation: Is great. I could really get under the skin of both main characters without any problem. Even when she shifted between one and the other, it was so starkly contrasted – the difference in their characters – that you simply thought as one then the other. While Nick’s choices made me want to brain him, they made perfect sense in the world he inhabited, and that’s the true test of a good homosexual historical for my money. Ruth doesn’t stick modern day characters in Victorian clothes, everything they do, even the much more openly shocking Kit – is coloured by what society thought and what society would and could do. It wasn’t quite as dangerous for men in 1890 as it was in 1820 – you weren’t hanged: but you still risked prison, disgrace and being exiled from polite society – even more rigid than it had been 150 years before. Sims shows the “salons” of the aesthetes – where the only safe place for a gentleman of a certain persuasion to meet others was in the drawing rooms of his friends.

Kit is larger than life throughout, and that’s perfectly in character, even when his life spirals out of control, it’s in a wonderfully tragedian way with Nick hardly able to keep up.

Period Feel: Wonderfully done, with no Dan Brown tub-thumping explanations of what is going on and the politics of the time. Sims doesn’t talk down to her reader. For someone who self-admittedly has rarely ventured from her own corner of the USA, to be able to recreate Victorian slums is pretty impressive.

Sexual Level. Warm and erotic, without being graphic in any way, a true lesson to me in less is more.

Summing Up. Very highly recommended. Certainly the best written gay historical I’ve read since At Swim Two Boys, and a book that convinces me that I can do better with my own prose. This is not a “romance” btw, chaps – so while I’m giving no clues to the ending, I adored it, because it left me guessing right up until the very last chapter. It’s a real keeper.

Excerpts here

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Review: The Price of Temptation by M J Pearson

Stephen Clair, the notorious Earl of St. Joseph, has a lover he can’t afford, a social calendar that’s out of control and a libido that rules his life. If he can’t get control of all of them, he will fall into financial ruin. Could the youthful, handsome and dependable Jamie Riley be the solution to his problems? Jamie Riley has a secret that keeps him from accepting the sexual advances of his employer, Stephen Clair, and a past he would like to leave behind. But Stephen is a man who knows how to awaken a passion that Jamie has been trying to suppress, and carries a price that Jamie would rather not pay. But it isn’t easy to ignore passion, especially when it’s so temptingly close. Julian Jeffries, lover to Stephen Clair, has found a way of living the high life without lifting a finger. It isn’t until Julian notices that Stephen has been spending time with his latest employee, Jamie Riley, that he begins to worry about losing everything he’d schemed to have. Now Julian needs to find a way of getting rid of Jamie without raising suspicion. And, as Julian knows, the best way to do that is to dig into Jamie’s past and find something to use against him.

Review by Erastes

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy this, because I did. It was possible to unhinge my research head and treat it as a “romance novel” with all that that genre implies. Brooding hero, delicate (but rather stubborn) hero who isn’t going to let said BH get into his pants unless it’s true love – not if he can help it! (all whilst being swept along by his own desires)

So yes, it’s an enjoyable romance read. I liked the characters in the main. The BH (Stephen) was suitably brooding and sufficiently dissolute to make me happy. His kept man (Julian) was nicely venal without being a cardboard cut out and the hero (Jamie) was all right, although far the weaker of the main characters in my opinion.

Characters

I liked Stephen a lot. He was a product of his time and circumstances. He’d lost his family and was drifting further and further into dissipation and was more than ripe for True Love to Redeem Him. As much as I liked him he certainly deserved The Wet Fish Clue Slap around half way through, because he wouldn’t shake off the wastrel Julian he was hanging around with for the lack of anything better), he struck me as a very true man – being led around by flattery and his libido – and like a lot of rich men, he had lost the ability to tell whether affection was real or bought.

Jamie I never quite connected with, he held many of the attributes of the good romantic hero(ine), he was Good. He was self taught, (no education other than some old vicar in Yorkshire, but he could read Greek and was a published historian) He stepped into the running of great house and went from personal secretary to librarian to house steward, taking over Stephen’s budget and starting him on the road to solvency with a speed (the book encompasses about 3 months) and an ease that would have impressed even A Woman of Substance. But he didn’t impress me, I was a little bored with him – I never quite felt I knew him, perhaps it was his lack of flaws. He just started to get interesting towards the very end of the book, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that.

But overall, he was just a bit too passive for my liking, I have to admit.

There are many other secondary characters, which make for lively interaction. My favourite was Stephen’s Aunt Matilda.

Period Feel

It owed a healthy nod more to Heyer than to Austen, which was more obvious to me, (and to be honest I wouldn’t have been able to stomach), if I had not been reading my first Heyer at the same time as I was reading this, and therefore understood more clearly where the jargon came from.

The thing that jarred me is that really, the characters seemed to me to be modern day characters in a period setting. Their language vacillated from Heyerisms to Modern Day – “Jesus!” and “f*ck” are used as swear words, and someone says that they’ve “blown it” – another says he “needs to get laid” at one point, Jamie has a cute nose, and so on.

The household is so liberal it’s unrealistic – Stephen is not just casual or fraternising with his staff, he treats them as his equals, near enough, from the scullery maid upwards. (He’s an EARL) They all give him advice and he sits and chats and plays cards with them. I also couldn’t manage to believe that, in a society where buggery and sodomy was punishable with such regularity and fanaticism, that Stephen would get away with being a self proclaimed sodomite in 1816. Granted, being rich and influential, he might have been able to side step any conviction, but he would have been prey to blackmailers, scandal mongers and certainly ostracised from all polite society. He’d get away with it once, but not in a serial fashion in the way he does. Not without some other prop to sustain him – a great wit, a playwright, a bosom friend to Prinny, a huge and powerful family or something like that.

I did notice other small anachronisms and some sayings that are (as far as my research goes) only attributable to Heyer – but I only noticed them because of months of research into the same period so they won’t spoil the book for the general reader, and it will enhance the enjoyment for the Heyer-philes as they will find it familiar. There were however, some nice true details – the fact that the Elgin Marbles were in the British Museum in 1816, waiting for the Duveen Gallery to be built, good solid research into where Hanover Square is in relation to other streets in London.

However, as I say, it’s a decent enough read, although all in all I felt that it was all a little rushed and at 200 pages, it could easily have extended to 250-300 without harming the book at all, just to give us a deeper insight into the characters.

If you like m/m and you like Heyer, you’ll probably like it, but the anachronisms kept the rating down.

Author’s website

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Review: An Agreement Among Gentlemen by Chris Owen

Edward Munrow has had a change in circumstances. Going from being a gentleman of few means to being a wealthy land owner in less than a day is difficult enough to imagine, but being blackmailed into a marriage he doesn’t want by a Duke is just too much. Ned agrees to the marriage to keep his name out of the scandal sheets, and soon enough he is meeting Lady Jane, a member of the Duke’s family, and her son, Henri, the Viscount Langton. Langton is a delightful surprise for Ned, a young man just coming into his own, ripe for the sorts of debauchery Ned is best at.

Review by Erastes

First Impressions: I liked it. There were many things to like. *ticks off* Characters, the writing, the readability, and RED HOT SEX. I’ll say this upfront that Owen makes me jealous as his/her sex scenes are everything that I like to read, sensuous and steaming without being coarse in any way. I did have a few problems with it, however.

Characters: In the main – I did like the characters. I liked the rather juvenile behaviour of Edward – and Griffith (his man) is just uproariously brilliant. I know I’ve complained about some historical fiction being “Everyone’s gay and Everyone’s OK about it” before, (now officially known, in this blog as “OKHOMO”) but I couldn’t complain about it here. Edward DOES take steps to limit the danger from the outside world, as well as he can, at least, and Griffith, as I’ve said, is a comedy turn well worth the money of the book on its own. He verbally bitch slaps Edward at one point, and his digs and asides about his master’s behaviour (whilst still managing to be a servant and not a friend or lover) had me chortling.

I particularly liked that Langton was a “lamb with teeth” e.g that he had his own thoughts and ideas – and I preferred him at the beginnng of the book, he got a bit too pliant towards the end, and became a Truitt clone. However – I couldn’t imagine that any aristocrat – if I’m to take this as being 1840 and within living memory of the Napoleonic wars – would call their son Henri. That jarred me a little.

I liked Truitt a lot too, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the lines between characters in a menage-a-trois fic, but Owen manages to keep all the characters with their own personalities.

Setting: I have to make a point here, because I’ve read a few stories recently that have the same problem; when I read an historical book I like to know when it’s set.

The back of the book says AAAG is a “Victorian Romp” but I was completely confused–there was nothing to anchor me in the Victorian Age–and if it hadn’t said that on the back, I’d have assumed it was Georgian. The characters travel from Berkshire to London by carriage, so I can only assume it was right at the beginning of the Victorian era as the Great Western Railway was up and running by 1841.

I think it’s a case of the writers knowing their books too well and not actually sitting back and looking objectively at them and asking themself “will the reader get the era?” There’s no need to info dump or do “As you know, Bob” dialogue

It’s easy enough to ease the reader into a sense of time – and I for one feel unanchored without it. But perhaps it’s just me.

anyway – it’s a minor niggle and one that probably wouldn’t annoy 99 percent of readers.

The main problem that I had with the book is that it didn’t really have much of a plot. That didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the whole sexy romp as a whole, but it had me wondering when something would happen.

Chekov said: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it” ,and Owen sets up a conflict device in the very early stages of the book, but simply never follows through with it. I was waiting for that “gun” to go off, for the conflict to kick in, but it just never happened. Things just went from good to better to sublime for the characters, and in the end I couldn’t help but think that it was only all about the sex.

Writing: The writing was nicely balanced, a feel of the time, with a narrative voice that sounded and felt right, and excellent descriptive text. Owen writes quite cinematically if you know what I mean, and the surroundings and other characters are so well described without being at all heavy handed, that I could imagine what I was reading very easily. There were one or two minor Americanisms and one or two editing flutters but utterly minor.

If you like a nice uncomplicated love story with a lot of very well written sex then you’ll enjoy this. If Owen were to write another gay historicals I would certainly buy it without hesitation, but I hope that there’s more emphasis on plot and conflict next time.

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Welcome to Speak Its Name

I’ve started this blog because I wanted somewhere to specialise and just write about gay historical fiction away from my main blogsite.

There’ s not enough gay historical fiction and I didn’t realise just how little there was until I started to make a list. I have less than 200 titles, and that’s appalling.

Look at how many heterosexual titles there are – look at how much history we’ve had! Gay love wasn’t invented in the Stonewall era. Men have been loving men since there have been men on the planet, and I love reading about them.

I hope you find THE LIST useful and please – if you find any more, comment on this post or send me an email to let me know.

If you want to become a blogger here, let me know. If you want to add your reviews – let me know.

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