Ragnar, a hardened Scottish soldier, is indifferent to English rule of his homeland until he falls in love with Gylis McIvoy, a fellow Scotsman. They have a brief and passionate affair, but circumstances tear them apart permanently. Ragnar swears vengeance, and soon becomes a freedom fighter modeled on the recently captured and executed William Wallace.
Ragnar manages to raise a ragtag army that rains terror down on Longshanks’ occupying forces, but in the process, he has a chance meeting with the king’s son, Prince Edward of Wales. Sparks fly between them despite the impossibility of an English prince taking a Scottish enemy soldier as his lover—giving new meaning to “the love that dare not speak its name”. These two star-crossed lovers may cross swords on the battlefield by day, but they still manage to heat up the night.
Review by Sal Davis
Firstly the cover. On the whole I think the cover gives you a very fair idea of what you will get – battles royalty, richness and massive pecs. There’s something a little odd about the crown – it looks as though it is made for a much bigger head, but possibly this is a reference to the uneasy relationship between Prince Edward and Edward I.
As for the plot, the author is up-front about it on his website. He says he has written the “Gay Braveheart” (just as his novel “The Shunned” is the “Gay Witness“). His main character, Ragnar, is a Scottish freedom fighter driven to a vow of vengeance against the English by the brutal murder of
his lover. In his quest for revenge he meets and falls for Prince Edward, who falls back equally hard, but their budding romance is almost destroyed before it starts by the continuing war between their two countries, plus some really bad judgement on Ragnar’s part. Readers who enjoy a HEA will be glad to hear that Ragnar doesn’t suffer Wallace’s gruesome fate. There is a full cast of supporting characters – King Edward ‘Longshanks’, Isabella of France (please note that there are some m/f sex scenes), Mortimer, various Scots and English courtiers, soldiers and mercenaries – and a complex series of rides, marches, counter-marches, plotting, betrayal, retribution and caber tossing (this is not a euphemism) bearing in mind that the novel is only about 140 pages long.
The historical content is problematical. Perhaps the best way to get this across is to say that the book is set in 1283 – the year before the birth of main protagonist Prince Edward. “Alternative universe” history might be a fitting description but this is VERY alternative. Ragnar’s uncle Angus, a key character who lost one eye and one arm (or, later in the book, one leg) to English archers, remembers Richard the Lionheart (a beloved and respected king who kept a dungeon full of young boys for his pleasure and nobody thought the worse of him for it. Edward feels that standards of tolerance have dropped). Ragnar wears a kilt and drinks lager . He also has a price on his head of “ten thousand pounds”. The English longbow ‘fires’ an arrow over one thousand yards and it is possible to lurk out of range until the archers shoot then charge in to get to grips with them. Hadrian’s Wall is in Yorkshire. Edward has read the Roman chronicles of Venerable Bede and Plautus. Men on foot can manage a three mile “charge” with enough breath to fight at the end of it. This is Hollywood ‘history’, as warned, about as accurate as Braveheart and, as such, I would be able to accept or ignore it if the characters had engaged my sympathy.
Longshanks is an ignorant thug. Isabella is a treacherous, predatory adulteress. Mortimer is a tool in every sense of the word. That’s all fine because they are the villains and we need good villains. However, I found both the protagonists very unlikeable. Ragnar is brave and a good swordsman. He looks the part but it is actually what’s left of Uncle Angus who is the military mind behind his successes. The one time that Ragnar is in command on his own he becomes so distracted by Edward’s charms that he causes an accidental massacre. Edward is dainty, well dressed and well educated, but sexually predatory, careless of his lovers’s feelings and, quite correctly, prone to political intrigue. While I found it possible to believe that he and Ragnar felt that ‘lust at first sight’ shock, I never ‘got’ why they might love each other. Yes, I know that love at first sight exists in real life, but in fiction I like there to be a good solid basis for it. I don’t want to be ‘told’ that they love each other, I want to be ’shown’ and Hughes does a vast amount of telling in this story.
He also uses certain phrases ad nauseam - ragtag, for instance, appears every time Ragnar’s army is mentioned, and the phrase “stunning, pure white Arabian stallion” appears three times in one paragraph. As for the sex scenes, presumably Mr Hughes knows what is what, what is possible and what isn’t but I have to admit to feeling some confusion.
Amongst the titles I have reviewed fo SiN have been books that made me cry, or laugh, that have entertained, educated and enthralled me. Some have stayed with me to be mulled over again and again – a particularly interesting character, some superb description, a fine joke to be savoured, that fruitless ‘oh if only THIS had happened instead’ thought process where one wishes for characters to be happy despite it being impossible. I suspect that this book will stay with me a long time as well, but because of the involuntary yelps of disbelieving laughter I kept emitting and the astounded look on my master bowmaker husband’s face as I read him some of the longbow bits. I’ll also be thinking about all the authors who spend YEARS researching their historical novels and write with such care and respect for their subject then I’ll think of this one and I’ll weep.
So – in short – if you really enjoyed “Braveheart” but think Wallace should have boinked Prince Edward this might be the book for you, but, I’m sorry, it really wasn’t the book for me.
Published by Ellora’s Cave