Review: Banshee by Hayden Thorne

Nathaniel, or Natty as his family calls him, is a young man at a crossroads. His mother wants him to spend time with her family, far better off than his father, who is a poor vicar. His father would rather he do just about anything else, and his cousins have no interest in getting to know him. So what’s a young man with very few prospects to do? When Natty meets Miles Lovell, a sophisticated friend of his cousin, he thinks he’s found something worth his while. During their long visit together, Natty discovers things about himself that he never expected, and manages to acquire a ghostly companion, as well. Haunted by a faceless woman, who seems to appear when he’s at his weakest, Natty struggles with his own nature, and with his family’s increasing difficulties. His mother is distant, hiding things from him as she never has, and his father is growing old and tired before his eyes. While Natty tries to find his place in the world, his childhood is crumbling around him, and he becomes more and more convinced that his persistent spirit is a harbinger of doom. Caught in a web of deceit and desperation, Natty must decide whether he will let his life be ruled by others, or if he can make his way on his own, or if the family banshee will bring about his ruin.

Review by Alex Beecroft

I started reading this book under a misapprehension which rather coloured my enjoyment of it. You see, I thought it was m/m romance, and I kept waiting for the romance to kick in. Come on, I thought, at this rate we’ll reach the end and they’ll never get together!

And then I did reach the end, and I had to reconsider everything.

After a bit of thought, I realized that the book was never meant to be a romance. It’s a coming of age story – a story about a young man’s journey from childhood to adulthood, via a confused and tragic adolescence. The fact that the young man is attracted to other young men is almost incidental beside his struggle to find out who he is, and to get the people around him to accept him as an adult.

Once I’d got this sorted out in my mind, I was able to read it again and appreciate what it was doing, rather than what it wasn’t.

Hayden Thorne has a real gift with language and if this had been put before me as a memoire written in the 19th Century, I would have happily believed in its veracity – her language is that authentic. The pace and atmosphere of the novel is also very similar to 19th century classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and I felt it had a real kinship to both books.

We begin with an account of the hero’s childhood, where he is condescended to by his socially superior cousins. His mother foolishly eloped with his father, and although they have been happily married for years, still his father is just a lowly vicar. After having been all but disowned, his mother is intent on winning back her place in her family, and his father allows this, despite being too proud to go with her and risk looking like a supplicant.

All this, which seems incidental trivia at first, is going to be wound skilfully back into the story later, in what is a beautifully plotted book. Nothing can be assumed to be irrelevant here, and there are clues as subtly placed as in any mystery.

As Natty grows, he forms a special attachment to his cousin’s friend, Miles Lovell; an attachment which is returned. Through this friendship, Natty comes to realize that he is attracted to men, and that he is deeply in love with Miles. Miles, however, is due to be married to a young lady, and even if he were not, he is socially so much Natty’s superior that they have no real chance of a life together. This causes Natty surprisingly little general anxiety. For a vicar’s son, he seems remarkably unconcerned about God’s attitude to his inclinations, and if the story had been focussed entirely on his sexual awakening, I might have found his lack of faith disturbing ;) His lack of conflict with his faith, at least.

However, Natty’s realization that he is attracted to men is the least disturbing thing in his life at this point. His mother and father are quarrelling and their marriage is under threat. His own future is the subject of pressure and rebuke from his family. His mother’s connexions want higher things for him than he wants for himself, his father is reluctant to take handouts and the situation between his parents is deteriorating. And worse than all of this, he finds himself being haunted by the silent and awful figure of a white lady who comes upon him whenever he is out of doors and makes his every journey an ordeal of terror.

For my money, the ghostly parts of the book really stood out. They genuinely made my hair stand on end. Really well done and frightening!

Nathaniel must find it in himself to fact this terror, to face the disillusion of his family, and to grow up, and he does. I’m not going to say what happens with the ghost, because when I realized what was happening there, I was full of admiration for the author’s plotting, and I don’t want to spoil that satisfying moment for others. But suffice it to say, everything is resolved admirably, and sometimes surprisingly. Just don’t set your heart on a happy ending for Natty and Miles together, the way I did. It isn’t a romance, and if you read it as one, you will be disappointed.

If you read it as a coming of age story, however, it’s wonderful. So I recommend you do just that.

Buy: Powell’s Books, Prizm Books,

Call for Submissions – Lesbian Historical Romance

Deadline: Ongoing
Estimated pub. date: Ongoing

Ever wondered about the private life of the Victorian school marm or the two Edwardian spinster ladies who lived together after World War I? Ever wanted to write a story about a WAC and Rosie the Riveter? Or how about a biker babe from the 1950s?

How about a bodice ripper from the 17th century involving a female highway -“man” and the lady aristocrat?

Logical-Lust is looking for quality lesbian historical romance with realistic storylines taking place prior to 1960.

Storylines must reflect accurate historical research and references.
Heat level can range from sweet to sweaty and can incorporate other genres like mystery, thriller, Gothic – as long as lesbian romance remains the major theme.

LENGTH – novellas from 10,000 – 30,000 words / novels from 50,000

All successful submissions will be published in ebook formats. Successful novel submissions may also be published in paperback.

Payment will be by royalties: ebook 50% net, print 7.5% of cover price.

Please see our submission guidelines on how to submit your submission:

Include all of the following information with your submission:

1. Name
2. Pseudonym (if applicable)
3. Address
4. Phone Number
5. Email Address
6. Short Bio

Send your submission/queries to editor(at)logical-lust.com putting LESBIAN HISTORICAL ROMANCE in the subject line. Please also send any questions or queries to the same email address.

Review: Confessing A Murder by Nicholas Drayson

Purporting to be an anonymous memoir found in an attic, its author is an arrogant but brilliant homosexual whose life has crossed with that of Charles Darwin with startling regularity.  He is writing it on a small island in the Java Sea of which he is the only human inhabitant. Aware that his life will soon come to an end, he sets out the true story of the theory of natural selection, confesses a murder of his own and provides a fascinating and delightful account of the plans and animals of the island

Review by Erastes

I’m afraid that this is another book that was loudly lauded by all and sundry but leaves me going “and?” When I see the books that people I know produce and then see this, which does nothing to me at all, emotionally or intellectually, I wonder what is wrong with the world.

I was almost tempted to wipe it from Speak Its Name’s list, because, as will be clear it is speculative fiction, but I think-because of the conceit used, it can remain.

It’s an interesting concept: the conceit is that the book is real, even the publisher’s note at the beginning goes into depth extrapolating on where and when the manuscript was found, how it was written, and on what–then goes into Darwin’s life, and the possibility that this account may or may not be real. There’s also an editor’s note, bylined by Mr Drayton explaining the way it has been edited. The point, ably made at least, was to show how Alfred Russel Wallace and (more famously) Charles Darwin, came up with two independent and similar Theories of Evolution. The reason of this book being that they both got the idea from the narrator of this manuscript. (who purports to be an illegimate scion of the Darwin family).

So I picked it up, more than intrigued. Seeing as it combines two of my interests, natural history and gay historical fiction, I felt that surely I was going to love it, but try as I might, I just didn’t.

The book is told in two interweaving sections: one describes the island, and with each segment that relates to the place where the narrator (who is never named) is marooned, he goes into detail of the completely unique flora and fauna found there. Vampyric plants which parisitise young birds (but keep them free from worms), swallows that hibernate in mud, minnows that can survive in near boiling water. Drayson is a naturalist and zoologist–has written a book about birds and one about platypuses–so I don’t doubt his descriptions of these animals that never were, it’s just that it’s not terribly interesting.

I think that it’s partly to do with his narrator, who comes across as being so bland as to be frightfully dull, and this shouldn’t really be. He’s homosexual, he’s known this from quite young and seems to have had no angst about this. He’s had an event-filled life, travelling from Shrewsbury to Edinburgh to Cambridge to South Africa to Australia, hinting only as the decadence and high life he leads. He started promisingly when he realises the power he has over men who find him attractive. he uses his wiles to punish, to tease, to demand–and in this way, he says, he can keep just about any man at heel. But it’s the bland way he describes it all, not only with the bare minimum of detail, but more dispassionate than watching a beetle die in a killing jar (at which event he cried, copiously.)

Perhaps this is deliberate, perhaps we are supposed to get that he has less enthusiasm for life than he does for beetles, I don’t know. But it’s not how it seems to me, I don’t think that’s what Drayson was aiming at. I think we are supposed to find him adventurous and driven, but frankly I found him boring beyond belief and I heartily wished he’d fall into the volcano himself.

I can compare this book to Philipa Gregory’s “Earthly Joys” which I rate more highly, where the themes of passion for the natural world, and a compulsion for cataloguing and collection are described side by side by an adventurous life, and in this respect Earthly Joys succeeds and takes fruit, while in my eyes, Confessing a Murder is not deemed for natural selection and, to stretch an analogy to its limits, should have withered on the vine.

That being said, if you have any interest at all in Darwin, Wallace and the Theory, you will probably find this worth a read.

Buy: Powell’s BooksAmazon UKAmazon USA

Review: Paper Moon by Marion Husband

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

When I volunteered to write a review of Paper Moon by Marion Husband, Erastes said, “Oh, wonderful! Another gay historical!” While the story is historical (it takes place in 1946) and does feature gay characters, I’m not sure that gay historical is the best description. Historical fiction that describes the experience of being gay in the mid-20th century might be more apt. Yes, that’s mouthful but it’s meant to convey that this is a story firmly rooted in reality in terms of the tale that is told; for those of us who enjoy “gay historical” be they romances, war stories, mysteries or whatever, it is probably a worthwhile exercise to touch base with reality every now and then and Paper Moon is an excellent book for that endeavor.

By way of context, I was rummaging around on the Amazon gay and lesbian best seller list and came across The Boy I Love, also by Husband. Having never heard of it, I did a little research and discovered the excellent review of it at this site (you can read it here).

I immediately downloaded the book (I have an e-reader, hooray!) and read it in 48 hours. Hooked, I dived right into the sequel, Paper Moon, as soon as I finished the first. Both are excellent but I would give Paper Moon an edge as being more well-written and slightly more satisfying, overall.

The stories take place 26 years apart and share a common theme: men coming home after the war and struggling to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. In The Boy I Love, the central characters were Paul Harris, his lovers Adam Mason and Patrick Morgan and Patrick’s injured brother, Mick; the war was World War I. Paper Moon is Bobby Harris’s story set in the year following the end of World War II. Like his father Paul, Bobby has come home from the war injured but his disfigurement is worse: Paul lost an eye but Bobby has been horribly burned when he crashed his plane. He describes his hands as claws and his face has melted away, crudely repaired by surgeons who have taken skin grafts from all over his body. His psychic pain is deep, too, but we learn as the story progresses that his self-loathing began long before the loss of his “beautiful face.”

In the first book, the homosexual characters were central; in Paper Moon they play a more tangential role, which probably is accurate for the time and setting. There are a few flamboyant “queens” (the “artsy” crowd) but for the most part, the gay characters are invisible and exist on a continuum from tolerated to despised. They work hard to keep their sexuality in the closet and blend in with “normal” society. One character from the first book has gone so far as to enter into a marriage of convenience, something I wouldn’t have expected of him.

This is a character driven story, which I enjoy. There’s not a lot of action, just the overlapping and interweaving tales of Bobby, Hugh, and Nina and the other people in their lives: parents, friends, former lovers, children, siblings. Not everyone is present in physical form but everyone is present in the story and with each turn of the page, a new layer is revealed, deftly told and subtly nuanced.

If there is any weakness in Husband’s writing is that her female characters are not nearly as complex as the men; Nina is the most fleshed out but still, she remains a cipher. One character who comes into the book at about the halfway point has potential, but even she is given short shrift. The rest of the women are like cardboard cutouts and one character from the first book never even gets mentioned—and her absence bothered me. Husband could have fixed it with a sentence, ie, She got run over by a bus, but she didn’t. Oh well, it is a minor irritation and didn’t strongly detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. To be perfectly honest, I find the men more interesting to read about, anyway.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. It had an incredibly satisfying, if slightly bittersweet ending that stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

NB: While this can be read as a standalone, I recommend reading it with The Boy I Love. Knowing the backstory of the characters who reappear in Paper Moon will enhance your overall reading experience, in my opinion. Conveniently, the two books are together in an omnibus that is available from various booksellers. E-book readers, like me, will have to buy both books separately.

To buy: Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk E-book at Amazon.com

NNB: Because I was curious about the author, I tracked down her website. I discovered that she had posted a short story that she wrote, The Lilac Tree, which inspired both of these books. You can read it here.  f you haven’t read either of the books, read the story first, then again after, and see if your perspective on the characters changes.

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Review: A Class Apart by James Gardiner

The Private Pictures of Montague Glover.

A Class Apart is a selection of photographs and letters culled from the archive of Montague Glover (1898-1983) documenting the intimate, rarely recorded lives of gay men in Britain from the First World War to the 1950s.  The book features Glover’s three obsessions: the Armed Forces, working-class men, and his lifelong lover Ralph Hall.

Review by Erastes

Who was Montague Glover?  No-one, really. But therein lies the reason why his legacy (boxes and boxes of letters and photos) is so very important in gay history. Just an ordinary man, a son of middle-class parents who was sent to a minor public school.

But by cataloging his life, collecting images of men, writing ordinary and heart-warming love letters, and most importantly by taking endless photos of men he found attractive, he paints a picture of a gay man’s life, well-adjusted and ‘ordinary,’

The book is photo-heavy, as you would expect and is split into eight sections and I’ll cover a few only.

The Story

Basic intro to the man’s life. An English middle-class life. The army straight from school and off to the trenches where he was awarded the Military Cross. Then university and 30 years as an architect. As well as his photos, he collected images of men he found attractive from newspaper clippings and magazines, seeing as homoerotic art wasn’t exactly freely available!

Rough Trade

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“In common with many other middle and upper class men of his class and generation, Monty Glover was principally attracted to working class men. Gardiner purports that perhaps this is because working-class men were “manly” and completely non-effeminate. Like all the photos of unnamed men in the book, it is unlikely that most of these young men were in fact homosexual, but rather approached by Glover and simply asked to pose. As a Brit it was fascinating to see the clothes, hats and shoes from the 20′s onwards, the detailing of the clothes (belts, scarves, boots) essential to any writer of historical men in these eras. Monty shows us delivery boys, postmen, barrowboys, farmhands – and soon you get a fair idea of Mr Glover’s taste in men! As well as candid shots of real people, there’s a lovely section of posed studio style shots, most likely done in Monty’s house, where young lovelies pose in various states of dress and undress. Prostitutes or just young men eager for a thrill, we’ll never know.

Soldier Boys

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Monty started taking photos of soldiers after he signed up in 1916, and in 1918, the year he was awarded the MC, he kept a diary, snippets of this are quoted in the book and show that although dealing with lice, rats, dead Bosche and horror on a daily basis, he still found time for love. It is at this time he meets Ernest (Ernie) with whom he has at least one “night of his life.”

Ralph

image00021Quite simply, the love of Monty’s life, and to look at him, it’s not hard to understand why. Coming from a working-class background, but with the looks of an Aryan angel, photogenic and very obviously hung like a donkey, Ralph is to die for. However, when it could very easily have happened that this younger man could have been nothing more than a kept man, staying with Glover for sex and money, it didn’t happen that way. This is very clearly a love affair with a capital L, which you cannot help but see in their extensive and lavishly adoring mutual love-letters. A large portion of these were sent during the second world war, when Ralph was drafted into the RAF in 1940. Indeed, it’s hard – reading a selection of these letters which are quoted in the book – to understand how these letters got past the censor! It’s wonderful that they did though, or we would miss out on lines like this written by Ralph to Monty in November 1940:

“Do you remember the old days when we first started darling.  I went back all over it again last night.  What a time we had in them days and I am sorry to say I am crying I canot hold it back no more my Darling. I love you my old Darling. I do miss you ever such a lot my dear as you know my dear.”

Monty and Ralph lived together (after meeting around 1930) for fifty years. The photographs of their lives together (other than the beautiful, posed, and artistic shots of Ralph) are ordinary and heartwarming for their ordinariness. Sitting in their sitting room, pictures of their bath, Ralph making toast, having breakfast, Monty shaving. Love in every image.

When Monty died in 1983, he left everything to Ralph, but Ralph went into a decline and died four years later.

Anyone with any interest in gay history will find this a resource they can’t be without, particularly if writing of gay men from 1910 onwards, anyone with an interest in photography will find it fascinating. But really, anyone with a heart cannot be moved by this book and the social record it has saved for posterity.

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Buy:  Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Two Irish Lads by Gerry Burnie

When cousins Sean and Patrick McConaghy set sail from Ireland in 1820 to settle in the wilderness of Upper Canada, they have no idea what obstacles and opportunities await them in this new land. Sean and Patrick know little about clearing land, building a shelter and farming. But with hard work and the help of new friends, including squire Nicholas Nealon and blacksmith Timothy Logan, the McConaghys prosper. They also discover their emotional and physical love for each other-a relationship that, at the time, was illegal and fraught with danger.Told in a series of journal entries, reminiscent of a nineteenth-century novel, Two Irish Lads captures the difficulties of settling in the wilderness, earning a livelihood in a new country, and concealing the nature of their relationship from neighbours. The young men’s new life is punctuated by scandal, murder, tragedy, and hard-fought adventure.In a narrative told with understanding and humour, this is a heartening tale of personal growth, the struggle of the human spirit to overcome almost insurmountable circumstances, and the fierce determination of two young settlers to succeed in spite of it all.

Review by Alex Beecroft

First of all, I want to say that I love the cover of this book. It’s really tasteful – which is in keeping with the dignified prose and story inside. The forest reflects the forest from which our heroes must carve a living, and nothing about the book screams ‘gay romance’ as if gay romance, by its very nature had to exclude the possibility of a book being a beautifully written, serious piece of fiction.

This is one of those rare occasions when the blurb is an informative and accurate guide to what you’re actually getting in the book. The story is the tale of Sean and Patrick’s journey from Ireland to their new country; their claiming of their own land; the community they find already established when they arrive, and how they fit into it. It is, on the whole, a gentle and positive tale where something – the luck of the Irish, perhaps? – ensures that things tend to work out fairly easily for our heroes. The young men arrive and easily find a perfect place to claim. They are helped to build a cabin by the local community, and taken under the wing of the local magnate, Mr. Nealon, who treats Sean as a substitute son. This naturally smoothes things out for them, allowing Sean to become schoolmaster and then magistrate of the community pretty much without effort.

Nealon expects the two lads to marry his daughter and his ward, and, in time, to inherit his property and authority. And really, although this is a bit of a problem given that Sean and Patrick are in love with each other, I’m not sure that – in their situation as 19th Century eligible young gentlemen – it should count as anything other than another un-earned benefit.

A fly in the ointment appears in the shape of an unpleasant priest who begins to turn the villagers against them by the underhanded expedient of suggesting they might be gay. A situation which their threesomes with the village blacksmith doesn’t exactly help. A few tense moments do actually ensue as it looks as if the two of them will get lynched and/or accused of the subsequent murder of the priest.

But fortunately their luck holds out, they defend themselves successfully against the murder charge, and once they’ve done that, everyone seems to forget the accusations of sodomy levelled against them. With the evil priest removed, the villagers can return to being all sweetness and light. Sean and Patrick are received back into the community, and agree to marry the girls, but in another twist of the remarkable luck which has served these two so well, even that turns out happily in the end.

The beginning of the book is told in a very authentic sounding 19th Century journalistic style, which I enjoyed very much for its verisimilitude. The author clearly knows his period extremely well and is capable of sustaining an engaging but authentic writing style. Unfortunately, the author also wants you, the reader, to be aware of how much he knows, and he peppers the book with numerous footnotes which, in my opinion, do nothing to advance the story. In fact, in my case, they only succeeded in jerking me out of the story and damaging my suspension of disbelief. This was particularly irksome given that many of the footnotes seemed to be of the ‘yes, they really did believe that!’ kind – which are unnecessary, since as a reader I automatically assume the writer is correct unless I happen to know otherwise.

Looking back on what I’ve said so far, it looks as if I didn’t enjoy the book, but in fact I very much did. Once I’d learned to ignore the footnotes, I loved the immediacy of the journal format, which made the book read like an adventure actually written during its setting. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey on board ship, and all the little details about travel, logging, frontier society, wolves, fairies, how to build a log cabin, and the 19th Century legal process were fascinating to me. The author’s immersion in and fascination with the period made reading the trivial and not so trivial doings of the characters an education – like reading the best kind of text book, the kind that entertains you while you learn.

I liked the serious and capable Sean, and found him a pleasant and reliable narrator. I loved the fact that throughout the book, you could hear the Irish accent in the prose. And I was gripped by the slow but sure unfolding of the storyline, right up until the happy ending arrived, in my opinion, rather too early and rather too convenient to be believed.

It’s beautifully written and beautifully researched, a highly accomplished piece of literature which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. But on an emotional level it left me slightly tepid. I enjoyed it the way I would enjoy reading a history textbook, rather than the way I would enjoy reading a novel. I think possibly because I had very little sense of real peril for the characters. I learned very early on that their remarkable Irish luck would see them through, and it did, every time.

Barnes & Noble Amazon UK Amazon USA

Advertising on S.I.N.

I’ve just had a look at the blog’s stats, and am fairly well staggered. The blog is getting approximately 4000-5000 unique visitors a month.

Think of that, authors. People come to this blog because it’s the only review site that does gay historical fiction. When it expands to include a list of Lesbian historicals that traffic can only rise.

So consider advertising on the blog. $10 a month gets you a side bar advert with several links of your choice (website, buylink, etc). I’ll only take five at a time and they are rotated on a weekly basis.

Review: Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death by Gyles Brandreth

Talented and witty, and with a fabulously successful play playing to packed houses, Oscar is the toast of the town. On one of his club nights he plays a game with his guests, “who would you murder” and sets into motion events which look like they will result, not only in his own death, but the death of his beloved Constance.

Review by Erastes

I had been looking forward to this book ever since I had finished the first one, Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders.

At the risk of sound like Oscar, sadly, the journey is so often much more fun than the terminus. Where the first book captured me with with its sparkle this one bored me rather than entertained.

While Brandreth does a good job of taking one on a tour of fin de siecle London (with a map, no less, this time!) and introduces us to many interesting characters, real-life ones and invented, I felt this book simply didn’t hang together in the same way that the first book did. I was often confused and whole scenes would go by which turned out to entirely useless in furthering the plot in any way.  I think that Brandreth was attempting, in a Christie fashion, to create red-herrings, but it wasn’t done with any conviction and I never once was led down any path. In fact, I went through the entire book not knowing, or indeed not even caring enough to suspect anyone at all.

What annoyed me particularly was that Oscar was not charismatic in this book, he was extraordinarily annoying. I am not enough of a Wilde fan to know whether the sayings he continually came out with were his own, or Brandreth’s, but I couldn’t help but think that most of the book was just Brandreth trying to be clever.  Literally nothing happened for half the book, and nothing appeared to be happening for the other half.

The denouement was a complete surprise because other than the smallest of clues, there was literally no indication that this person was marked as the murderer. I like to be surprised, after all isn’t that part of the fun of reading a murder mystery? but I don’t like to go WTF? HIM? WHY? When the big moment comes. I was still boggling, even after Oscar Explained It All.

I know that the tradition in some murder stories is to have the amateur sleuth amazingly clever and the police incredibly dim, but in this book, EVERYONE, from the police to Conan Doyle to Robert Sherrad (the narrator) are thick as two short planks, and the only one with two brain cells to rub together is Wilde.

Not that I wanted a gay story, as the first book had a strong homosexual theme, but with Bosie on the scene and with their affair obviously in full swing, I would have expected a little more to be made of that. What did amuse me, though, was that Bosie’s older brother was also suspected of ‘unnaturallness’ with a politician.

I’d say that if you really really liked the first one, then get this from the library before shelling out any money on it. I have to say, also, that I don’t appreciate the first eight or so pages of any book I read to be filled with reviews of that particular book.

Buy Amazon UK Amazon USA Powells

Review: Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault

At 20, when his reign began, Alexander the Great was already a seasoned soldier and a complex, passionate man. This novel tells the story of the boy Alexander, and the years that shaped him.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

It seems illogical to read a set of books starting with the last and working back to the first, but with Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy it almost feels the right way round. There are no real spoilers – this is based on history – and by reading about the older Alexander before the younger, the reader can look for clues in his childhood to the construction of his character. For example, there’s a scene in Fire From Heaven where the boy prince meets some Persian visitors and is intrigued by the handsome eunuch who attends them. This makes more satisfying reading against a background of knowing The Persian Boy – otherwise it might be read, passed over and the significance lost.

Fire from Heaven is written in the third person narrative style of Funeral Games and chronicles the wars and intrigues of the great man’s formative years, but it’s a more satisfying read. There isn’t the confusing panoply of characters and there are plenty of tender moments between Hephaistion and Alexander. Miss Renault’s characterisation is, as usual, spot on and her skill lies in giving her readers, in a short scene or a few words, a clear and deep depiction of her protagonists. King Philip, Olympias and Demosthenes are particularly well drawn in a book of well portrayed characters.

The key theme of the book is power struggles – the Macedonians against the Athenians for possession of southern Greece, Philip against Olympias for the loyalty of their son, Alexander against the world for his birthright and destiny. This is a case where the reality of historical events exceeds fiction – you couldn’t make up Alexander’s story and have the world believe it. Yet Miss Renault makes the man believable, all too human and fallible at times and yet a great king in the making. The other thread is the development of two great love affairs – Alexander and his army and Alexander and Hephaistion. The intimate scenes between the two lifelong friends are portrayed with tenderness and sensuality – as in The Persian Boy, much is conveyed in few words. The most intimate scenes are told from Hephaistion’s POV and are stronger for it – Alexander seems unknowable and is better revealed through the eyes of those who adore him.

My only criticism with this book is that the chronology of their physical relationship seems unclear. What appears to be a classic ‘first time’ scene follows a passage where the other young men pay up on bets that the two have gone to bed. One can’t criticise the prose, though, especially some of Hephiastion’s thoughts on his lover: “Hephaistion was thinking how fragile his [Alexander’s] rib cage seemed. How terrible were the warring desires to cherish and crush it”.

I would recommend Fire from Heaven to anyone who likes a good love story and who wants to see the story teller’s art at its best, a lesson in how less is often more.

Buy from Amazon UK Amazon USA Powells

Review: The Ruling Passion by David Pownall

The Ruling Passion is a story of infatuation and a relationship pursued to its destruction.  Prince Edward was the only surviving son of Edward I, one of England’s greatest warrior kings, whose subjugation of the Welsh, campaign against the Scots and massive programme of castle building near-bankrupted the realm.  Not only was Prince Edward unsuited to carry through his father’s military ambitions, as heir to the throne, but his defiant resistance to every pressure to abandon his relationship with the Gascon warrior Piers Gaveston was to have disastrous consequences.

Review by Fiona Glass

I’ve had to give up on this book, which was a shame as I really wanted to like it.  It’s about a period of history that I know very little about – the death of King Edward I and the accession of his unpopular son Edward II – and all the blurbs raved about the ‘infatuation’ of the younger Edward for his friend Piers Gaveston.

Take this, for instance, from the front cover: “When Edward, Prince of Wales, met Piers Gaveston, it was the start of a passionate and defiant relationship that was to bring England to the brink of Civil War.” Sounds fascinating, I thought.  How interesting to find out exactly what happened and what effect such an unusually open homosexual relationship had on the medieval monarchy of England.  The trouble is that by the time the book starts, Edward has already known Piers for about ten years so all the drama of their meeting is lost, and the author seems to positively shy away from any mention of a sexual relationship between the two men.  An occasional minor character mouths off about ‘sodomites’ and there are pages of angst between Edward I and his chief advisor William Wild about the problems the infatuation is causing, but nowhere does the reader get to see that infatuation, or anything more than a close ‘buddy’ style friendship, for themselves.  Indeed, the few times Prince Edward and Piers appear together it’s in wholly innocent pastimes – teaching a servant to swim, riding off to the hunt, chatting and drinking and having the sort of fun that young men have together in any historical era.  We’re never, ever shown why this relationship teeters over into infatuation or why it should be so dangerous to the crown.

The book’s style doesn’t help.  Apparently Pownall is better known for writing plays and it really shows.  There is very little action and very little narrative beyond some rather basic descriptions of the ‘she was wearing a blue dress’ variety; instead all we get is pages and pages of modern-sounding, iconoclastic dialogue between various characters which is rather banal and wholly repetitive.  A quarter of the way through the book, the old king and his advisor were still having the same conversation they’d had on the very first page, which boils down to ‘What are we going to do about Ned?’ ‘I don’t know, sir’.  I expect dialogue to accomplish more in a book.  It should reveal things about the characters – their background, their hidden feelings, their habits – not just be used to ram home the plot or the book’s major themes for pages at a time.  Added to this the whole style of writing is surprisingly juvenile with simple sentences, childish speech-patterns and a distinct lack of imagery.  Prince Edward is supposed to be nineteen but comes across as about ten years younger than that which is disconcerting to say the least.

Pownall has written a total of eleven novels.  I couldn’t help noticing that whilst the earlier ones were published by the likes of Faber and Gollancz, this one was published by ‘Herbert Adler Publishing’, who I have never even heard of before.  Whether that was a deliberate choice or not I have no way of telling, but the book really isn’t very good.  I’ll be taking it back to the library tomorrow.

Buy from : Amazon UK Amazon USA

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