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REVIEW:  The Lord Won’t Mind (The Peter & Charlie trilogy book 1) by Gordon Merrick

REVIEW: The Lord Won’t Mind (The Peter & Charlie trilogy...

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REVIEW CONTAINS A LOT OF SPOILERS.

Dear readers,

Several years ago when I was still a relative newbie to m/m romance a book friend at my favorite book discussion forum introduced me to quite a few older gay romance books, in order to put my introduction to m/m romance in perspective. One of the books she suggested to me was this one; I bought the book in paperback and I thought that I read it. When I saw that Open Road was reissuing Gordon Merrick’s books for Kindle I wanted to bring “The Lord Won’t Mind” to Dear Author’s readers and I requested a review copy.

All I remembered from looking at this book in paperback years ago was the feeling of overwhelming joy two characters felt about each other. I did not remember anything else and now, after a careful reread I discovered the reason why – I think I kept skimming and even skipping pages. And if I was not reading the book for review I would have done same thing now as well.

I rarely feel guilty for not liking a book but this is one of the rare situations where I do. I can imagine how important it was for many gay people in the 1970s to see a gay romance on the NY Times bestseller list and just to see two main characters falling in love depicted positively. Unfortunately, I have to grade the book based on whether it worked for me as a reader and more things did not work than it did.

The book opens up with Charlie Mills having a conversation with his grandmother C.B. about a young man who is coming to stay with her, whom she is hoping will become good friends with Charlie. The narrator clearly lets us know that he is Charlie, but then he hides away and says:
“I will not associate myself with the things I have to tell. If I must intrude occasionally, it will be from the distance of time and change. Charlie Mills has nothing to do with me.”
The narrator mostly keeps his promise and the book is written from a third person limited POV which mostly rotates between Charlie and the young man who is coming to stay with them, Peter. The book starts “in the last summer of peace” before the Second World War, but very little page space is devoted to the larger historical setting.

Charlie hopes to become fast friends with Peter and this seems to be what his grandmother wants as well. Charlie also wants to share sexual adventures with Peter and is determined to find out the very day he arrives whether it will work out between them. You also have to know that Charlie is obsessed with sex and is immensely proud that he has not met any guy whose “sex” (the writer calls them “sexes” quite consistently throughout the book so I am going with his word of choice) was bigger than his.

“There was no opportunity for the sexual adventures that had been for years the core of his existence. He thought of his childhood visits to C.B. in the city, when he would find the closets piled high with gaily wrapped presents, impromptu Christmases whose memory still made him tingle with delight. It was like her to make him the gift of ideal companion.”

Charlie’s ploy to discover whether Peter will participate in the sexual adventures with him plays out pretty much right after Peter arrives, all innocence and beauty and lo and behold, everything works out between them. Right away Peter is in love with him. And when I say right away I mean right away. Right after they measured parts of each other’s bodies while naked, which was I thought very funny, but for me did not inspire thoughts of everlasting love.

“Peter kept his eyes averted, his mouth working. “What’s the point of measuring? I’m not as big as you are,” he managed finally.
“That’s nothing. I’ve never met anybody who was. You damn nearly are. There’s probably less difference than you think.” To ease Peter’s evident distress, to relieve him of self-consciousness at the start, he maintained the pretense of cheerful, scientific detachment. He crouched down, and Peter’s sex leaped and quivered before him, the head as taut and smooth as ripe fruit. He ran his tongue over his lips and opened his mouth, but checked himself. He would wait another moment before any direct love play.

Everything that had happened up to now could be written off as a physiological accident, without erotic significance. Peter still hadn’t made any overt move. He pulled down the shorts and scanty underwear and lifted each big foot in turn to disentangle them. He applied the tape to the leaping sex, allowing his hands to become cautiously caressing and making no attempt at accuracy. It became as rigidly immobile as steel under his touch, and he saw the boy’s knees begin to tremble. He straightened and handed over the tape, his thumb on the mark, giving him an extra inch. He took Peter’s arm and guided him around and backed him up, their sexes playing against each other as they moved, and forced him gently down on the edge of the bed. “There,” he said, “you can get at me better that way”.

Peter has an orgasm right after this part, we discover that he never done that before, and he is very eager to learn everything. And in a day or two he declares that he is in love with Charlie.

I had to kept reminding myself again how important it was that this romance was published in 1970s, I had to remind myself that what I read as comical moments were not likely to be meant as such, but once again I can only report my own perception and interpretation and I was not very happy. I did not buy their very Insta!Love at all.

Charlie and Peter have a lot of fun, Charlie has a lot of affection for Peter, but Peter seems to accept that he is gay much faster than Charlie. No matter how much affection and love he feels for Peter Charlie keeps insisting that “he is not queer”. And if he is doing it with girls, it does not matter and should not matter to Peter. I wanted to kick Charlie really hard, because I felt really bad for Peter.

I know I should have felt bad for Charlie because of his constant persistence throughout much of the book that being gay is wrong and at the very least he also has to have sex with a woman to be “normal”. I however just could not feel bad for this specific fictional character. I thought he treated Peter horribly way too many times – Peter was not supposed to spend time with another gay friend, while Charlie was out with a woman. I thought he treated the women he was with horribly too, he was borderline violent and sometimes not just borderline. The only woman Charlie seemed to respect was his grandmother C.B. He was scared to be less than ideal in her eyes, because she treated him as an epitome of beauty and talent. And his grandmother seemed to only care about promoting the careers and well-being of young men according to Charlie himself; and she had no use for females. She felt creepier and creepier to me as the book progressed and by the end of her character arc she was disgusting. It was disgusting in the sense of what kind of person she turned out to be.

I was also frankly tired of the book’s condescending attitudes towards Black people. I understand that it takes place in 1940s for the most part, but I really did not feel that the story cared much about historical authenticity overall, and it was disappointing that this was the theme where the story tried to be historically accurate.

Due to some lucky circumstances Charlie and Peter manage to live together for some time when they go to New York, but then Charlie’s need to not be gay and to keep his relationship with Peter a secret eventually breaks them apart. Poor innocent lamb Peter tries to be faithful to Charlie emotionally, if not physically, but eventually he meets a nice guy whom he sort of falls for.

“He stood without moving, realizing that he was going to be unfaithful to Charlie at last; he had never allowed others to count. Tears came to his eyes as he felt Charlie’s hold slipping. He had built his life, such as it was, around his empty commitment; it would be strange to be without it. He was not yet released from the prison to which he had condemned himself, but he was no longer sealed off beyond reach or hope. He felt limitations of freedom. Perhaps Tim would complete the miracle on Friday.”

Charlie gets married, but after a violent break up with his wife (they fought, she hurt his cock, literally she tore it in two places and there was blood. He hurt her a lot too. I am guessing this was some sort of symbolism but I am not sure), he came back to Peter and fully accepted that he was Queer.
“All right about the queer part. I’ve lied to myself and you. I’m as queer as coot”.
Usually I love very much to read about growth and change in a flawed character and Charlie’s acceptance of all the crappy things he said and did should have appeased me, but it just came too little too late in this case.

In the meantime they discovered C.B.’s true awful horrible nature and family disposition. They lived happily ever after.

Grade:C/ C- .

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JOINT REVIEW:  The Devil Lancer by Astrid Amara

JOINT REVIEW: The Devil Lancer by Astrid Amara

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Captain Elliott Parrish of Her Majesty’s 17th Lancers cavalry division finds most details about his assignment in the Crimean peninsula insufferable. Rampant cholera, missing supplies, and inept planning start the British war effort against the Russian Czar’s expansion into Turkish territory on poor footing. What should have been a swift and decisive summer victory soon drags into a harrowing winter campaign, and Elliott must rally disheartened men through sickness, battle, and starvation. But when he is assigned the additional task of spying on a fellow officer, the inscrutable Cornet Ilyas Kovakin, he finds himself disconcerted and fascinated by both the work and the man. Rumors surround Ilyas Kovakin, the half-Russian officer who reports to none in his division. People say they’ve seen snakes slithering into his tent at night, that he has another face visible only in certain light, and a penchant for violent acts carried out in darkness, alone. But the truth that Elliot soon discovers is much more dangerous then mere superstition. For Ilyas, his return to Crimea is colored with the horrors of his past. Once a mercenary, he has made a terrible mistake and inherited horrifying powers that he can barely control. He feels his hold over his humanity slipping away daily, and fears that salvation may already lay beyond him when the cheerful Captain Parrish catches his attention. Among men who hate him and superiors who covet his brutal power, Ilyas finds the young captain’s charming company almost irresistible. But Ilyas knows that the closer he is drawn to Elliot the more he will endanger them both.

Dear Astrid Amara,

Sirius: You are one of the few m/m writers whose books I will buy based on your name on the cover alone, but when I heard that the topic of your next book would be the Crimean War, I could not wait to get my hands on the ARC. I studied the Crimean war in high school, or I guess I should say I studied the Russian side of it for the most part, and I suppose because the war took place in the 19th century, Soviet historians felt it was okay to criticize the tsar as well, not just his adversaries. Basically the recollection I had from high school was that this war left its mark in history as one of the most incompetent wars ever – on all sides. The fictional book about the Crimean War which I remember the most was Leo Tolstoy’s “The Sebastopol Sketches”.

I thought your historical research was superb and the war scenes came alive on the pages – I do not mean just the battles scenes. I mean soldiers and officers dying from diseases, not just on the battlefield, and high commanders of English army being so mind bogglingly stupid and incompetent that I should have been surprised, but I really was not. If your story was purely a Crimean war historical, I would have easily given it an A. I appreciated the note at the end explaining what parts of the settings you took some small liberties with and I especially appreciated the bibliography, which I am going to peruse to see if I can find some of these books.

Kaetrin: I knew little about the Crimean War prior to reading the book but was keen to read a story in a different setting and to learn more about it. I had the sense that the detail about the war and the conditions of the winter of 1854 were accurate. I did end up looking some things up because I was confused by some of the descriptions of decisions made/not made by the officers in charge. I could understand why Elliott might not have known the answers to some of the questions he had – I’m talking here, for example, about Elliott’s complaints to superior officers about why the Lancers weren’t used to harry the retreating enemy (which was their main strength) but instead were held back in some of the early battle scenes. When I looked it up, the prevailing view seems to be that Lord Cardigan had no battle experience and therefore was a poor strategist. And it was those little finishing off bits which were missing in the book for me. I felt like I’d been told most of the story but that it hadn’t been quite completed and I found it frustrating.

Sometimes I looked things up because I felt I was missing something. Other times I looked things up because my interest was piqued. For example, I ended up doing some reading about the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. The description of the battle itself was very good and it made me want to orient myself to its wider context.

I found myself outraged that Lord Cardigan ordered the men under him not to wear their cloaks because it made them look ‘effeminate’ but then he went off to his warm yacht with his personal chef and all the comforts of home. The men he was leading (poorly) were starving and freezing and they weren’t even allowed to light a fire. The deprivations these men endured and their absolute loyalty to their sworn duty really spoke to me. And this adherence to duty was never more clear when they were ordered to charge the enemy’s guns when they were surrounded on three sides by heavy artillery. It was, literally, a suicide mission. So many died because of stupid decisions.

Sirius: Actually I knew little about anybody’s side of things other than Russian in that war, you know? My main recollection was that there was just so much incompetence from everybody. And even such an apparently famous event as the Charge of Light Brigade was a complete blank for me – it may have been briefly mentioned in my text books, but if it was, I did not remember it at all and also ended up looking it up. As I mentioned above, I am really going to try to read some of the books listed at the end of this novel, but what intrigued me was that Elliott was inspired by William Morris of the Light Brigade. I ended up getting a book, “Pocket Hercules,” by M.J. Trow – which I thought was pretty much a biography of William Morris, and which covered his participation in Crimean War. I am not sure anything was missing for me in the novel in terms of the depiction of Lord Cardigan or Lord Raglan. The author says at the end in the author’s note that she took some liberties with their personalities, but the decisions that they made and that are shown in the book were enough for me to call them all kinds of bad strategists and other things in my mind. M.J. Trow states that Cardigan was involved in many scandals, and in this book his constant quarrels with another commander when he should have been concentrated on the welfare of his soldiers and officers and on actual war were quite damning for me.

Kaetrin: I knew a little bit about the Charge of the Light Brigade and a very little about the Crimea because a long time ago I read a historical romance by Emma Drummond which covered that period. Of course, the Crimea has been in the news more recently as well.

Sirius: The book is not just a historical though, it has a very significant paranormal storyline and a romantic storyline – all three are connected of course, but the paranormal aspect of the story is the one I had some issues with.

As the blurb tells you, when we meet Elliott Parrish and Ilyas Kovakin, they are going to Crimea as part of the British troops, and these troops are not in the best shape. The blurb describes very well the rumors that are going around about Ilyas’ strange behavior and his abilities. Elliott is instantly intrigued by Ilyas and because he wants to determine whether Ilyas is a Russian spy or not, he takes it upon himself to spy on him, and at some point his spying is even sanctioned by his superiors.

I was intrigued by both Ilyas and Elliott and could not wait to see where the story would take me. Alas for some reason the narrative decides to take this intrigue away from me *very* early in the story. Basically the reason for Ilyas’ strange behavior and his abilities is revealed extremely early. Despite the early reveal I am going to put it under spoiler cut just to be on the safe side.

The following is from the second chapter in the story, 4% on my Kindle:

Spoiler: Show

Since the devilish creature had entered his body seven months prior, moments like this increased, where the horrid presence wrestling to possess his body attempted to spread its dark will outward. For weeks he’d struggled to keep the wretchedness inside him, away from other soldiers.

So now since the quote is from Ilyas himself (the story is written from third person limited POV and the POV changes between Elliott and Ilyas) we now know for sure that Ilyas is possessed and when he had weird abilities, mood swings and  murderous rages I knew why they happened. I honestly do not understand the choice to reveal such an important reason for Ilyas’ internal conflict that early in the story.

Even though possession was revealed early, of course the details were not, and slowly but surely we learn  the whole complicated mythology and layers behind it. All those details are fascinating and cool in themselves, but for me the problem was that I was kind of bored by then with the paranormal aspect of the story, more specifically I was bored with how it impacted the main characters – I did not feel the suspense any longer. I mean, I knew that I did not know the details of Ilyas’ missions yet and how they were connected with his issues, but to me the crux of the matter was this and I already understood that he was possessed and was fighting against his possession.

He crushed the snake’s head under his boot and pleasure – the devil’s pleasure- flooded his body, powerful as an orgasm, shuddering and exciting.

Against his will, he smiled.

This was also a quote from the second chapter of the book.

Kaetrin: Oh, that’s interesting Sirius because I had almost the opposite reaction to you. For various reasons I found this book hard to get into. I felt disoriented for a lot of the story and just when I was beginning to understand and feel “at home”, the narrative would shift – days, weeks, sometimes months ahead, and the disorientation began all over again. In relation to the paranormal aspects of the story, it was nearly halfway into the book before the full context of it is given and that was too late for me. That was important information which I wanted. Instead I was floundering a lot of the time.

Sirius: So what was revealed early in the story, what I describe in the spoiler cut, was not enough for you to feel that suspense of the paranormal storyline was lost?

Kaetrin: No – I felt there wasn’t enough information given to me early on. I was confused and groping for context until about halfway into the story.

Sirius: Of course I was not completely bored with the book. I thought it was very well done, especially how Elliott’s obsession with Ilyas in a way mirrored (only metaphorically – obviously Elliott did not wish anything evil upon him) what was happening with Ilyas.

He loved a good mystery, and the cornet was exceeding all of his expectations. Kovakin looked impatient as he waited. He didn’t pace; he remained immobile, despite the dampness of this evening.
Elliott glanced over to see how Henry fared, and noticed his friend lying on the wet forest ground, resting his head on his arm, his eyes closed.

“You all right?” Elliott whispered.

Henry cracked an eye. “Taking a nap. Wake me when he commits treason.”

Kaetrin: I did find myself bored. When I think back to individual sections of the story, I can point to parts that I enjoyed but it didn’t feel cohesive to me. It felt choppy and disjointed. I actually took two tries to read it. Both times, the story just didn’t grab hold of me. The second time, I powered through because I had promised Sirius I’d review it with her, but otherwise I think I’d have given up. Not because it’s bad – it’s not. I just found myself confused and frustrated at lot of the time and when I wasn’t, I was waiting for some action. Much of the battle descriptions are very dry – in the manner of a report rather than a story (if that makes sense). A lot of the time, Elliott wasn’t directly involved, so I didn’t feel the immediacy of the action or that there was anything at stake (in terms of the personal story of Elliott and Ilyas). And, as I said above, these battle descriptions/decisions often had an element which felt incomplete to me.

In some ways, I felt the paranormal aspects were tacked on because most often the story with Ilyas and his brothers were quite separate from the rest of the narrative. However, in other places I thought they were seamlessly integrated into the story. For example, the great storm (which actually happened) was given a paranormal origin. That’s contrary, I know, but that’s how I felt.

Sirius: For me it was completely believable that at the time of war and death they would think first about war and second about their mutual attraction, so it made sense to me that in the first half of the book they may have thought a lot about each other but did not interact much except when forced to by their duties (whatever they both understood their duties to be). I also liked how when their relationship received some further developments, it just happened. Again, it just made sense to me because of the war.

Kaetrin: I liked the slow build of the romance but I think I missed the part where they talked and became friends and it developed into more. To me, it seemed more like a physical attraction and a shared quest (to vanquish the paranormal villains). The first time they were intimate it felt like convenience because they were both gay rather than a serious “I choose you because I like you”. By the end, I did think they had a lasting bond but I would have liked more of that shown, instead of told, in the main story.

Sirius: When the paranormal aspect actually became more action-oriented, I really liked it – now it did not matter to me that I knew what Illyas was fighting against, now I was just cheering for him and hoping he would win. Of course I liked that he had Elliott on his side as somebody who would want to help him and who clearly grew to love him. And I was very pleased with the happy ending for both of them.

Kaetrin: Yes, I felt the way in which the men get their HEA, given the time period, made sense. Although, I will say that I’d have thought Elliott would have grieved some things more than he did *she says mysteriously*.

Sirius: As an aside, the blurb states that Ilyas is half-Russian, and there are also several secondary Russian characters appearing in the book, so you will see a few Russian expressions used. I thought it was done almost perfectly – Russian expressions are used sparingly, they are translated right away, very well and very correctly. I do not know how fluent the writer is in Russian, but she clearly has a working knowledge of the language. But there was a certain choice (and it is clearly a choice, not a mistake, because every other use of the language was so awesome) which frustrated me so very much as someone for whom Russian is a first language. Every time I have read “Ilyas” I cringed. I do not understand the need to add the “S” to his first name, I really do not. Is it to show that he is only half-Russian? But even his horse is correctly called “Valentin” NOT Valentine, thank you author. His half-brother calls him “Illyushka” at some point in the book, which is one of the derivative names from Illya. I respect that the writer chooses whatever works best for the story, but this choice did not work for me at all.
Grade B-

Kaetrin: As a non-Russian speaker, I didn’t pick any issues with the names. I agree the Russian expressions were used well.

There were some little niggles I picked up in the book, like here:

In the gloom, he spotted few members of his regiment, and no commanding officer. He couldn’t spot Lord Cardigan anywhere.

where I felt the wording was a little… awkward – although I may have only noticed such things because I wasn’t as engaged as I wanted to be.

Also, I didn’t believe Elliott would have referred to Ilyas as having a “sweet ass” – British people don’t say “ass”, they say “arse”.

I know they are very different books, but, for me,  The Devil Lancer didn’t have the same engaging charm as Carol of the Bellskis did and the writing style felt very different (much drier). I liked learning more about the Crimean War and I wanted to like this book more than I did. There were parts of the story where I felt connected and engaged (I really liked Elliott’s relationship with his friend Henry, for example) but then there would be a “dry spell” where I lost interest again. It just didn’t grab me, so for the grade, I’m going with a C.

Regards,
Sirius & Kaetrin

 

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