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REVIEW: Strongman by Denise Rossetti

Dear Ms. Rossetti:

strongman_smThis book recently won a Passionate Plume Award from Passionate Ink, the erotic SIG for RWA. I’ve long been intrigued by the blurb on EC, so thought I’d check it out. I’m very glad I did. It’s part of a series, but completely stands alone-‘I haven’t read the rest of the series, after all, and although I could tell I was missing things here and there, and the external plot was obviously part of something much bigger, the core romance was more than enough to make Strongman worth reading by itself.

Strongman is set in an alternate world (or maybe a far future Earth, technologically diminished?), something I’m usually not interested in reading because world building bores me. But here it’s done so smoothly, so organically, that I hardly noticed I was learning about the world as I was reading. I loved the very short Encyclopedia entries beginning each chapter, explaining parts of the world just as they became important to the story. New species and situations were introduced and explained seamlessly, with no info-dumping, no “As you know, Bob” moments. Perfect.

Griff is a tumbler, part of a circus act. Fortitude "Fort" McLaren has just signed on as a roustabout and general muscle for the circus. It’s instant attraction for both of them, but Griff’s much more comfortable with that than Fort is, whose background as a child in the Straight Church, where homosexuality is a sin punishable by death, still affects him, no matter how much he tries to claim it doesn’t. I especially liked the unexpected spirituality of the story and its effects on the characters. Fort has converted to a matriarchal religion with a strong emphasis on the joy sex provides, but still finds himself running up against his Straight Church background in unavoidable ways. But Griff pushes and pushes and pushes, until it’s more work for Fort to deny him than to accept their attraction.

Although the story is set in the circus, most of the progress of the romance takes place outside the circus, as Fort and then Griff are on a scouting journey that’s part of an obviously larger narrative. The romance is most beautifully perfectly done. Each step in their relationship reveals more about the individuals, where they come from, who they are, why their partner attracts them, and what they’re going to do about it. The focus of the story is mainly Fort’s journey and I just fell in love with him as he fell in love with Griff but had to push himself to accept it:

Today was all Fort had, all he could allow himself. Because he couldn’t live his life like this, not every, ordinary day after day and still be Fort McLaren, still be the man he knew. This was a time out of time, a dark, shining secret graven on his soul. Precious. But he couldn’t prevent the sly thought that it wouldn’t be difficult to persuade Griff to come away with him again, somewhere like this. He looked around. Yes, somewhere exactly like this.

Griff took another nibble, on the shoulder this time, and Fort closed his eyes, telling the thought to go to hell. The tumbler deserved better and he- No. Think about the moment, only the moment. He couldn’t risk the other man’s life to satisfy his own crooked lusts. Tomorrow he’d escort Griff back to the Valaressa road and send him on his way.

Something small and sad and stupid whimpered deep in his chest, but he told it to shut up. He got Griff out of the water and over to the tents so quickly it felt like levitation.

I usually don’t like illness or injury as a way to force the denouement of the romance, but you do it so very well here, with such deep emotion, and such stripping away of all Fort’s defenses, that I very happily went along with it.

The sex, by the way, was amazing. Fort is the title’s “Strongman,” but Griff is a tumbler and can give as good as he gets. Evenly matched, each sexual encounter is a fight for dominance and it’s hot and fascinating and each scene is integral to both plot and character development.

The only niggle I had was that, although the story was obviously part of a larger plot so characters from a previous book in the series were necessary to that larger plot and rather seamlessly integrated, it still felt like a revisiting of old characters as a reward for long-time readers. Then again, I wouldn’t mind revisiting Fort and Griff in future books of yours, and I’ll probably go back and read the previous books in the series.

Thank you for a fun, hot, sexy read.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Ellora’s Cave.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.


  1. Anne Douglas
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 18:05:36

    If you’ve not read the first books, you really are missing out. Seriously.

    I got all waxing lyrical about Tail Spin – and I don’t often go out of my way to blog about books:

  2. Robin
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 18:26:53

    @Anne Douglas: Is the whole series M/M? I also really enjoyed Strongman, and it was the first Rossetti book I’ve read (and I don’t read a lot of M/M, either), so I do not know if she writes strictly M/M books. But like Sarah, I found the worldbuilding in this one very natural, very engaging, and would like to read more of this particular setting.

  3. Jennifer Leeland
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 18:31:01

    This was my favorite book by Rossetti. She’s brilliant, IMHO.

  4. Louisa Edwards
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 19:37:31

    I really enjoyed this book; I’ve actually read it a couple of times. The worldbuilding rocked, and the emotions between Griff and Fort felt convincingly masculine, yet engaging. I wanted the whole series to be about them!

  5. Edie
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 20:29:31

    Oh I am a massive fan of the Rossetti! Tailspin definitely a fave!
    Robin – I think Strongman is the only full MM she wrote?
    I have the worst memory, though there may be two mmf’s?

    My only problem with Rossetti is that she doesn’t write fast enough for me. ;)

  6. RD
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 20:31:03

    @Robin Her other books are a wonderful jumble of m/f and m/f/m.

    And I agree with everyone else, her other books are as wonderful as Strongman. I hope Ellora’s Cave eventually puts Strongman into print so I can complete my collection.

    Strongman actually has an additional short story or 2nd epilogue that brings a small plot point to resolution. I’m not exactly sure where to find it anymore. It used to be available on EC but I don’t see it anymore.

  7. Joan/SarahF
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 21:11:42

    @RD: Here it is!. You’ve got to sign up for her Newsletter, but it’s in the welcome email. And it’s so good. Thanks so much!

  8. Denise Rossetti
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 22:48:18

    Thanks for the awesome review, Sarah – you’ve totally made my day! *beams* I’m so glad you enjoyed Fort and Griff. As you could no doubt tell, they fascinated me. I found it very difficult to let them go, hence the free epilogue, available via my newsletter.

    In fact, you beat me to it – thanks for posting the link. If anyone missed it, here it is again, just a taste. I treasure my newsletter readers. I write something every month for them. When the current saga (no redeeming features whatsoever apart from gratuitous sex, but a helluva lot of fun *g*) is finished, I’ll be writing more vignettes about established characters, similar to the epilogue for Strongman.

  9. Denise Rossetti
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 22:58:41

    @Robin and @Edie: Strongman is my only M/M – to date, anyway. I’d truly love to write another, but not sure when that will happen. I have a series for Berkley on the go and another menage for Ellora’s Cave in the works. Gift of the Goddess and Tailspin are both M/F/M menages with a significant M/M relationship.

    As Edie, says, I’m very slooooow. Tend to hang around waiting for the Muse to hit me upside the head with an inspiration – a particularly insidious form of procrastination. But seriously, I’d rather not churn ’em out if it means writing crap.

    @RD: Strongman is my only Ellora’s Cave book still not in print. I am sooo hanging out for it!

  10. RD
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 08:33:49

    Strongman is my only Ellora's Cave book still not in print. I am sooo hanging out for it!

    I would buy it in a heartbeat. Just sayin.

  11. nutmeag
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 08:54:48

    I love this website, even though I don’t actually read a lot of romance (I’m more of a sci-fi gal), but I just realized something. The site reviews M/F, M/M, and M/F/M pairings books, but I’ve yet to see an F/F or F/M/F book review. Are there so few of those books out there, or are y’all reviewers just not into reading those?

  12. Jane
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 09:05:42

    @nutmeag Jayne did a couple F/F books although I can’t remember the titles off hand at this moment.

  13. Jayne
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 09:31:18

    No, actually we haven’t read a lot of f/f but I think it’s more because good examples are hard to find. Here’s a link to the ones which have been tagged f/f.

  14. nutmeag
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 11:21:14

    Thanks, Jane and Jayne. I’m always interested in genre trends

  15. SonomaLass
    Sep 04, 2009 @ 16:08:35

    Hmm, Rosetti sounds like another author I should check out. Thanks for the tip!

    I must say, the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the cover and read the blurb was a fond memory of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Catch Trap. An early favorite of mine.

    I wish there was more f/f romance out there!

  16. Charlie
    Sep 05, 2009 @ 07:24:18

    Can i take a one small pic from your site?

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