Review: Sandals and Sodomy (anthology)

Review by Erastes

I don’t often comment on a book’s layout but this one deserves it. It’s beautifully done – a tasteful cover to complement the mention of Sodomy and a restrained, classical theme inside. Books aren’t often this pretty. Well done, Dreamspinner Press.

Greeks Bearing Gifts by D.G. Parker

Young Antenor of fallen Troy faces violation and death, only to be rescued and enslaved by a gruff, older Greek, a hard-bitten soldier in the king’s good graces. What Antenor does not expect is Calchas’s good heart that sees him through shipwreck, marooning, and rescue.

I was expecting another sex-slave-who-comes-to-love-his-master story and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t go exactly the way I envisaged. It turns into a decent adventure which I found very readable. The period details are few, but not so very vague as to be completely unfocussed in time. If I have a quibble it’s the fact that Calchas admits to have been an erastes “many times” and yet he has been at the Trojan siege for at least ten years. He’s described as “older” but I’m not convinced that he could have entered into an erastes/eromenos arrangement “many times,” as it often lasted for more than ten years itself.

It’s a great little story, sweet and surprising in turns.

Troy Cycle by Dar Mavison

When the gods abandoned men during the battle of Troy, the greatest of those men – Hector, Odysseus, Paris, Achilles – schemed to end the war. Amongst themselves they waged war both vicious and tender in a desperate attempt to achieve peace, a peace that for some would only be found in death, leaving others to discover it in new life. But no one would ever be forgotten by the other three.

This is an AU story, Trojan fanfic if you will, a scenario where Paris, instead of being rescued by Aphrodite during his duel with Menaleus is captured by Odysseus and delivered to Achilles

It’s an interesting take on the relationships, however, for all the warping of the story, Paris’ relationships with his father and brother are examined – and Achilles’ thoughts on the other people in the saga make sense. There’s explicit incest too between Hector and Paris, for those who find that unpleasant. I thoroughly enjoyed that part. However it’s a little difficult to see Hector (in the light of what that civilisation thought about the “female or passive role” in homosexual sex, that the receiver was weaker and of a lower status than the giver) bottoming for Odysseus.

All in all it’s well written, the dialogue is formal and fraught with politics and machinations. I particularly liked canonical Achilles who treats Agamemnon with disdain. However, I felt a bit lost at times – it’s clear that the author knows the saga inside out and I was floundering around trying catch the nuances of the dialogue: why so and so did this, why so and so said that, which is always a danger with fanfic and the reader isn’t as expert with the canon. It’s an interesting take on the Paris-Achilles-Hector triangle but for that’s its very well written I would have preferred an original piece. I couldn’t get past the “Yeah, but this changes the saga” part (although the last line really made me laugh out laugh. Genius).

Undefeated Love by John Simpson

The men of the Sacred Band of Thebes are remembered for their valor, their honor, their devotion to duty, and their great love for their partners. Alexandros and Agapitos found a place amongst them, but little did they know their love and sacrifice would face the test of war – and survive to shine eternally.

I was initially thrown by this one, as it seemed a little “Thebes High 90210″ with the two Jocks in the gymnasium who everyone loves and one of them saying that he had to brush his hair for ages until it was just right. Clueless in Thebes, I wondered? Then there’s a long and graphic sex-in-public scene and I sort of forgot about all that. However then the characters started to speak and I was jolted away again. There’s a difficult fine line to tread when one writes dialogue with characters from a time and/or a place where we wouldn’t understand them, and I’m afraid I found this over-affectionate and high-fallutin’ style of dialogue a little risible.

“That was incredible, Agapitos. My thanks for taking my seed into your mouth and making it part of your body.”

“Go on then. Deposit your seed deep within my bowels.”

The over-formal language put me off, and really, nothing actually happens other than the battle at Chaeronea and towards the end it slips in omniescent narration-style, pulling the reader out of the action completely. It’s more of a docu-drama sadly and failed to grip me.

Hadrian by Remmy Duchene

Roman Emperor Hadrian is all-powerful … and alone. But when Antinous trespasses into Hadrian’s bath, the ruler’s eyes are opened to a whole new world of love.

This starts well, with a believable introduction of Antinous to Hadrian – Hadrian insists on bathing alone, and that’s canonical from what we know of him, as he was a bit of a recluse and liked his solitude. However it slips when the sex scene begins as it all becomes a little 21st century with phrases like “Hadrian lost it” and “getting drilled”. And that’s all there is, really – just a short PWP introducing the characters to each other – I would have liked some plot, I have to say.

The POV is off-putting, I’m afraid with POV switches vacillating wildly between the two. And Hadrian allows Antinous to top him – which is a little unbelievable in the customs of the day. (It should be said that it was rumoured that Julius Caesar allowed this when he was a young man, and the rumour blackened his name all his life)

Short and a little disappointing.

After the Games by Connie Bailey

When the Emperor sends a beautiful concubine, Valerius, to the slave pens to slake the hunger of his fiercest beast, the fighter Alaric, he doesn’t anticipate that Alaric just isn’t interested. But to keep Valerius from being punished, the fighter keeps him close for one night, a night that turns from talkative to passionate.

Much more absorbing is After the Games. A successful gladiator is offered sexual tribute from his Emperor and tries to refuse it, and ends up sheltering a male concubine to (seemingly) save him being gang raped by other gladiators. It’s clear Ms Bailey has done her research and I learned things I didn’t know. This is a nice little story, as the concubine tops from the bottom as it were, seducing the barbarian gladiator in a Scheredzarde kind of way. It’s all very sensual and arousing, spoiled only now and then with silly euphemisms such as Alaric prodded the young man’s nether port with the head of his arousal. (shudder)

However – I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and thought it the highlight of the anthology; it’s highly erotic, with a keen sense of the storyteller’s art and a surprise ending which makes me hope well for the characters’ futures.

The Vow by Ariel Tachna

Adrastos still mourns his dead partner and lover, and he has hardened his heart and spirit to any other. Knowing his duty to bond and train a soldier, he reviews a trio of Army recruits, but he insists he will not choose one. Eager to prove himself worthy to serve the Army and Aphrodite alike, Erasmos presents himself for the final test…and finds that he, the petitioner, is the savior rather than the saved.

This is another bonded pair of soldiers story, and starts off, quite arousingly, with a group sex session – which, according to the author is the way the bonded pairs were chosen, (although the reader shouldn’t take this as fact.) Sadly, the editing – which has been fine up to now, falls down a little in this story and there are a few silly typos here and there. However, it’s an attractive tale, as Erasmos slowly works to heal the pain that Adrastos feels for the loss of his previous bond-partner using music and the inevitable baths! I particularly liked how this story explored the erastes/eronemos relationship in more detail than is often seen – how the responsibilities of the mentor for the pupil are laid out, and we see just what is involved in moulding a new citizen, and the problems that might arise when the eronemos is old enough to become the erastes to another.

This is another decent read from Dreamspinner, who seem to be going from strength to strength.

Buy the book: Dreamspinner Press Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle

4 Responses

  1. Sounds good, and another one for my never ending TBB list!

  2. This review caught my eye because of the name Connie Bailey — a very popular (and prolific) fanfic writer in the Brokeback Mountain fandom. I was curious if this was the same Bailey and from the writing style, I am sure it is. Her story was okay but it wasn’t my favorite. That honor would go to the Greeks Bearing Gifts followed by The Vow. Connie’s would be third.

    And then…Undefeated Love and Hadrian. You are too kind, Erastes! In Undefeated Love, those two boys sound like a pair of schmoopy, lovesick teenagers, not fierce warriors! And Hadrian…any author that describes an erect cock as “hardened meat” loses me instantly.

    I haven’t read Troy Cycle yet.

    All in all, I’d call this anthology uneven. I did learn a few new words, though!

  3. Thanks LHN, I try not to be unkind if I can help it, the blog is to encourage the genre – I WANT more people writing it and some may be put off if the only dedicated review site author bashes. However I hope we are firm but fair – we will point out anachronisms, overblown speech and inaccuracies which i hope will just make people try a little harder. Tough reviews always do that for me.

  4. In trying to take criticism where it is deserved and defending it where it is not, I must comment on the opinions of “Undefeated Love.”

    First, in LHN’s remark that “Those two boys sound like a pair of “schmoopy”, lovesick teenagers, not fierce warriors, I must hasten to respond that the settings for their development are factual. Based on research, young men were brought up in that style of learning. A warrior is developed, not suddenly plopped down on the earth. In reading accounts of that era, I have reflected accurately the plausible route that some took to the Band. As for dialogue, well, the one thing that Erastes seems to really hate is the comment about “Brushing his hair.” That was meant and I believe clearly written, as humor, and not a recounting of a serious event. It was my first attempt at writing of that era and of telling the “bands” story which is not well known but should be. Plato and Plutarch spoke of the concept and it became reality. After all, do any of us really know what dialogue would have been like between two such young men of that era? The era where the Olympics were held in the nude! Finally, I repeat: The story of the Scared Band of Thebes needs to be told as it holds relevance to so many issues that shackle us in today’s America. Pardon me for trying to bring it to light. I’m sorry you did not like it.

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