Review: The Squire by Shawn Lane

Duncan has been Sir William’s squire for two years. During that time, he has lusted after and been in love with the beautiful muscular knight. Too bad Sir William prefers fair maidens…

Sir William is called home due to the impending death of his father. On the journey, he catches his squire watching other men having sex and realizes Duncan is also ready for some love play. Once they reach the family’s estates, William and Duncan begin an affair of both body and heart. But the happiness they find together is short-lived when the king dictates that William must marry a suitable heiress.

Unable to bear his place beside William and his wife, Duncan flees. Can William find the squire to convince him their love is meant to be?

Review by Erastes

This is an erotic short novella/long short story set in the 14th century, and the heat level is right up there at the top end of the thermometer. I’ll say here and now that I enjoyed the story, and although it’s short and sweet, the author did all the things a short story should do with conflict, and resolution and I can’t fault it in that way at all. I enjoyed the sex too!

The characters were easy to get to know, and I particularly liked Duncan for all his enthusiasm and affection. His knight Sir William has a voice all his own, and I could really see him as described.

That being said, and as this is a historical blog, I have to mention some of the things that struck me when it became clear that this was simply wallpaper historical erotica – men in fancy dress having a lot of sex out ofthe fancy dress – and this could have been avoided.

Firstly, the speech. As the story is set in 1345 it would of course have been impossible to write the speech as it was unless you wanted ye olde Chaucerie erotica but there are ways to express a more formal way of speaking. It is also fine to have your characters speaking in modern (but not too modern please) ways of speaking – but to mix them up is jarring to the reader (or to this reader anyway).  One minute Duncan is sounding like a modern man; and then – almost as if the author was suddenly thinking “oops – got to remind the reader that this is in the past” words like “mayhap”, “swive” (when fuck (and making love) are used alternately) and “nay” are scattered throughout. I don’t mind one or the other, but not both.

The historical inaccuracies abound I’m afraid, enough to make a purist scream: Braes are referred to as ancient underpants but braes are actually hills, and I was a bit confused why the squire had hills around his ankles. The word for medieval knickers is braies. There’s mention of chests of drawers (no!) and a wardrobe (definitely not!) but most jarring is Duncan’s age. I understand perfectly why the author had to make him 18, (because most publishers insist on it as that’s the legal age in parts of the USA) but it makes little sense in context, and warping fact to fit modern sensibilities is just daft. Squires were 12 or so when they became squires (having been pages before this from the age of 6 or 7) so to say he’d only been a squire for two years stuck out like a sore thumb. This could have been avoided with a bit of alteration – say making him a squire since he was 12 although this wouldn’t have explained why he could hardly ride a horse.

The editing has to be mentioned too, I’m afraid. Amber Quill is invite only and self-proclaims itself as “The Gold Standard in Publishing” but there are too many typos for me to be convinced of the hyperbole, and in such a short story the quantity of errors, both in accuracy and in the text simply isn’t acceptable.

It’s hard to comment more on the plot, because of the shortness of the piece, but it hangs together well– and, as I said, the sex is red-hot so lovers of historical sex will definitely find this lights a fuse under them. For me though –although I enjoyed the erotica – it was the inaccuracies that spoiled it for me. It won’t stop me looking out for more of Shawn Lane’s work though, as it’s clear that he/she can tell a tale, in and out of the bedroom.

Author’s website

Buy from Amber Quill

Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Like the comic books that animate and inspire it, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is both larger than life and of it too. Complete with golems and magic and miraculous escapes and evil nemeses, even hand-to-hand Antarctic battle, it pursues the most important questions of love and war, dreams and art, across pages lurid with longing and hope. Samuel Klayman–self-described little man, city boy and Jew–first meets Josef Kavalier when his mother shoves him aside in his own bed, telling him to make room for their cousin, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Prague. It’s the beginning, however unlikely, of a beautiful friendship. In short order, Sam’s talent for pulp plotting meets Joe’s faultless, academy-trained line, and a comic-book superhero is born. A sort of lantern-jawed equaliser clad in dark blue long underwear, the Escapist “roams the globe, performing amazing feats and coming to the aid of those who languish in tyranny’s chains”. Before they know it, Kavalier and Clay (as Sam Klayman has come to be known) find themselves at the epicentre of comics’ golden age

Review by Erastes

Well, perhaps I’m not as intelligent as the Pulitzer Prize-winner panel (no argument there) and perhaps being English had an affect on me reading this book, but it left me completely blank I’m afraid. Tom Paine says on the cover that “no book had made me cry more,” and I say… what? where??

So yes – the book didn’t move me, and that makes me an exception, but WHY didn’t it move me?

I suppose I was expecting “Amazing Adventures,” for a start. Perhaps the title is supposed to be ironic, and I can see that it’s obviously an affectionate reference to the comic book genre that the book represents but I didn’t find anything particularly “Amazing” in anything that these men got up to. Granted, Joe escapes from Prague in a quite unlikely fashion and he has about a week of adventure during his war-service in Antartica – but otherwise? Not so much. It’s simply a tale of them dreaming about comic books, drawing comic books, selling comic books and that’s about it. Perhaps I was already cynical with the Amazing title. Give me hyperbole such as “The League of Amazing Writers” and I’m already in Esme Weatherwax mode with my arms folded, thinking “Oh YEAH? Show me what you got.”

It starts very promisingly, with Joe’s escape from Prague and some rather lovely flashbacks involving Joe’s brother, experiments in Escapism and talks with his tutor – but once it gets to America and we deal with two person’s POV – that’s when it all fell flat for me. I never got sufficiently into the head of either character to understand anything about them, and that was frustrating in a novel which apparently had moved people to floods of tears.

There’s so much telling and very little showing. We are told how Joe is mourning for his family but we are never shown much manifestation of this other than wanting to beat up Germans; we are told how Sammy has struggled against “being a fairy” but we aren’t shown this either. He has an affair with a radio star and various other affairs are subtly alluded to (once) from his wife’s point of view but we are shown nothing of his struggle and apparent feelings of entrapment. The device of skipping forward 12 years after the war helps to create a barrier between the reader and the action, because as far as we can see Sammy has been doing a good job being a husband and father. If he’s been unhappy then this simply isn’t hinted at. His son is pretty well adjusted and his wife isn’t weeping into her coffee every night. This seems more unbelievable when you realise that the marriage is really only two people living together – good friends only. Where’s the angst?

There’s no doubt that the man can write, and I’d be a fool to say he can’t. It’s very readable and I read on simply because of this – not because I had the slightest interest what was going to happen next. In fact it seemed pretty obvious how the book was going to end, even from quite early on due to the clunky manner the way things were set up.

I admit that a lot of the mysticism and Jewish metaphor probably passed me by, the whole Golem thing was a bit of a mystery to me, the significance of the box that is delivered to the Clay’s at the end was baffling too – so perhaps I just missed the entire point.

I have to say that I liked the insight into the “Golden Age of Comics” and that was the most absorbing part for me; but even that didn’t entirely convince me, it all seemed a little sanitised, despite the author attempting to convince me of the long days of work, the smoky atmospheres and crowded conditions. There’s no camaraderie that I would imagine these young authors and artists would have had as they blazed their genre across America, and little sense of the growing fanaticism that comics engendered. There’s one nutty fan who objects to The Escapist bashing Nazis, but even that fizzles out and comes to nothing much.

I also liked the “Escapism” theme that runs throughout – everyone seems to be running from something, but frankly, the author didn’t paint in enough character detail for me to care deeply enough as to whether they did or not and as a consequence I closed the book with a feeling of “so what?” rather than any kind of emotion at all. Deeply disappointing, but I’d be interested to hear other people’s views.

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Author Interview: Mark R Probst, author of “The Filly”

Alex Beecroft interviews Mark R Probst.


Mark R. Probst lives in Washington, works in the computer industry, and writes in his spare time. He is an avid movie buff, and has a special admiration for the western films of the classic era. He’s had a life-long interest in writing, though The Filly is his first published novel. He is currently at work on a second novel.

SiN: Who has been the biggest influence upon your work?

MRP: This is going to sound rather odd, but I’d have to say John Ford, because I was trying to emulate a John Ford Western in The Filly. But I’m sure you actually meant what writers influenced my work, so I’d just have to list a few of my favorites, Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, Dodie Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, and E. M. Forster. But of course not to imply that The Filly could come anywhere near touching the brilliance of some of their works. You probably would have expected my influences to come from Western writers such as Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, or Max Brand. But to be honest, I had never read any of their works before starting on my novel. All my knowledge of the Old West came from the movies and that is the sort of golden, glamorous world I wanted to recreate. I started reading some of Zane Grey’s early works during the writing process because I wanted to get a feel for how a literary Western was structured. I was actually rather surprised to learn that Grey’s books weren’t quite so much the shoot-em-ups I was expecting, but rather romantic in nature. Unlike the movies, Grey’s cowboy heroes were somewhat tender and gooey in love with the damsels.

SiN: Who is your own favorite character?

MRP: It’s hard to pick between the two. So much of who I am, or was at a younger age, is Ethan, but Travis is the shining knight, the salvation I always longed for. In fact in the first draft of the story, he was too perfect. I realized he needed a few dents and scratches to bring him down to earth, so in subsequent drafts I allowed him more flaws. Both of them are very real to me and I imagine that in some ways I am both of them. I should also mention that Josh holds a special place in my heart as well. He started out as nothing but a minor side character, a sort of fun-loving, prankster cowboy, but grew and grew until he was real to me as well.

SiN: You say there’s a lot of you in Ethan. Just how much? Do you care to elaborate on that?

MRP: First of all, Ethan is a lot more mature than I was at seventeen. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 25 – or even date, for that matter. I was just so socially awkward and introverted that even though I knew I was gay at 17, there’s no way I was ready to take it on. Me at 25 is probably the equivalent of Ethan at 17. I chose to make Ethan younger because I felt that in the Old West when boys grew up a lot faster, if I presented Ethan as a 25 year old virgin, it just wouldn’t be believable.

SiN: Who is your favorite fictional character created by someone other than yourself?

MRP: It’s really hard to pick favorites for me, but I’ll mention a few that stand out in my mind because there is a little something extra that gives them real depth. Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, Cassandra in I Capture the Castle,and Jo March in Little Women.

SiN: What was your first book and what was it about?

MRP: Oh God, must I answer that? Can’t The Filly just be my first as it is the first published? Okay, when I was a little kid I wrote picture books with all my favorite cartoon characters: The Flintstones, Winnie the Pooh, Peanuts and so forth. I guess you could call it a kid’s version of fan fiction. Then I started creating my own characters in stories. Looking back at it now, they were really pretty awful and one would certainly not detect a shred of literary talent in any of it. When I was an older teenager, I attempted a short novel about a mortal girl who gets romantically involved with a warlock, sort of the reverse of Bewitched. It’s crap too and I would never allow anybody to read it. So I basically gave up writing at 19 and didn’t take it up again for another 20 years.

SiN: Do you do anything to summon up inspiration – write to music, have a special writing hat etc?

MRP: Generally, I have to pound everything out in my head before I ever set anything down on paper. I do this by pacing around the house and sometimes talking aloud to myself. Obviously I have to be alone when I do this, otherwise my partner would be calling to have them cart me off to a mental institution. When I’ve finally brainstormed enough to have some semblance of a story, I’ll set to work typing it out on the computer.

SiN: What works in progress have you got on the go at the moment?

MRP: I’ve written the first three chapters of a pre-quel to The Filly. InThe Filly Travis briefly tells Ethan about a girl from his past, a childhood sweetheart with whom he lost his virginity and who was deeply in love with him and wanted to marry him. I was thinking about writing some short stories about some of the events in my characters’ pasts to help flesh out the present, and when I thought about this girl, I realized she had an entire story to tell and, damn it if she wasn’t going to be the star of my next book. So I rolled back four years to 1874 to begin the story of Violet Foster, the 19 year-old daughter of a wealthy, widowed San Antonio businessman. She has all her hopes and dreams wrapped up in one soul, none other than Travis Cain. It’s less of a Western, and more of a post Civil War story, and deals with issues such as ex-slaves who are free in name only, but continue to live in complete servitude to their white employers. Now since Travis is yet again not the main character, but secondary, and he has yet to deal with the truth of his sexual desires, I don’t think it will qualify as “gay fiction,” so I may be letting down readers of The Filly who want more gay western lore. But it’s a story I need to tell, and I intend to visit Travis again in a sequel where he will finally get to be the star. It will be set circa 1905 when he will be about 50. Sorry, I’ve got no details figured out yet on that one.

I’d also like to write a fictional biography of a real-life historical character of my own choosing. But of course that takes a tremendous amount of research because you don’t want your fictional counterparts to contradict any known facts about your historical character. There are plenty of gay historical characters to choose from: Oscar Wilde, Alexander the Great, Edward II, Kynaston, Michaelangelo, to name a few.

SiN: If your book became a big Hollywood film, who would you cast to play your characters?

MRP: Oh good, a question that caters to my little fantasy. “Hello? Mr. Spielberg? You loved The Filly and want to make a movie of it?!!!” But seriously, it’s a hard question to answer because I didn’t visualize any famous actors when writing it. I think I’d prefer unknowns to play the parts.

SiN: How did you feel the day you first held a copy of The Filly in your hands?

MRP: There were three goals I set up in my mind that I thought would be a thrilling experience. The first was to see the Amazon listing of my book, the second to hold a finished printed and bound copy in my hands, and the third hasn’t happened yet – to walk into a bookstore and see it sitting on a shelf. I think I built it up so much in my mind that when the first two actually happened, it was sort of anti-climatic and I wasn’t as thrilled as I expected I would be. I know that’s not a very good answer, but I’m being truthful about it. I have gotten praise from different people, some of whom I was a fan, and others who were just readers that stumbled upon my book and I can honestly say, I was tickled from my head to my toes over that.

And by the way, my book did make it into three real-life brick and mortar LGBT bookstores. So if you live in Philadelphia, Northampton MA, or Milwaukee, go in, take a picture of my book on the shelf and email it to me. It really will give me a thrill!

SiN: Who is your favorite current author and what is your favorite genre to read?

MRP: I’ll limit my answer to mainstream authors since I don’t want to hurt the feelings of some of the other small-press authors with whom I’ve networked by not picking them. I’ll probably take some flack for this, but I’d have to say J. K. Rowling. The Harry Potter series has really been a delight and it’s done a lot to get kids back to reading again. Before Harry Potter, when have you ever seen kids willingly reading 800-page books and begging for more?

As for my favorite genre, I like anything that takes me out of the present day. So historical fiction is a biggie, even if it is just 20 or 30 years past. I also occasionally like the diversion of other-worldly stuff, like fantasy, sci-fi, or futuristic. Even though contemporary fiction is my least favorite, a good book is a good book and I’m not about to exclude an excellent read just because it may not be written in my favorite genre.

SiN: You started your own publishing company, didn’t you? What prompted you to make that decision? Would you recommend it?

MRP: Yes, I started Cheyenne Publishing for the sole purpose of publishing my own books. I tried the traditional route first, querying agents and receiving rejection letters. Unless you have a contact in the publishing business, it’s pretty much a dead end. And as I researched more and more about the publishing business, I realized that even if by some miracle I managed to get traditionally published by a big name, it was unlikely that the publisher would really get behind me and promote my book. Unless you are a name-brand author or your book is one of the very few that they really have faith in, they leave it to you to promote anyway. And if they don’t see really big numbers really soon, BAM you’re out of print. So publishing myself under my own imprint was all about me having control. Yes it means a lot of hard work to get even a small niche of readers to find you or know who you are, but you don’t have to worry about the axe dropping and you also have the final say in a lot of things such as cover design, and editorial content. Yes you need to get a lot of advice and weigh it, but ultimately, you decide. I also recommend that you hire a really good editor. That’s the one area where you don’t want to cheap out. Would I recommend it? That depends. If you have to max out your credit cards and have no means of paying off the bills should your book not sell well, then of course I would say no. But if you have the means and go in with the expectation that you may not get a return on your investment, but you’ll have the satisfaction that people will be reading and enjoying your book, then yes!

SiN: Why cowboys – and why historical?

MRP: That’s easy. Because I love the genre. With gay stories popping up all over the place in so many different genres, it seemed to me at the time that the Western was one place where homosexuality was still devoid. Of course I started writing my book before Brokeback Mountain came out as a movie. I thought it was unique when I first dreamed it up, but then once I started digging I found there were actually quite a few gay Westerns already out there, so even though I had to concede that it wasn’t a unique idea, I still tried to make it the best I could.

SiN: Some reviewers are touting your book as YA. Was that what you had in mind when you wrote it?

MRP: Absolutely. I wanted to write a book that I would have enjoyed and that would have helped me to come to terms with my homosexuality when I was a teenager. There weren’t any books like that 25-30 years ago and the gay books that did exist back then, if I’d had access to them, would have embarrassed me and would have filled me with guilt, due to their very adult nature. If even one gay teen reads The Filly and feels better about himself because of it, I will feel that I have been a great success.

Thanks a lot Mark, great interview.

The Filly can be purchased HERE. A review of the book can be found HERE.

Review: Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander by Ann Herendeen

HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-145136-2


Andrew Carrington is the ideal Regency gentleman: heir to an earldom, wealthy, handsome, athletic—and gay. When he decides to do his duty to his family, he wants marriage on his terms: an honest arrangement, with no disruption to his way of life. But in the penniless, spirited—and curvaceous—Phyllida Lewis, a self-educated author of romances, Andrew gets more than he bargained for, perhaps even love. And when he meets honorable, shrewd—and hunky—Matthew Thornby, son of a self-made baronet, Andrew seems to have everything a man could desire, until a spy and blackmailer tries to ruin him and his friends.

Review by T J Pennington (WARNING: Review has many spoilers)

I get the feeling that this book garnered the attention it did because the romance reviewers were, by and large, not familiar with stories involving gay or bisexual characters and therefore found this kind of romance new and daring. I, on the other hand, have read, proofread, written and published both, and I know a great many people who have done the same. Consequently, I’m not looking at this book as something innovative, but as part of a long-established genre.

Originally published by AuthorHouse on September 12, 2005 (and re-published by Harper Collins on April 29, 2008), it is the tale of a peer’s nephew named Andrew Carrington, who wants to marry a young woman named Phyllida Lewis. Andrew is rich and needs an heir. He’s also homosexual.

We know that the story takes place in 1812 because the Prime Minister is assassinated at the end of the book, and Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated, died on May 11, 1812. Now…in 1812, mind you, when homosexuality was a hanging offense and even being rumored to be homosexual got you three to six months in Newgate…Phyllida not only knows that Andrew is gay but talks about it casually and states that she has no objection to men of that sort.

“Well,” I can hear people whispering, “perhaps Phyllida is ahead of her time. Perhaps she is simply less prejudiced than most people in her era. That’s possible, right?” But then the situation with Andrew and Phyllida gets better.

Phyllida agrees to consider Andrew as a prospective husband. He comes to her mother’s house to visit her. Her mother immediately leaves Phil without herself or another older woman as a chaperone (which would be enough to ruin the young woman socially) and exits stage left with Andrew’s friend and lover, Verney. Andrew and Phyllida talk, mostly about sex and marriage, for five minutes. Then he convinces her to sit in his lap, gives her a French kiss, puts her hand on his erection and starts pinching and stroking one of her nipples.

Five minutes after meeting her.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone started forcing me to stroke him and grabbing my nipple five minutes after meeting me, that guy would get a knee to the crotch and a punch in the nose. I cannot think of any society in which Andrew’s behavior is acceptable, never mind the heavily mannered world of the Regency. At the very least, I would expect Phyllida to slap the rude, crude bastard’s face and flounce out of the room, not press herself against his erection. This is a young woman who has already turned down one suitor for being “debauched,” after all.

Never mind the implication that gayness can be fixed by the right woman. Because Phil’s so awesomely female that she instantly turns Andrew, who has previously had no attraction to women, bisexual. *headdesk *

I could accept the idea of a straight man suppressing homosexual impulses for years until one day he couldn’t ignore them any longer. But that’s not the case here. What we have is a gay man in a heteronormative society which is strongly geared toward male/female pairings and marriages who somehow fails to notice until he’s in his mid-thirties that he’s actually interested in women as well as men. I cannot shake the feeling that Andrew should have recognized this attraction a little earlier.

Moreover, we get other contradictions. Phyllida states that she’s twenty-two and “not on the shelf”– which I think is supposed to mean that she’s not yet a spinster. However, the term and the attitude are both wrong. The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue says that at the time “on the shelf” meant “pawned.” And a woman of twenty-two, four years past her first season, would be decidedly long in the tooth as far as the marriage market was concerned.

Of course, the heroine is blessed with every virtue. We are told this before we are shown it. We are informed that Phyllida has inherited her father’s good looks and her mother’s brains, that she is independent, the picture of maidenly innocence, generous, dutiful, modest and the prettiest girl in the county. She is also a somewhat successful writer of gothic romances. The only reason that such a paragon is unmarried, of course, is not that no one has proposed–but that she has never found a man that she wishes to wed.

Phyllida is oddly knowledgeable about homosexuality for a young lady of her time, and oddly casual about it too. I found this jarring. I ended up reading over her first speech about Andrew several times. “Did she really say that the man doesn’t care for women?” I found myself asking. “Does she know what that means? And…wait a second! She ‘doesn’t have any objection to men of that sort’? Moreover, she comfortably engages in “a technical but spicy discussion of the safest way to express unnatural relationships between men, sexual acts not confined to the standard one between men and women, and other interesting topics” at her publisher’s. I tried to imagine Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters having such a discussion with their publishers, and nearly broke my brain.

As I read on, however, I learned that Phyllida’s attitude was not so strange. Phyllida, you see, inhabits the world of OK Homo. It is common knowledge that Andrew Carrington—whose name makes me think of the old soap opera, Dynasty–is a sodomite; this is established early on. Now, according to A History of Criminal Law: The Movement for Reform, 1750-1833 by Leon Radzinowicz, the penalty for sodomy and what was termed “the crime against nature” (a catch-all term which could mean oral sex, homosexual acts in general, bestiality…oh, and sodomy itself) was deprivation of clergy (no last-minute confessions or forgiveness from God, in other words) and death by hanging. Provided that penetration and emission could both be proven, both the top AND the bottom would be hanged…provided that the bottom was aged fourteen or over. If the bottom was under fourteen, he was not guilty of a felony, though the top was.

Yet, despite the fact that homosexual acts are allegedly a crime in this book, as they were in real life, nothing happens to Andrew—or to Monkton, Verney or any of the members of the Brotherhood of Philander. The gay club is never raided, though everyone knows it is a gay club and that sexual acts take place on the premises. Andrew’s younger brother is not only aware of his brother’s homosexuality, but—I suppose jokingly, though it’s not funny—asks Andrew not to expect him to service Andrew on his knees as one of his male lovers would. No, really. He says that.

“Just as long as you don’t ask me to do what your ganymedes do on their knees,” Richard said. “Although considering the fate you’ve spared me [by paying all his debts], I’d accept that as a fair trade.”

Nor is Richard the only one saying inappropriate things. Andrew’s sister Lady Fanshawe gossips about her brother’s sexual orientation to his new bride and thinks nothing of it. Phyllida herself speaks openly and before witnesses about Andrew having male lovers; she’s reproved for speaking “brazenly,” but Andrew suffers no adverse consequences at all. Indeed, his sexuality is discussed openly at dances, at parties, and at the theatre by all and sundry, and it is no more than a topic of curiosity—and a bet. Yes, all of upper-crust society is knows that Andrew has a taste for men, and is betting on whether or not he can consummate the marriage and get Phyllida with child. Phyllida is told about this bet on at least twelve separate occasions. Andrew’s sexual preference is certainly not a criminal matter; it’s a source of amusement. I could not help but wonder why the Brotherhood of Philander, with its devotion to secrecy, needed to exist in the first place.

As the book goes on, it becomes clear that not only is this the world of OK Homo, but also a large proportion of the cast is a) bisexual and b) attracted to everyone else. Phyllida starts things off by declaring that Lady Fanshawe, Andrew’s sister, is “magnetically, erotically fascinating,” which I think is rather hard to misunderstand. Andrew, of course, is proclaimed to be gay throughout but can’t get enough of Phyllida in bed, so I’ll say that he’s bi. An allegedly bisexual actor and his equally bisexual actress sister both find Phyllida charming and fascinating. Lord Isham, the founder of the Brotherhood of Philander is married, and his male lover, Lord Rupert, is the father of one of Isham’s supposed sons. Isham, Isham’s wife and Rupert give Phyllida marital advice and quite a lot of information about how their menagé a trois works. Andrew’s doctor is both the physician for the Brotherhood of Philander and one of Andrew’s former lovers, yet he finds Phyllida appealing and doesn’t doubt for a minute that Andrew could have fallen in love with a woman. And of course, Monkton—a self-described completely homosexual man who reminded me of the camp Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited –tells Phyllida after a few minutes acquaintance that she inspires irresistible lust even in him.

Please note that the common denominator for all of this het lust in the non-straight is Phyllida, for Phyllida is the anti-gay. It even says so in the text. Here Monkton speaks to her:

“Have you looked in the glass lately? I mean within the past five years? You are beautiful. Not perhaps in the current ideal, but in a much more meaningful way, a carnal way, that men find irresistible, even men like me, to an extent. For the majority, those who are closer to the middle of the spectrum, like Carrington, you must appear as a very dainty morsel indeed.”

Look at what Monkton is saying:

1) There’s a spectrum of sexuality—a concept that popularized by the Kinsey Reports [Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948 ) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).] Monkton mentioning it, therefore, is a blatant anachronism.

2) The majority of people are in the middle of the spectrum and therefore bisexual. This is an anachronistic opinion based on an anachronism—heterosexuality would definitely have been regarded as the norm in 1812. And speaking of alternate sexuality to a respectable married woman after only a few minutes acquaintance? In the heavily mannered world of the Regency? This is not merely anachronistic; it is surrealistic.

3) Beauty means more if it inspires lust.

4) Phyllida is so desirable, she can even make a completely homosexual man lust after her and find her irresistible.

I dislike this last intensely, for it says that homosexuality is something that can be changed if a gay man just meets the right woman. This is not a pro-gay attitude; it’s a reactionary one. It’s the basis of the whole idea that homosexuality is a condition that can and should be cured. That such an attitude exists in a novel rife with homosexuality and bisexuality I find deplorable.

But Monkton doesn’t stop there. I could have passed off his previous comment as exaggeration or sarcasm if he had, but no.

“…you have true beauty, and wit and intelligence. And while you are neither spiteful nor cruel, you have not allowed your natural kindness and generosity to cloud the shining purity of your malice. There is a remarkable openness in your conversation, with just the hint of acid that makes for a perfect bouquet, like a dry wine of superior vintage.”

You would think that anything that praised malice and acidity would be a back-handed compliment at best. However, Monkton has already told Phyllida that he finds most women dull and insipid and that he likes her wit and her sense of humor, so this is praise for what ought to be a flaw, as well as laudation for all of her other virtues.

There were moments that I had to struggle to read on. For example, Phyllida’s mother “eye[s] her daughter in her lush nakedness with gloating admiration” and makes a point of cutting twenty-two-year-old Phyllida’s pubic hair…for no clear and convincing reason. She says that Andrew “won’t want a dirty bush down there”–but since Andrew has no experience with women whatsoever, I don’t see why he would care. It seems more like an excuse to get close to her adult daughter’s genitalia. I’m not a fan of incest, lesbian or otherwise…and yet Mrs. Lewis’s actions strongly hint that this is not your average mother-daughter relationship.

Herendeen also produces quite the worst sexual scenes and sexual descriptions I’ve ever read. The gay sex scenes are brief and vague to the point of non-existence and focus on Andrew verbally flagellating his partners for being willing to have sex with him. It reads as if the author has no idea how gay sex even works, anatomically and emotionally, and is trying desperately to skim over the details.

Yet the het sex is no better. In the honeymoon scene, Andrew coyly refers to his penis as his “beef bayonet,” and acts as if he thinks is a very witty and sexy phrase. He also compares female arousal to “ordinary female sliminess” and thinks of Phyllida’s dampness as “clear mucus.” I found it most peculiar that an allegedly bisexual man who described things in such terms would want to have sex with a woman at all. Phyllida, for her part, thinks of “fucking,” “screwing” and “rape,” terms which a gently reared young lady of the Regency almost certainly would not use, and observes that “[t]he sound of him pulling out” was “a sucking, farting sound.” If any of this sounds even remotely attractive, I’m not telling it right.

It’s very strange, incidentally, that Phyllida thinks in terms of marital rape. The concept simply didn’t exist during the Regency. I can remember when the question of whether a woman could be raped by her husband first arose, in fact—during the 1970s. Before that, a woman was legally presumed to be “in a constant state of readiness for her husband”–that her body was his property, and that by marrying him, she’d already said yes. That, given the time and the place, is the concept that Phyllida should logically have. She doesn’t have to like it, and I do not expect that she would. But she should be aware that any man she married would have total access to her body at all times, because that’s the norm for her world. Instead, she repeatedly protests, screams and whines that she’s been raped…after thinking, time and again, how much she desires Andrew, and after eagerly and enthusiastically responding to her husband’s advances. It’s mad, illogical, anachronistic behavior, and it makes about as much sense as a member of the Boston Tea Party protesting the war with Iraq.

However, when Phyllida actually is assaulted by her husband’s steward, she doesn’t even think of rape, although there is no question that is what he’s attempting. Even more ludicrous is the fact that the attempted rapist blackmails her into silence by threatening to tell all “[a]bout your sodomite husband and all his friends at the Brotherhood of Philander”–even though Phyllida knows perfectly well that everyone already knows about her sodomite husband and all his friends at the Brotherhood of Philander. An author cannot create tension by stressing a danger that’s already been shown to be negligible.

Not only is marital rape a topic in the novel, but so are inheritance, divorce and illegitimacy. Unfortunately, they, too, are mentioned in a way that betrays the author’s ignorance. Francis Newburn (Andrew’s uncle, the earl) states the following:

“Better have it out now,” Newburn said. “No point in having someone else’s brat inheriting the title when it’s too late to do anything about it. Better a divorce now than the entire estate passing to the by-blow of an actor or a libertine.”

Let me count the ways in which that little speech is wrong.

First, the matter of inheritance. Newburn has no sons of his own who would inherit the title and his property. His younger brother, Andrew’s father, would inherit, but he’s dead. Andrew, Newburn’s oldest nephew, is the closest male relative that Newburn has. Assuming that the closest male relative is eligible to inherit—which wasn’t always the case, but seems to be so here–Andrew will inherit both his uncle’s title and his uncle’s estate. The only ways that he could fail to inherit would be if he were a minor at the time of his uncle’s death (and even then he’d inherit when he came of age), a bankrupt, insane, or dead. Francis Newburn has no say in the matter of who will have the title after him. (And being a scandalous and disgraceful person never stopped anyone from inheriting, though Andrew doesn’t seem to know this.)

Secondly, Newburn speaks as if divorce were commonplace and easy to obtain. Prior to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, divorce was very, very difficult to get. It cost hundreds of pounds, dragged on for years and required the passing of a private act of Parliament. Only four women ever got divorces by act of Parliament. Furthermore, a divorced couple would not be allowed to remarry in the church, as their ex-spouses were still alive. This would rather inconvenience anyone like a peer or a peer’s heir, i.e. Andrew, who needed to sire a legitimate son.

Third, illegitimacy. If a wife had an affair and got pregnant–which Newburn is as good as telling Phyllida he thinks she’s going to do—it was up to the husband to accept or reject the child. If he accepted the child, the child was, under the law, his. (Before the days of DNA testing, it would be rather hard to disprove parentage, after all.) Newburn shouldn’t be focusing on Phyllida; he should be trying to persuade Andrew to reject any child Andrew isn’t absolutely certain is his, because Andrew is the one who can confer or deny legitimacy to his wife’s offspring.

Newburn is protesting situations that do not exist, and is proposing solutions that do not exist, either. I must say that I consider this strange for a work that has been described as “meticulously researched.”

There are other bits that make no sense in the social context of the novel. For example, the matter of servants. Andrew has a staff of twenty at his townhouse, including a butler. Yet no servant ever answers the door or announces visitors, as would be the duty of a footman or butler. Instead, guests—and I use the term loosely–just walk right in off the street and announce themselves loudly to all and sundry, in the hopes of finding the master or mistress of the house at home. (For some reason, Yardley the butler never locks the front door.)

Then, too, Andrew hires Nan, a scullery maid, to act as Phyllida’s lady’s maid. This is patently ridiculous; the two jobs were light-years apart in terms of training and social status. No jumped-up girl from the scullery, whose job would have involved stoking the kitchen stove, emptying chamber pots, scrubbing the kitchen and the pantry, setting the table and washing dishes, pots and pans, would ever be a lady’s maid. Ladies’ maids were companions to their mistress, second only to the housekeeper in terms of status. They took care of the mistress’s hair and clothes, packed for her, helped her change five or six times a day, and accompanied her on trips to country houses. It was an enviable position in the servant hierarchy, and everyone upstairs and downstairs would know it. For Andrew to promote a Cockney scullery maid to such a job, he’d have to be extraordinarily ignorant of the norms of his own class and society, extraordinarily insulting toward his new wife, or both.

Phyllida also isn’t familiar with the society of her day, though she should be. For example, she claims that the Season begins after Easter. This is erroneous. The Season began when Parliament sat for the first time. This could be anytime from after Christmas through January. Admittedly, things did tend to pick up a bit after Easter (and no wonder, given the difficulties of riding in a horse-drawn carriage across unpaved, unplowed, icy roads), but nevertheless, the Season started in the winter.

Stranger than the characters’ vast ignorance of the world around them are the odd contradictions in Phyllida’s personality. She’s a demure and innocent young miss while also possessing a fiery temper, coarse manners and cursing like a stevedore. She is supposed to be a businesswoman who deals with editors and publishers. Yet at the same time, she is so naive that she has no idea that the average upper-class Regency woman is NOT wearing a “low-cut bodice that expose[s] the top of the nipples” or a “net tunic over the sheer underskirt through which the dark triangle at the top of her thighs showed as a dim shadow” in public.

This is not to say that diaphanous clothing never existed in England. It did, circa 1789, during the Directoire period. However, it only lasted a few years. “[B]y 1812,” writes Venetia Murray in An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, “they [N.B. the English] had gone back to their false bosoms and familiar corsets.”

You would think that Phyllida would recognize that the diaphanous clothes are of a fashion twenty-three years out of date. Most young women would stick at wearing the hopelessly out-of-fashion garments that their mothers used to wear. And surely a young woman brought up in a small, conservative village would press for something slightly more modest. The only conclusion I can draw is that Phyllida is the Regency’s proto-nudist.

I have mentioned Phyllida being a writer of gothic romances. There is nothing wrong with that; gothics were indeed being written at the time. However, gothic fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was very different from the stories that Phyllida writes. Books that readers of gothics would have read—for Frankenstein, The Vampyre, tales by Hawthorne and Poe, as well as Jane Austen’s parody of gothic fiction, Northanger Abbey, had not yet been written in 1812—would have been The Monk (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Italian (1797) by Ann Radcliffe, Clermont (1797) and The Children of the Abbey (1800) by Regina Maria Roche, and Wieland (1797) by Charles Brockton Brown.

But Phyllida does not write about terror, curses, ghosts, demons, madness, the evils of science, or the power of the Devil, which would have been typical for gothic fiction. No. She writes about the villainous Lord Iskander who wants Melisande, a woman he is holding captive and with whom he has already had orgasmic sex, to give him a blowjob.

This might qualify as gothic romance nowadays. It is not, however, what would have qualified as gothic back then.

As for sex being so blatantly portrayed in a novel of the time—not in a mainstream press. Possibly in an underground press, but not a mainstream one. The precedent was set in 1727 when Edmund Curl, an English publisher, was convicted for disturbing the peace for publishing Venus in the Cloister, in which two nuns merely talk about sex. Obviously, disturbing the peace is not a felony, and yet a lawsuit is a lawsuit. I doubt if Phyllida’s publisher would agree to publish anything that might get him, his publishing company or foolish Phyllida into legal trouble; mud has a nasty habit of sticking.

Phyllida also speaks of earning her own income through writing. This made me hurl the book across the room in fury, for it’s blatantly wrong, as the 1836 Caroline Norton case attests. Caroline Norton was a member of upper-class society who tried to separate from her husband. After she left her husband, Norton made it impossible for her to see her children, cut off all access to the marital property and charged Caroline and Lord Melbourne with adultery. The court case was unsuccessful, but it wore on for years. Caroline tried getting a divorce from Norton on the grounds of cruelty after the adultery case ended. She failed, for his behavior was not considered cruelty under the law.

Without any other income, Caroline began selling stories and poems. However, Caroline was still legally married—and her husband, as was his legal right, claimed a great deal of what she earned as his property.

The Caroline Norton case was the impetus for reform of the laws regarding married women and property. And the laws were changed, yes. But the Married Women’s Property Law was not passed until 1882…seventy years from Phyllida’s time.

So Phyllida, like Caroline Norton, has no legal rights. Any money she earns from her books belongs to Andrew. Phyllida’s contract with her publisher is now null and void, because any contracts made by an unmarried woman dissolved the day she married; all of her property was belonged to her husband. And Phyllida cannot re-negotiate a new one on her own, for no married woman could make a contract without her husband’s consent, or sign one without her husband being co-signer. It’s most peculiar that the author missed all of this, seeing as how it impacts her subplot of Phyllida as writer. It’s not as if the information were inaccessible. I found it in two minutes.

I must add that Phyllida has a most peculiar morality. She doesn’t understand why her husband’s brother, Dick, is considered a rake when he’s notorious for seducing women and, on at least one occasion, got a widow pregnant with his illegitimate son. I was under the impression that this was the kind of behavior that one could expect from a rake. As far as Phyllida is concerned, however, Dick just likes women, and what’s wrong with that? She also considers Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to be guilty of two sins—the sins of disbedience to their parents and another that isn’t specified…though she seems unaware that the two were married. At the same time, she gets sexually turned on by seeing a young allegedly bisexual actor dry-hump her husband in front of her, and, when the actor apologizes for his behavior, tells him with a soft smile, a laugh and shining eyes, “There is nothing to forgive, Mr. Powyl. I am delighted that Andrew has such an interesting friend.”

Phyllida reminds me very strongly of the original characters who populate every fandom—the ones who are shy yet outspoken, happy yet harboring a secret sorrow, loving yet friendless, calm but ill-tempered. The author seems to want her to have things not only both ways, but every which way. I kept wishing that Herendeen would pick one set of traits for Phyllida and stick with them for the rest of the book.

Also, there is a great deal wrong with Andrew. He is continually presented as having come to terms with his sexuality and having absolutely no shame, yet he angrily addresses the men he has sex with as “sluts” and “whores,” and curses Harry Swain, when he receives Harry’s “Dear John” letter, as a “whoring cunt” and “a goddamned two-timing bitch.” He does this whether he’s talking to a rentboy, an actor or a fellow nobleman. (Personally I found it interesting that all of the words that Andrew uses to revile men are words about women. This goes a long way toward dissuading me that he likes or respects women, much less loves Phyllida.)

He also spends a great deal of time brooding about whether the alleged love of his life, Harry, has been physically faithful to him for the three years that he has been in the army. Yet Andrew has been rather blatantly unfaithful to Harry Swain…with, as near as I can tell, half the male population of England. Nor does he bother to write to the man he supposedly loves and tell him, “Oh, by the way, I’m married now, but don’t worry, I still love you.” He is, to be blunt, a selfish and emotionally frozen creature who lacks the ability to speak to anyone he’s been physically intimate with as if they are human beings.

Yet, at the same time, Andrew behaves like a stereotypical queen. He not only bursts into tears when Harry breaks things off with him because Harry’s fallen in love with someone else—and after three years of playing around, I can hardly believe Andrew is heartbroken–he also goes into shock and needs brandy to revive him, then vomits and faints. This doesn’t fit Andrew’s previous behavior; I can only conclude that Herendeen thinks that this is how a gay man, regardless of his personality, would inevitably act under emotional stress. More practical questions— such as “Why didn’t Andrew enlist in the same company as Harry, if he wanted to be with Harry?” and “Why didn’t Harry get any leave in three years?”–are simply never answered.

Quite a few other stereotypes are trotted out and claimed to be facts, too. For example, Andrew’s doctor, Reginald Stevens, informs Phyllida that “[t]hree years is a ridiculously long time to hold onto the memory of a love affair,” though it’s clear that the love affair ended that morning and not three years ago. Nor does Stevens qualify his statement by adding that it’s a long time “if one of the men is away at war” or “given the fact that couples who love each other can’t be together openly.” This sounds like a reiteration of a stereotype I remember hearing when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s: that homosexual men simply could not commit in any relationship. Phyllida, for her part, wonders whether Harry Swain played husband or wife in his relationship with Andrew…another persistent stereotype.

And then there is Matthew Thornby. He is allegedly the love of Andrew’s life, though he doesn’t show up until almost three hundred pages in. I was not convinced that Andrew loved him; he acted the same way toward Matthew that he did toward all of his sexual partners, swearing at and reviling him. That he was sexually attracted, I had no doubt. I simply did not believe that Andrew could be in everlastingly true love with Matthew after a little small talk and a quick screw outside. I think that a little getting to know each other and building a friendship between the two men would have been nice—but no. Sex first.

Herendeen cannot seem to keep details about Thornby straight. He bounces between speaking the King’s English flawlessly and dropping into the broad accent of a Yorkshire farmer—as if everyone from Yorkshire spoke the same way. He’s described as being quite wealthy, the son of a baronet who earned his money through cotton and of sufficient social stature to attend White’s and Almack’s…yet Andrew tries to hire him as his secretary for two hundred pounds a year on the grounds that “it’s more than you’re getting now” as “a wage slave, grubbing in that wretched warehouse in the City or wherever you go.” And oh, yes, he’s quite serious. He’s trying to place his lover in his household, yes, but Andrew really thinks he’s doing the man a favor by giving him a good job. Andrew never wonders once how anyone who “grubbed in a warehouse” could afford to associate with him in the first place.

But then, there is a lot of confusion in this book. On one page, Phyllida is punching her husband for having sex with her; a few pages later, she’s dreaming about how amazing the sex felt and wondering when they’ll do it again. In another section, Phyllida and Nan dress up like men so that they can get into the Brotherhood of Philander to spy; a page or so later, she’s teaching Nan, one of their neighbors and Nan’s male prostitute lover how to read by using one of her novels as a primer. There is talk about lords wanting a career in politics (members of the peerage couldn’t run for the House of Commons), a muddling of corporal punishment and capital punishment, the suggestion that peers were exempt from hanging (they weren’t—though they were entitled to be hanged with a silk rope rather than one made from hemp), and a convoluted spy plot that involves a government official who deals with espionage putting a spy of French ancestry in Andrew’s house as an employee, and the spy then trying to blackmail homosexual men who are very obviously out. The spy, Philip Turner, was passing on coded messages about the Brotherhood of Philander—no, he didn’t know anything about it until he was brought to the club. Turner is completely straight and repulsed by homosexuality; no, he’s bisexual; no, he’s homosexual and repulsed by women. Turner is an English agent; no, he’s an American and a former slave working for the French, but he’s still guilty of treason because he was spying on England.

The language, too, is somewhat jarring—inaccurate to a distracting degree. For example, there is a reference to a gentleman’s club for gays as “an exclusive madge house.” I looked it up in Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811). “Madge” was the slang term for a woman’s private parts. A “madge cull”–someone severed or separated from a woman’s private parts—was a male homosexual. So the club most emphatically has the wrong name—it might as well be called a pussy palace.

On the other hand, readers are also confronted with language that could not possibly have been used in 1812. “Gold digger,” in the sense of “woman who pursues men for their money,” was first recorded in 1915; “plaster saint,” in 1890; “teenager,” in 1941. “Making love,” in the sense of having sex, was first used in the USA in the 1950s; before then, it was a synonym for courting or wooing someone. “Migraine” is surprisingly legal—the word has been around since 1373—but I have to admit that I’ve heard the terms “megrims” and “sick headaches” used more often in books of the time.

A diligent proofreader who was unafraid to use a red pen would have done wonders…but this copy of the book was published by AuthorHouse, and AuthorHouse does not proofread, edit or even read the manuscripts they publish.

Doubtless at this point some people are fuming. I can hear them from here. “You’re being far too critical! She did her best! What do you want, a history textbook?”

No. No, I don’t. However, when a book is being sold as a historical novel—and the blurb cites the fact that this takes place in the Regency twice and praises it for “taking the reader to a little-known side of Regency life” once—I expect the novel to include well-written history interwoven with the plot. I do not like being jarred from a book with a reaction of “Wait, WHAT did the author just say?” every two pages or so. I don’t enjoy finding blatant error after blatant error in a book lauded for its attention to historical detail. What troubles me is that it wouldn’t have been hard to find and use correct historical information, and yet the author didn’t bother to do so—or, if she did, did not bother to incorporate it into the story. I am at a loss to understand why.

The writer herself says in an afterword that since the book is a romance, she considers it to be a form of fantasy fiction. This may well be her wish-fulfillment fantasy—given the idealization of her beautiful, virtuous, sexually desirable romance novelist heroine who is loved and wanted by all men, I don’t doubt it for an instant—but it is not fantasy fiction. That’s a different genre altogether. If the book is being sold as a historical, then saying after the novel is done that it only contains “elements of fact” and that she “wanted to create a mood, not a gussied-up history lesson” by using anachronistic language demonstrates rather clearly that Herendeen is writing in the wrong genre. She should not be writing historicals if she doesn’t want to bother with history or research. Since she could not be bothered to get one thing right in this book, and chose to make excuses for her sloppy work afterwards, I must conclude that she cares nothing for either.

Rating: one star. The best that I can say about it is that the work, at least, was Herendeen’s. It simply wasn’t good work.

A native New Yorker and lifelong resident of Brooklyn, Ann Herendeen has worked as a researcher for an urban planning consultant; an advertising media planner; a public and academic business reference librarian; a trademarks monitor for an intellectual property law firm; and a cataloging librarian specializing in natural history. Ann is a graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in English while maintaining a strong interest in English history.

Buy Phyllida & the Brotherhood of Philander from Amazon UK : Amazon USA

Review: Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk

Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk is a full-length historical novel set in Vienna, Austria, in an inner city hotel managed by a transvestite and doubling as a brothel for men who like boys dressed up as girls. The entire book takes place during a one-day time period — March 12, 1938, the day Hitler “invades” Austria. Told from the perspectives of twelve different characters including various hotel personnel, hotel guests, brothel employees and brothel clientele, we also have a talkative Viennese official, German police, Nazi SS, and a darling street boy.

This is a terrible book. Yes, that got your attention, didn’t it? I don’t mean terrible as in bad, though, obviously. Rather than it’s a gripping and terrifying read.

Terrible

1. distressing; severe: a terrible winter.
2. extremely bad; horrible: terrible coffee; a terrible movie.
3. exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.
4. formidably great:

So I’m taking this as definition 4. Resoundingly.

The story takes places in about 24 hours of the Hotel Redl in Austria (Redl being the name of a homosexual who committed suicide in 1913) where Frau Friska Bielinska is the manager. It’s the day of the Anschluss – the day of the “reunification” (read invasion) of Austria by Germany. The city had been demonstrating against it, but gradually support and pro-Hitler force has grown to the stage where no-one dare speak out against it. Brownshirts prowl the streets beating up anyone they suspect to be Jewish (there’s a terrifying scene where Jews are put onto a merry go round which “can’t be stopped”) and are probably dead.

The Hotel Redl is a metaphor for the treatment of homosexuals/transvestites and many other types in German occupied territory. Every guest has something to hide, and every aberration from what the Germans consider the norm has been committed here. It’s difficult to describe the activities within the hotel without using language that might offend the gay readers as I don’t want to blanket them with the term “perversions” as clearly some of them – in our more enlightened world – such as enjoying men dressed as women, and homosexual behaviour – are not. However I must warn readers that there are also descriptive sections of necrophilia, rape, incest, suicide and murder.

It’s clear from the first page, being what it is and when it’s set, that this is not going to be a happy book. Yet Dementiuk does manage some incredible characterisation in very sparse prose. He paints his characters deftly, bringing them to life before our eyes with hard bold strokes rather than any flowery watercolour.

You feel for them all: from the pathetic Kaufmann who loved his boy-whore so much that he couldn’t bear to hear the boy call him old, to Kurt who struts around in his brownshirt thinking – all so wrongly – that it will save him from the SS when they discover him with his mouth on a man’s cock. (The SS was ironically founded by homosexuals, which was something I didn’t know). There’s Helmut with his breast fixation and Wanda with huge breasts but no interest in men. I could go on but I think you should discover them for yourselves.

There’s some wonderful narration too, and discussion of why some men dress as women, why some men want to pursue men dressed as women – which rather threw me out of the story when I first encountered it, but once accostumed to it it’s hard to look away and hard to be unconvinced by the arguments set down. If I disagreed with any aspect of the book it was the section with dealt with gang rape. I found it inconceivable that the raped woman would have climaxed with every man who raped her. Once – perhaps- one’s body is capable of betrayal, but women don’t work like that. More so that we are shown that this woman doesn’t climax “normally.”

My favourite character was the male-identifying-as-female Frau Bielinska who had such empathy and understanding even for the most troubled of her guests, but – although the characterisation isn’t deep (hard to do with 12 POVS) it’s convincing and you’ll find yourself empathising with them all and their doomed lives.

The most resounding feel of the book, however, is one of hopelessness; that the Juggernaut is coming and there’s no escaping its clutches. This is a book of people who have no hope – some who are running – some who have run as far as they can. A book about people completely unable to prevent something terrible they know is ahead, but how terrible it will be they can’t see, can’t possibly believe – or they’d be running harder and as fast and as far as they could.

Be brave and read this book. Yes, it’s hard to take, visceral and bloody and frankly disgusting in some of its clarity and honesty. But it needed to be this way. To not accept the fate of the Redl and consequently the true fate of many queers in Germany occupied territories would be to deny that any of this happened. Bravo.

There’s an excerpt here

Mykola Dementiuk was born in 1949 of Ukrainian parents in a West German DP camp, immigrating to America when he was two. After Catholic grade school & public high school in New York City, he graduated from Columbia University in 1984. A writer with varied employment, from gyro seller at
Lollapalooza to roustabout at the Big Apple Circus, Mykola helped create the magic of the Cirque du Soleil performances of “Alegria” in Santa Monica, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, and New York with his electrical work. After suffering a massive debilitating stroke in 1997, Mykola eventually returned to writing, using one finger to execute the fantasies and psycho-sexual stories of his min
d.

Buy from Synergy Press

Review: “Napoleon’s Privates” by Tony Perrottet

NAPOLEON’S PRIVATES
2,500 Years of History Unzipped

by Tony Perrottet
Harper Entertainment, ISBN 978-0-06-125728-5

From the blurb on the author’s website:

What were Casanova’s best pick-up lines?
(They got better as he got older).
Which Italian Renaissance genius “discovered” the clitoris?
(He could have just asked the Venetian nuns).
What was the party etiquette at Caligula’s orgies?
(Holding one’s own could be a stressful business in ancient Rome).
How were impotence sufferers put on trial in medieval France?
(And why this should be a new reality TV show).
What were the kinkiest private clubs of Hogarthian London?
(Austin Powers would have blanched).

And what was the truth about Napoleon’s privates?
(Was it a big baguette or petit éclair? And did size matter to Josephine?)

There are some books you just have to order, even if you fear the worst when it comes to content. I hang my head in shame – when I stumbled over “Napoleon’s Privates” (now please don’t take that literally!) I couldn’t resist. Yes, yes, I know, my mind’s in the gutter at times. But if everything else fails, there’s still eBay, right?

I’m happy to report that I won’t have to deal with eBay. “Napoleon’s Privates” is an amusing collection of the high and mighty’s “raunchy little secrets” all through history. Reading it transported me back to the days when I was a really young teenage girl and read with a friend “Dr. Sommer’s Sex And Relationship Tips” in a teenage magazine. Means: lots of giggling and the occasional “d’oh?”-experience!

Author Tony Perrottet knows how to keep his readers captivated. In the slick tone of a gossip journalist (an almost extinct species capable of forming complete sentences), he shares the tale of the whereabouts of Napoleon’s little emperor with as much wit and glee as the rather mind-boggling “Holy Guide to Coital Positions”. Perrottet completely won me over with his “Impressionist Misery Index”, listing the social backgrounds, personal dramas, career lows and wretched dotages of artists like Monet, Cézanne, Renoir et al just like Marvel Comics would have described the special powers of their super heroes.

Some chapters are almost exclusively of a speculative nature, though – was Abe Lincoln gay or not? – but to his credit, the author points this fact out and notes that it really wasn’t uncommon for men to share a bed back in those days. So “Napoleon’s Privates” is also a journey through the urban legends of the past.

However, all gossip and giggles aside, the misogynistic roots of some anecdotes are pointed out several times. The “Boys Club” could not deal with strong women, the church tried its best to keep them down, and many of the rumours still clinging to great women’s names – Katharina the Great and her “horse lover”, for example (complete rubbish, of course) – have been born out of this attitude. It’s also interesting to see how disparaging rumours about sexual prowess, sexual orientation or even shape of genitals have been used – and are still used! – to impair an enemy’s reputation.

For those interested in the history of sexuality in general, beauty ideals, gay history, gossip and saucy details, this book offers a lot of material to shake your head over. Kinky clubs in 18th century Scotland, proof of (im)potence in front of witnesses and the court, brothels, ancient sex toys, horny popes and knitted condoms, syphilis and why castrati made better lovers – “Napoleon’s Privates” offers all this, and more.

The book consists of stand-alone chapters, so you can easily put it away for a while. I read the whole thing in one go, though, so I can now impress my friends at the next party with my amazing knowledge about Napoleon’s dick and dickery between the sheets. I might even throw in the amazing tale of “The Invention of Smut”, should anybody ask.

Especially you navy folk will be pleased to hear that the Duke of Wellington, if actress “Mademoiselle Georges” (a former mistress of Napoleon) can be believed, “was by far the more vigorous.”

In conclusion:
a) “Napoleon’s Privates” is a book wellworth buying, and
b) people are funnier than anybody.

In case you’re interested: the author’s website.

“Napoleon’s Privates” is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and as e-book from Harper Collins.

* * *

(c) Emma Collingwood

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