Best of 2015 list.
For my end of the year list I usually try to include the most memorable books for me, so if I cannot remember the book without looking through my reviews it does not make the list.
1. Astrid Amara “Song of the navigator’
I was in love with this book since the moment I bought it and inhaled it. I enjoyed this writer’s work before but as I said in my review her artistic choices do not always work for me and I have not had much luck with betrayal/slavery stories where betrayed guy forgives the one who did the betrayal. More often than not I do not find them convincing. Not so here – Cruz and Tover stayed with me long after I read the book and I still remember them vividly.
2. M. Keedwell “Dark economy”
And to think that but for my friend’s recommendation I could have missed this one. I have not read too many memorable historical romances in the last year and considering that historicals are one of my favorite subgenres, I consider this to be an unfortunate occasion. This is a historical mystery and some reviewers found that romance was secondary storyline, but to me there was so much unresolved tension between protagonists that I was extremely happy with the romance in this book. We have excellent antagonistic chemistry between the men which is based on real conflict. Cadell is a medical student who is robbing graves because he genuinely wants to become a better surgeon and to help people and he does not have enough bodies to practice on and Blaine knows that robbing graves is still illegal and he wants to catch Cadell because he is sure that Cadell is guilty. The main storyline of the book is Cadell investigating a murder because he becomes suspicious about what happened to one of the men whose body he was going to dissect and he decides to go and get justice for the deceased. I enjoyed this one a lot. Review Here
3. Charmed and Dangerous anthology.
I thought this was a very strong offering – I think I enjoyed six or seven stories in this anthology, but the reason it made my list was mostly because of once again Astrid Amara and Ginn Hale. Here is what I said in my review about their stories.
Ginn Hale – Swift and the Black Dog
When Jack Swift killed a tyrant and won the revolution he became a national hero. But someone in the new government prefers dead heroes to living, swearing, cynical wizards. Caught between bullets, revenge and desire, Jack had better be swift indeed.
From my review:
I think for me this story was the darkest and the best in the anthology. It is no secret that I love Ginn Hale’s work, but for me past performance is no guarantee of the future success even with my favorite writers, so I definitely did not approach this story as a guaranteed win. This novella explored the themes of what consequences winning the revolution can often be for its participants and for the society.
Astrid Amara – The Trouble With Hexes
P.I. Tim Keller has a problem. And the only person who can solve it is his ex-boyfriend, Vincent, whose job as a hexbreaker was the reason they broke up. It’s hard admitting he was wrong, especially when coughing up organs. But there’s a missing person to find, a hexmaker to hunt down, and a romance to repair before Tim breathes his last.
This was one of the most romantic stories in the anthology for me. Although it is a standalone novella, this story made me feel as if I had known Tim and Vincent for a long time. In a world where characters in m/m books often forget that they have jobs and professional responsibilities, it was so refreshing to read about two men who, despite being deeply in love with each other, broke up because Tim could not handle the demands Vincent’s job put on him and his health. Of course I could see why Vincent, who is essentially a magical healer, would not stop helping sick and often dying people to get rid of hexes, but I also get how Tim just could not deal with what Vincent’s job demanded from him. There is nothing better to make you believe in the realities of magical healing than to see the consequences of a deadly hex on yourself. When Tim comes to see Vincent again, he is very ill and if they do not act fast he might die pretty soon. I could feel the love and regret between these two. And neither of them wanted to get his heart broken again, but love was still there and of course it ends well. I anticipate rereading this story more than once.
Full review of the anthology could be found here.
4. Joanna Chambers “Unnatural”
I thought this book was lovely. As the blurb states, this story is about Captain Ian Sinclair, who briefly appeared in “Enlightened” as Murdo’s friend.
I loved this book despite the fact that for most of the story not really much happened in the present storyline, but the author made me care about these guys so very much that I just was so eager to figure out what is stopping them from being together and how they could overcome it.
5. Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8) – Ilona Andrews.
At the end of the previous book in what I can probably call my favorite urban fantasy series the writers send the main characters Kate and Curran in the new direction. Curran resigned from the position of Beast Lord of Atlanta and they went to live quiet suburban life. If anybody can imagine Kate and Curran’ life ever being quiet that is ?. I think of this book as relative quiet before the push to the last confrontation with the series Big Bad (if he is still the Big Bad, because I am honestly not sure anymore).
6. “Affiliations, Aliens and Other Profitable Pursuits” by Lyn Gala.
I reviewed the first two books here and I loved the conclusion as well, however I hope that this is the last book in the series. I loved it, I just do not feel there is much left to explore in the characters and the plot – in fact plot wise not much really happens in this one already.
Review to come.
The heart breaks but does not change.
An Enlightenment Story
Captain Iain Sinclair. Perfect son, perfect soldier, hero of Waterloo. A man living a lie. The only person who really knows him is his childhood friend, scientist James Hart. But they’ve been estranged since Iain brutally destroyed their friendship following a passionate encounter.
Iain is poised to leave the King’s service to become an undercover agent in India. Before he leaves his old life behind, he’s determined to reconcile with James. An invitation to a country house party from James’s sister provides the perfect opportunity to pin the man down.
James has loved Iain all his life, but his years of accepting crumbs from Iain’s table are over. Forgiving Iain is one thing—restoring their friendship is quite another.
In the face of James’s determined resistance, Iain is forced to confront his reasons for mending the wounds between them. And accept the possibility that James holds the key to his heart’s desire—if only he has the courage to reach for it.
Warning: Contains a dashing military hero with one weakness—a scientist who feels their chemistry in every cell of his body. Kissing in the rain, skinny dipping, and emotional flashbacks. Huzzah!
Dear Joanna Chambers, I loved your “Enlightened” series, so when I saw that you had written another book in this world, I clicked right away. As the blurb states, this story is about Captain Ian Sinclair, who briefly appeared in “Enlightened” as Murdo’s friend.
First of all, let me just say that the flashbacks worked perfectly for me in this book, even though usually I am not very fond of them. Here I felt that they were used to maintain or increase the tension in the story and it worked. Basically, every couple of chapters the story switches between “Now” and “Then”. Now takes place in the year 1824, when Iain is leaving the army after twelve years of service and is about to accept the position of intelligence agent/spy in India. But before he goes he wants to patch things up with James Hart, his childhood friend. It very soon becomes clear that James is also the man Iain loves more than anybody in the world, but he won’t let himself show that. “Then” begins in the year 1808, when both boys met at David’s father estate, and it keeps moving forward in multiple-year jumps, until a few chapters before the end, when “Then” catches with “Now” and there is only “Now”.
I think one of the main reasons why the flashbacks worked for me was because it is hinted in the story that something happened between the guys which hurt their friendship but we do not know what it was. I really wanted to know, so the flashbacks did not annoy me the way they often do when I am more interested to know what is going to happen in the main storyline. It was all tightly connected and the narrative moved very smoothly.
I also thought that both boys were such appealing characters that seeing them in the past, seeing how their friendship matured and how they grew to feel more for each other than friendship, before we get to the “Now” part of the book was interesting and added to the richness of my reading experience.
The story is written in third person limited POV with the narration switching between Iain’s and James’ heads. Both men seemed to accept that they were attracted to men; however, that does not mean that their love story was smooth sailing, quite the contrary. For years Iain was fighting the fact that he grew attracted to James as more than a friend (not always successfully) and assuming I understood him correctly, I found his motivations to be very realistic and easy to understand. There is no Romance story if the characters find their way to each other too fast of course, but sometimes the reasons for the characters being apart just do not ring true for me – but they did here. At times Iain is so confused throughout the story, and I wanted for him to figure things out earlier than he did, because when we hear something like this from him, I thought what he felt about James cannot be more clear.
“Iain didn’t know what to say to that, especially when James looked at him, a stupidly happy expression on his face- happy and hopeful and unguarded. As though Iain was the best thing he’d ever seen. For some reason, that expression made Iain feel both pleased and panicked at the same time. James had been looking at him like that all day, which was doubtless why that loathsome fellow had started in on him, calling him a molly. Christ, when he’d heard that exchange on his way back to the curricle, the anger that had gripped him had been overwhelming. He’d wanted to the pound the man’s face to bloody pulp for threatening James.
James, a molly?
As a somewhat related aside, there is a characterization point addressed here that I always wonder about in historical gay romances. I always wonder, how did the character work out for himself that there is nothing wrong with him (assuming the character does appear to go through that thought process; sometimes it’s just assumed in the text). I realize that many gay people lived happy lives in the past even if they had to hide from the authorities and society that they were together. But I feel like it was probably harder for at least some of them to come to the realization that there was nothing wrong with them, because of the teachings of so many Christian denominations, because of society in general, etc., not to mention the laws against homosexual behavior. Because of this, I was so pleased that in this story the author took time to show at least briefly how it worked out for James:
“James had thought about this a lot over the last few years. And ultimately, he had done as his father always taught him: considered the evidence and drawn his conclusions from that, determining, finally, that there was nothing wrong with Iain Sinclair. And if that was right – and he felt sure it was – then the next, inexorable conclusion was that there was nothing wrong with James either. That they weren’t wicked degenerates, just another sort of person. Classifiable, like James’s specimens, with a place on the taxonomic table, as valuable as any other sort of being in the world.”
Despite interpreting Iain as the more conflicted character of the two, I liked James just as much if not more than Iain. I want to give special thanks to the author for making James a naturalist – I thought that his fascination with insects and plants and all things alive made him an even more interesting person. It felt as if author researched the bits about butterflies and bees, and other nature things, very well. I also thought that some of the allusions between nature and what people like James and Iain had to do to stay alive and be happy were lovely – not very subtle, but still lovely.
I was happy and satisfied at the end of the book. I believed in the future for these guys and Iain’s realization felt earned.
“He wouldn’t be free. He’d be lost. Because he’d realised something true and vital today. The thread between them – the love between them – wasn’t a chain or a tether.
It was a lifetime.”
Dear Joanna Chambers,
I enjoyed your Enlightenment series featuring Murdo Balfour and David Lauriston. One of the secondary characters in it was Captain Iain Sinclair, who became a (platonic) friend of Murdo’s. Iain was sent to Manchester as part of the Crown’s efforts to stop civil unrest and later, assigned to the personal retinue of the King himself and even became one of the monarch’s favourites. Iain always struck me as a charming, dashing character; noble and brave and true. And, readers know that he, like Murdo and David, is gay, in a time when it was very challenging for two men in love to have a HEA.
Unnatural is Iain’s story and charts the stormy course of his relationship with boyhood friend, James Hart. While it is not necessary to have read the Enlightenment trilogy to enjoy Unnatural, I found it helped because, for a lot of the book, I felt that Iain was not particularly brave and true. Having the earlier picture in my mind helped me to be more sympathetic to him as he takes a really long time to figure out what is in front of his eyes all along. (More about this later.)
The story is told mostly in vignettes and episodes, “then” and “now”, with the past stories moving forward until the narrative joins the “present day” (1824) action. It both worked for me and didn’t. Because it wasn’t a linear story, I found myself, particularly with the 1824 scenes, wanting to stay with one particular timeline rather than moving about. However, it did show that Iain and James have a long history, a deep affection and affinity, as well as sexual attraction (even if the latter is more often denied than not). Taken on it’s own, the 1824 storyline could be seen as a little thin; the flashbacks are what give the novel its emotional substance.
The words didn’t always flow well for me when I read. Some of the phrasing occasionally felt a little clumsy but that might be a function of me having an early copy; the final published version may be cleaner than what I read.
It struck me, as I was reading the last section of the book, where the story pulls all the threads together, that despite Iain having the heroic reputation, it is James who is the more brave of the two in important ways. James puts his heart on the line and asks for what he wants. He doesn’t let pride stand in the way and he’s more open to viewing their (potential) relationship as something which might be successfully (if carefully) managed. In contrast, what holds Iain back is fear and pride. Even so, it is Iain who can’t stay away. James doesn’t make a habit of begging for Iain’s affection and, it is James who eventually takes a stand of his own. He is not a pushover for Iain. His quiet dignity and self-possession struck me as two of his greatest qualities. For a while, it was easy to see what Iain saw in James but a little more challenging to see what James saw in Iain.
Of course, Iain has good reason to be fearful and appearances are important not just to him but also to his family. I don’t mean to be harsh. Today coming is still often a fraught experience for LGBTQ people and it was (in Western society at least) even more difficult in Regency times when sodomy was a crime. Just when I was thinking a little dourly of Iain and wondering why James put up with it all, you reminded me of something very important. After the drowning death of his oldest brother, Tom (Iain, then 10, was present but unable to save him), due to Iain’s own misplaced guilt and the ill-placed grief of Iain’s father, Iain felt he needed to be the perfect son. The expectations on him from his father were twice (if not more) as great. Daddy Sinclair had thrashed a teen Iain for fooling around with the second footman and it was impressed upon him (literally) the consequences of ever allowing himself to be caught in such an indiscretion in the future. These complicated family dynamics and expecations were ingrained from such a young age – I’m not surprised it took him twenty years to finally be able to put it aside and live for himself.
In fact, there is a contrast between James’ upbringing and Iain’s. James’ parents were happy together and James had a good relationship with both of them. In Iain’s family, it was the opposite and I thought you showed how those things can (but not always actually do) make a big difference without making a specific point about it. I also think you celebrated quiet bravery, both with James and with Iain’s mother, who had raised children and managed an estate while her husband became an angry, sullen, alcoholic.
I would have liked a little more about how James and Iain were going to manage their HEA in a practical sense. I was less convinced by it than I was of Murdo’s and David’s setup. It’s not that I didn’t believe in the relationship; I did. But I would have liked to see some of how Iain and James were going to go along on a day to day basis. And, while I 99% believed that Iain would hold true to his promise, I think I’d still have liked to have seen him actually stand against some opposition or threat for me to completely buy it.
James, like his father before him, is a naturalist. He has a special interest in plants and insects which can mimic other creatures or have special camouflage so
“…it makes a place for itself in its world that is safe, right out in the open.”
It wasn’t just the the case that this was used as a kind of foreshadowing of a possible future for the couple, but I think it went a little deeper than that – I think that’s where James got his inspiration and steadiness from. I also liked that he received, from his naturalist studies, comfort that his sexual orientation (not that he referred to it as such of course) was not unnatural and he was as deserving of love and happiness as any other.
When it comes to everyone else, Iain is the hero but in their relationship, it is James who gives courage to Iain and inspires him to go after what he really wants, rather than what people expect or demand of him. I liked the sympatico between the two men very much. Grade: B-
When the sun goes down, their passion awakens…and so do their nightmares.
Somnus, Book 1
Centuries ago, a man with Bryn Llewelyn’s dreamwalking ability would have been a shaman or a priest. In this time, he’s merely exhausted, strung out on too much caffeine and too little sleep.
Sleep means descent into Somnus—an alternate reality constructed of the combined dreaming consciousness of ordinary humans. A place he’d rather avoid. Trouble is, his powers don’t include the ability to go without sleep indefinitely. At some point his eyes close…and his nightmare begins.
As a teen, the treatment that cured Laszlo Grimm’s sleep disorder stole his dreams—and his ability to feel emotion. Petrified of needing more “treatment”, he clings to familiar rituals and habits. But lately his nightly terror has returned, and when he meets Bryn in the real world, the man seems hauntingly familiar. Not only that, Bryn awakens feelings in Laszlo for the first time in years…
Slowly Bryn and Laszlo realize they are both unknowing pawns in a plan of unspeakable evil. And that their powerful attraction could release the destinies locked within them—or be the instrument of their doom.
Warning: Contains the stuff of your lustiest dreams—and most frightening nightmares. You may want to read with a candle at the ready…just in case the lights go out.
Dear Joanna Chambers,
I requested this book for review several months ago when I was still requesting ARCs. I really wanted to write this review as quickly as possible; however our plans do not always turn into reality. If reviewers were to write lists of the reviews they struggled the most with this year, your book would certainly be on the top of mine. I read the book shortly after I requested it, but the review just wouldn’t appear, so I had to put it down and come back to it again. The main reason I struggled was because I just could not figure out what in the book felt off for me. It is not as if the fact that you are writing in a different genre bothered me. I loved your historical romance series “Enlightened”, but I was beyond pleased when I saw that you had written a fantasy, because I love fantasy/scifi as much as I love historical romances (if not more – I can never decide which m/m subgenre I love more, historical, fantasy or mystery).
As the blurb states, Bryn is a dreamwalker and he meets Laszlo in Somnus, an alternate reality/world which was built by people who come to it in their dreams. Some people are able to retain their memories and have a conscious existence while they are on Somnus, and Bryn is one of those people. Other people also come to Somnus in their dreams, but they won’t recognize anybody while they are there and won’t have any memories about what they do while dreaming. Dreamwalkers call them drones, and when Bryn meets Laszlo for the first time he thinks that Laszlo is a drone. When we meet Bryn for the first time, he is trying to stay awake for days because lately when he appears on Somnus he is being called to one of the darkest places there – the Tower and Shades (manifestations of people’s nightmares) are trying to lure him in the Tower. Eventually, he of course loses the battle to stay awake and he is back on Somnus.
The Dreamwalkers who come often know each other and help each other, and they are trying to train kids who first appear on Somnus to have better control of their abilities. So when Bryn returns, he is surprised that Dylan Black, one of the Dreamwalkers who was often unpleasant to him, wants to have a chat with him. It eventually comes out that the reason Dylan wants to talk is because he wants to share information with Bryn about his new power (or should I say the power Bryn never knew he had), which had manifested a little in the past but is likely to get stronger. I will let you find out what new powers Bryn learns he has and how he learns to control them. The point is that Dylan is also able to shed some light as to why Bryn is being called to the Tower and what evil is lurking there.
When Bryn shifts to the Tower again, that’s where he meets Laszlo, who attacks him. Eventually Bryn and Laszlo find each other in the real world, where Laszlo is not very willing to hear that he is able to go to Somnus in his dreams, and as Dylan suspects almost right away, he is not a drone but a dreamwalker. Laszlo is a successful businessman now, but somebody did a number on him in his youth. His ability to dream that way was treated as an illness, so it is no wonder that Laszlo initially is not a very eager listener of what Bryn is trying to tell him.
I liked both men a lot – Bryn just seemed like a guy who tried to deal with a lot of stuff in his regular life and on Somnus. He seemed like a hard worker to me, someone who, while he had adjusted to being a dreamwalker, was having a tough time accepting that he is way above average even amongst people with supernatural abilities. Of course Laszlo was traumatized after what he had been through, but I loved that he made a life for himself and also tried to deal the best he could. And when I typed that last sentence, I realized that “trying to deal with what life throws at you and not avoiding it for too long” is what these guys have in common. They just felt so incredibly brave to me – which of course comes in handy because at Somnus they have to battle an epic evil. I thought their attraction was fast, but I did not have much trouble accepting it.
After thinking this over again, I decided that what I was not happy with in the novel was the world building. Oh, it was detailed and interesting enough, but for me when a fantasy story is using some kind of a dream world as a setting, it needs to go the extra mile to make it believable. Let me try to elaborate. When a story builds a new world I want to see the rules it operates under at some point, and I want to see an internal consistency in the world building. In this story I had a nagging feeling that at any given time *anything* could change in the world, just because. After all, it is said that Somnus is built by drones (whether this is completely true remains to be seen) and drones do not subsequently realize what they have built during their dreams, and so it constantly changes. Does this mean it could be completely destroyed by drones/dreamwalkers, whoever? I guess I felt like I was not on solid ground when I was visiting this world.
I also thought that villain was extremely one- note dark.
The romance was fine, as I said it was a bit fast for me, but the guys were very likeable and in dire circumstances, so I could swallow that I guess.
It ends with a happy ending for them, and from what I read apparently a new couple will get their romance in the second book. I suspect Dylan will be one half of the couple but I don’t know for certain, and the underlying arch of fighting evil on Somnus will continue.
Note: All proceeds from the purchase of this anthology will be donated to AllOut.org in celebration of LGBT History Month, October 2014.
“Queer people have been left thinking that history does not belong to them — that outside this modern moment was nothing but a blank white space, or worse, nothing but unrelenting condemnation. It’s not good to be left feeling disconnected, as if you have no family and no place in the world, as if you don’t belong,” writes Alex Beecroft in the introduction to this anthology. A powerful sentiment, which left me pretty disappointed that the book contains only m/m stories, when the world of “queer” encompasses so much more. Thankfully, there were few disappointments aside from that.
What I appreciated about this anthology, aside from the high quality of the writing, was that most of the characters face conflicts that have nothing to do with sex. Despite some regrets about necessary compromises, they’re primarily coming from a place of acceptance and not fighting against their sexuality. Each story is definitely a romance, but the focus is less on being gay than on living in a particular time and place, while also being gay.
“Office Romance” by Tamara Allen takes us to the Unites States shortly after World War I, and two young men who are struggling to recover from their wartime experiences, each in their own way. When an efficiency expert pits Frederick Wetherly against his colleague Casey Gladwin in a competition to keep one job, Frederick is disheartened but determined to win. It’s not just that he needs the money to pay doctor bills, but the kindness of his fellow workers has made the office a homey place — and he certainly deserves the job more than Gladwin, who’s always flirting and socializing when he should be working. Then fear of losing causes Frederick to act unethically, and he discovers there’s far more to Gladwin than he had realized.
Narrated by Frederick, the tone of the story is quiet, even ordinary — a sympathetic glimpse at an Everyman who happens to be a gay Everyman. It’s not just a romance, but a story about waking up, rejoining the world, and once again being able to fight for what you believe in. As is typical for Allen, the one sex scene is warm rather than hot — without being at all coy or euphemistic — and seems just right for a 27 page story. The progression to a happy-for-now ending feels a little fast, but forgivably so. B
“Introducing Mr. Winterbourne” by Joanna Chambers takes us to a more familiar historical setting and characters. As the third son of an earl, Lysander is being pressured into joining the Church, when what he really wants is to manage an estate. But to his family, his love for the outdoors is simply “mucking about with horses and mud,” only fit for a child. When he’s asked to show the wealthy but lowborn brother of his soon-to-be brother-in-law around town, Lysander becomes even more aware of the snobbishness and uselessness of his family and social circle. Then a fencing match gets oddly heated, and he senses an opportunity he’s rarely encountered before.
This didn’t grab me; it was a pleasant read, but nothing about the characters or setting stood out. I can’t help comparing it to Beguiled, which has such emotionally powerful and erotic sex scenes; here, there just wasn’t enough built between the characters to make me want to read about them having explicit sex. I was also puzzled by the “gossip rag” opening of the story, which seemed to promise some plot points that never came up again — perhaps this is intended to begin a new series? C
“The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh” by K.J. Charles is also a Regency about a lord’s extra son and a wealthy commoner, but brings an awesome old skool vibe — an intense version of one of those wacky “stake your daughter at the gambling table” plots. Except this is m/m, so it plays out somewhat differently. I was on the edge of my seat as old antagonists Ash and Webster battle in a winner-take-all game of cards in which the stakes get increasingly odd and thrilling — first the coat off Ash’s back, then his shirt, then…? The end result — no pun intended — is blistering in its intensity.
This might come under the header of erotic romance, since there isn’t a whole lot of time for tenderer feelings to develop, but I didn’t feel anything was missing. The backstory was a bit awkward, dribbled out to us in bits, but overall this was a WOW. My first Charles read will certainly not be my last. A-
“Unfair in Love and War” by Kaje Harper is the longest of the stories, taking time to create complex characters and a developing relationship. (As well as multiple sex scenes.) Warren comes home to help his mother after his brother’s death in World War II; exempt from service because childhood polio shortened one of his legs, he’s hoping to find a job that will contribute to the war effort. His return home starts with a bang when he interrupts a laughing group painting a swastika on a neighbor’s door. The new neighbor is Stefan, a Swiss immigrant who is also unable to serve, because of seizures. Assumed to be German, he’s become a target for neighborhood rage.
While helping Stefan repair his damaged home, Warren discovers that the beautiful younger man is interested in him, yet withdrawn, shy, and somewhat traumatized from a previous bad experience. He introduces Stefan to good sex, resolutely bracing himself for when his lover gets bored and moves on. But Stefan is holding in a lot of pain and secrets, and their supposedly casual relationship becomes highly complex.
The romance is nurturing, involving, and emotional, but I also particularly enjoyed the sense of time and place in this story. Like most of the stories, it’s a portrait of a gay man who’s just living his life, yet being gay is a bigger part of Warren’s identity — he’s even out to his family. But it’s not his only identity, and being an American, a son, a brother, and a part of a community all have an impact on his feelings. B
“Carousel” by Jordan L. Hawk is an odd-man-out in the anthology, a paranormal mystery story with a touch of horror. It’s also part of the “Whyborne and Griffin” series, but isn’t hard to follow as a stand-alone. The setting is a fictional town in New England; the time unspecified, but apparently around the 1900s. Noted detective Griffin Flaherty is asked to investigate a child’s disappearance, a task which gets him and his lover Percival Whyborne into unexpected danger.
There’s some effective creepiness to the story, but the romance felt awkwardly inserted; it might read better if you’re already familiar with the couple. The most interesting aspect in terms of history is Griffin’s backstory: he was adopted from an orphan train. Having been rejected by his adoptive parents because of his lover, he’s now torn between wanting to look for the biological brothers he lost, and being worried that they might reject him as well if he finds them. The intellectual, somewhat strait-laced Percival is also intriguing, and I’m curious to read more about him. But I don’t think this story fits the overall theme of the anthology well. C+
“Deliverance” by Aleksandr Voinov is a rewrite of a story that’s no longer available, and follows the novella The Lion of Kent. (Which may or may not be a romance — it clearly doesn’t adhere to the usual rules.) You don’t see medieval m/m that often, for obvious reasons, and the resolution of the conflict here is far from tidy. (A sequel is planned.) But it is a very stirring story, and satisfying in a unique way.
William joins the order of the Templar monks seeking “solace and redemption.” Fighting infidels gives him a sanctioned outlet for his aggressive nature, and six years of complete chastity have tamped down other needs. Then his former lover Guy turns up as a pilgrim knight, and insists on not only reminding him of the pleasure they shared, but on putting up a fight for his soul.
Of all these settings, William’s world is the farthest away from ours — not only in terms of actual time, but in terms of language and mores. The prose does a good job of creating an alien atmosphere that’s still understandable and relatable. (Although William’s mindset can be an uncomfortable one to be in.) The tempestuous, competitive physicality of William and Guy’s relationship gives the story a lot of energy, and though the resolution leaves many loose ends, it fits. B
Although I didn’t love every story, I can’t give an anthology with so much terrific work in it less than an overall B. I should point out that I noticed two minor editing errors, but the production was fine otherwise.
The cruelest duel may not spill a drop of blood…but it could break their hearts. Enlightenment, Book 3 Five months ago, David Lauriston was badly hurt helping his friend Elizabeth escape her violent husband. Since then, David has been living with his lover, Lord Murdo Balfour, while he recuperates. Despite the pain of his injuries, David’s time with Murdo has been the happiest of his life. The only things that trouble him are Murdo’s occasional bouts of preoccupation, and the fact that one day soon, David will have to return to his legal practice in Edinburgh. That day comes too soon when David’s friend and mentor takes to his deathbed, and David finds himself agreeing to take on a private mission in London. Murdo is at his side in the journey, but a shocking revelation by Murdo’s ruthless father leaves David questioning everything they’ve shared. As tensions mount and the stakes grow higher, David and Murdo are forced to ask themselves how far they’re prepared to go—and how much they’re prepared to give up—to stay together. And whether there’s any chance of lasting happiness for men like them. Warning: Men in love, men with secrets, and men armed with dueling pistols.
Dear Joanna Chambers,
We are back with David and Murdo when David is still recuperating at Murdo’s estate. David is growing restless – he knows that he needs to return to his law practice– but he is just so very happy being where he is. As the blurb tells you, external circumstances force David to go back sooner rather than later – his mentor is at his deathbed and he wants to see David. The conversation between David and his mentor leads David to go from Edinburg to London on a mission to help Elisabeth once more, because her psychopathic ex-husband keeps looking for her and David agrees to help transfer the trust in her name to another law office. Murdo has his own goals to pursue in London, and he is not sharing much about those goals with David, except that it may have something to do with getting back at his father, and David ends up going with him. Now that the trilogy is complete I want to talk a little bit about certain things which I saw in all three books.
I thought that the author kept zeroing in on our characters and made the focus narrower and narrower with every book. We start with David defending the weavers and the implications their actions have for society. Murdo was involved too, Euan would not let go of super radical views (-totally understanding but super radical views), and I really loved how the characters’ love story played out against settings and issues which were so much larger than these individuals. In the second book social issues are still there, but we can clearly IMO see how David tries to do what he does best – change the system from within. Meanwhile Euan, while working for a radical newspaper, uses his wit rather his gun which I thought was a huge improvement for him. Then the focus gets even more narrowed down, and rather than change society David puts everything at stakes to help a friend. I liked that shift, because how can we help society unless we keep in mind the needs of its individual members, and if there are people who are decent and want to help people who are more vulnerable than themselves then such society will hopefully survive.
And in the third book the focus is most entirely on David and Murdo – on them learning stuff about each other, on them revealing stuff to each other. Oh there is something else going on in the book, but it was also all very personal, very individual oriented so to speak – I thought it was very different from first two books and I thought it was done by design. This something else eventually helped lead David and Murdo into their happy ending. On one hand I liked it a lot. Both men are even more vulnerable in this book, but to me they never lost believability as two men from different classes, who had a lot in common, enough to fall in love with each other. I thought I finally got a good grasp of Murdo’s character and I liked what I saw a lot.
“I didn’t know I wasn’t happy before,” he murmured. “Before what?” Murdo gave a lopsided smile. “Before you. Not that I was actively unhappy. I had plans. Objectives. Things to acquire or achieve. But—“ He paused, then said simply, “You make me happy, David.” David stared at him, his throat clogged with emotion. “The feeling’s mutual,” he managed at last, his voice little more than a whisper. Then he pulled Murdo down, pressing their lips together in a fierce kiss”
I had a little bit of an issue with their happy ending. Not in the sense that it did not fit the story – it is surely not an easy feat to come up with a believable happy ending in a historical, more than any other romance setting, and I thought the author managed it admirably well. No, it is just that they both sacrificed a lot in order to achieve their happiness and obviously being with each other was more important for them than anything else, but David’s sacrifice kind of made me personally a little sad. Do not get me wrong – Murdo also sacrificed a lot, but he wanted to be rid of what he sacrificed if that makes sense. David on the other hand could have done so much good. I mean, it is not like he still cannot and more importantly he is blissfully happy at the end. I thought their happiness was shining from the pages. It really is a little issue, believe me. There was also a coincidence closer to the end of the story which was not believable to me – in order for David to close certain page from his past a person appeared in the situation David found himself in and I just wondered how likely was that. But this was a very good book overall and I eagerly await the next m/m book from this writer. Grade: B., B+ for the whole trilogy.