Review: Sail Away by Lee Rowan

Corrupt governments, divided loyalties,lovingly exchanged gifts, astral travel and sensual love; not to mention a sailors unwanted little lodgers are all combined in this charming and entertaining collection of short stories by Lee Rowan, plus an extra treat from Charlie Cochrane.

THE CAPTAINS COURTSHIP
Set in 18th century New England amid revolutionary rumblings, The Captains Courtship is a nicely written and well researched traditional romance.

Cynthia Lancaster is a well brought up English girl living with her father, Edward and her grandmother in New Jersey. Her father is eager for her to marry the unprepossessing Mr Humboldt. But when Cynthia meets the handsome and dashing Commander Paul Andrew Smith when he intervenes in an argument between Edward, a loyalist and and two staunch Patriots,she is immediately smitten.

Now, with the help of her grandmother, Cynthia must attempt to persuade her father that the commander would be a better match than Mr Humboldt.

SEE PARIS AND LIVE.
Christopher St.John, the young Baron Guilford is asked by his mother, the Dowager Baroness, to travel to Paris to supervise the safe delivery of her shipment of brandy. But France is embroiled in Revolution and dangerous ground for an English Aristocrat.

Once there however, Kit meets Zoe Colbert, an extremely pretty,if rather forward young woman who immediately invites an astounded Kit to bed. Events take a turn for the worse for Kit, however and his sojourn in Paris turns out to be longer than he anticipated.

CASTAWAY.
Forbidden love aboard His Majesty’s Frigate, Calypso. When Lieutenants David Archer and William Marshall are washed overboard during a fierce storm at sea, the two find themselves stranded on a desert island. Away from the prying eyes of their shipmates David and William are able to express their love for each other without fear of punishment and almost certain death.  And for a while at least they can live out their fantasies in this tropical paradise until help arrives.

ALL SOULS.
When David Archer is confronted by the apparition of the man whom his lover, William Marshall killed in a duel, he instinctively realises that his friend is in mortal danger. Together David and William must fight the strangest battle of their lives. Will the love they have for each other help them to survive the night, and beat this most deadly of enemies?

GIFT EXCHANGE,TOKEN OF AFFECTION,FORTUNES FAVORS,TOUCH.
Four short stories featuring Davy and William celebrating Christmas, Valentines Day, risking a  ‘quickie’ in a skiff and enjoying some shore leave… and much more besides.

Reviewed by Grace Roberts

I really enjoyed this collection of stories.Beautifully written and well researched, the author Lee Rowan has delivered once again with some classic romance and adventure set on the high seas, in the American colonies and in Paris during the ‘Terror’.

Two of the stories (The Captains Courtship & See Paris and Live) are M/F and the rest are M/M, but don’t let that put you off. I did find that a little disconcerting at first but the author writes in both genres so well, I was able to put aside my bias and enjoy them just as much as the M/M stories. And I love the book’s cover. Nice and clean and uncluttered, and no naked torsos.

Set in the pre revolutionary American colonies, The Captain’s Courtship is a very traditional romance with the requisite handsome hero and a heroine who, though no raving beauty, has attributes which far transcend mere physical attraction. A strong will for one thing, and a determination to marry the man she loves and not the man her father wishes her to wed. Here also is the ubiquitous wise old grandmama colluding with her grand-daughter in her ambition.

As I said, a very traditional romance and a very charming read.

The one quibble I had with the next story, See Paris And Live was the main female character.I just couldn’t take her seriously at all, and I didn’t like her. I tried, but it wasn’t to be. She came across as arrogant and manipulative, and I found the scene where she entices a not unwilling Kit into bed five minutes after meeting him slightly unbelievable.

Later in the story, she voices concerns about the loss of her virtue, and how it would affect her father. Hmm, one can’t help but feel she should have thought of that earlier. But perhaps it was a case, for her at least, of not knowing when she may end up riding in a tumbril to the guillotine, so live for the moment. But I didn’t like it and I found it mildly off-putting.

It’s a decent story with a good, solid plot and we even have Kit undergoing Trepan surgery after a skirmish with revolutionaries.

The next four stories Castaway, Gift Exchange, Fortunes Favors and Touch feature Lieutenants David Archer and his shipmate, friend and lover,William Marshall, the stars of Rowan’s Royal Navy Series.

Castaway has the two being swept overboard during a fierce storm and managing to stay afloat by clinging onto a chicken coop. Washed up on a desert island, the two men battle to suppress their feelings for each other with some slightly comical results. While one leaves the sleeping quarters,where they share a hammock, to supposedly relieve himself among the bushes, the other takes the opportunity of his friends absence to relieve himself in a different way. (His father once told him to do it privately or ignore it) Only later do we discover what Davy has really been up to in the shrubbery. They do eventually stop beating about the bush, ho hum, throw caution to the wind, and consummate their love. And with no threat of Article 29 to bother them and no one to witness the act, they have a lovely frolic on the beach. Very sweet, very sexy,a lovely story with a very surprising ending. I certainly didn’t see it coming, and you may need a hanky or two.

Gift Exchange begins with a charming and affectionate letter from Davy to his mother thanking her for her Christmas gift of a marzipan rabbit, underclothing and woollen stockings.

He shares his gifts with William, and in return,William gives Davy a gift he’ll never forget in a beautifully written scene of illicit passion which, because they are on board ship must be conducted in silence.Difficult for Will, not so much for Davy who’s mouth is er, busy elsewhere.

My favourite after Castaway was All Souls. The author has obviously researched the subject of Astral Travel very thoroughly and whether you believe in it or not, it makes this story a gripping read. Its the first time I’ve seen anyone mention the Silver Cord (the mystical cord which attaches the corporeal body to the spirit. A sort of umbilical cord) for many years. Writers rarely mention it in fiction or in reports of so-called actual occurrences of Astral Travel.  But it enables Davy to float from one deck of his ship to another just by the power of thought. Marvellous, this is a sea faring adventure with a difference. I loved it. And it has a very satisfying ending with love triumphing over adversity and avenging spirits.

Token of Affection and Fortunes Favors have our heroes once again exchanging cute little gifts for Valentines Day and taking a newly repaired skiff for a practice run, and in Token, there are plenty of Bottom puns from the two while discussing Shakespeare, and a mention of a ‘New little mid- Beecroft’ who could play Puck, and looks the part but has an unfortunate stutter. Oh dear!

The first sentences in Fortunes Favors raised my eyebrows a little with the ‘Carry On’ type double entendres. Upright Shafts and Wet Leather! But no, tis only our intrepid twosome rigging up a mast when, having risked a ‘quickie’ behind a tiny island in the Calypso’s newly repaired skiff they are caught in a sudden squall. There’s more talk of Yardarms with er rosy tips etc plus the lovely, vivid line, [‘Their] love being no less sincere for being hasty; like a hummingbird hovering in flight to sip nectar’.

Touch blew me away with it’s lusciously sensual and highly evocative sex scene. Playful and raunchy without being smutty or crude, it’s erotica at it’s tasteful best,and is written with skill and finesse.

Finally, With All My Worldly Goods I Thee Endow-Including Livestock By Charlie Cochrane.

This extra little vignette is typically Charlie Cochrane. Her wit, humour and sense of fun abound in every sentence as Davy attempts to rid Will of some unwanted little visitors…..head lice. Great fun to read and is a lovely, jolly finale to a book which I enjoyed immensely. Eight cracking tales with plenty of action, adventure, love, lust and humour, Sail Away has something for everyone between it’s covers. Available from Amazon at £4:53 for the Kindle edition, it’s also available in paperback, (a bonus these days) for £8:99, which is a little pricey, but for this collection I reckon it’s well worth it.

Lee Rowan’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK,  Amazon USA

Review: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Band of Thebes by G.A. Hauser

In the year 338 BC on the plain of Chaeronea, a war was fought between the allied armies of Thebes and Athens, against the might of Macedon ruled by King Philip and his son Alexander the Great. In that bloody battle Thebes was defeated and lost almost every man of its exclusive fighting force called the Sacred Band.

Nikanoras, born the only son to an aristocrat, is sent to train with a mentor and find a male lover in order to be selected to serve with the Sacred Band of Thebes. Unknown to Nikanoras his mentor holds a treacherous secret over his father and is in love with his mother. After Nikanoras is sent away for training, his mother and mentor kill his father and hope Nikanoras will die in war. Throughout the murderous intrigue, Nikanoras’ one saving grace is his lover, beautiful Meleagros, the only thing in his life that is stable. Together they face their destiny- to live or die in battle.

Review by Michael Joseph

The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Band of Thebes opens on that fateful day on the plain of Chaeronea, when Philip and his golden son wipe out almost all of the Sacred Band. Almost all, for although badly wounded, Nikanoras still lives, much to his shame. Alexander finds him and has his wounds tended.

From that desperate opening scene, we flash back to Nikanoras’ childhood. ‘Nikki’ is the only son of the aristocrat Saliuikos. His mother Thessenike is a cold, uncaring woman, essentially leaving Nikki to be raised by his sister Euridises, who is almost 10 years older. As he enters his thirteenth year, Nikki believes that, like his father, he will one day marry, have children, and take his place as one of Thebes’ statesmen.

But much to his surprise, Nikki is turned over to the care of his father’s old friend Arybos, who will be the boy’s erastes as he is trained to take a place in the Sacred Band. This is quite a shock to the young man, who finds the idea of being a soldier and an eromenos to the old man rather repulsive. He doesn’t understand what could have brought about this drastic change of circumstances.

Unbeknown to Nikki, Arybos knows a dark secret that could destroy Saliuikos and his family. He holds Nikki’s father under his thumb, determined to take everything from Saliuikos, including his wife Thessenike, who is Arybos’ collaborator. Nikki’s only consolation is his sister Euridises, but soon Thessenike finds a husband for Nikki’s sister and sends her away. Her new husband, a powerful general, forbids Nikki from ever seeing his sister.

As a member of the Sacred Band, Nikki is expected to take a lover from one of the other members of the troop. From their very first meeting, Meleagros is enamored of the young Nikki, and sets about wooing him. It takes some time, but Meleagros finally finds a way to get Nikki to accept him as his lover. Nikki is quite cool at first, this isn’t the kind of relationship he expected to have, but as the years pass and he becomes increasingly isolated from his family, Nikki comes to realize Meleagros is the only only one who truly loves him. By they time they reach the plain of Chaeronea, the two twenty year-olds have a bond as strong as any other in the Band.

The story comes full circle to that battle on the plain against Philips forces. Held ransom like the other aristocratic Theban prisoners, Nikki is surprised when his freedom is paid for. Returning to Thebes, he finds a much different city, occupied by Macedonian mercenaries. He finds no welcome in his own home. The only one happy to seem him is Meleagros’ repulsive brother. Nikki finds himself more isolated than ever. While the ending is a bit of a surprise, you’d have to work very hard to convince yourself that it’s a happily ever after one.

There’s a really powerful plot line to this book, one of Shakespearean proportions. Indeed, Nikki is a brooding, indecisive Hamlet, whose ‘uncle’ Arybos plots to do away with his father and marry his mother. Only, Thessenike is less of a Gertrude and more of a Lady Macbeth. There’s also an almost Oedipal relationship between Nikki and his sister. Unfortunately, all this potential is let down by the storytelling. It never really grabbed me.

The problem, for me, was in the telling. The third-person narrative tells us everything. While Nikki remains clueless, we’re given all the intimate details of how his erastes and his mother plot against him. The evil plans, and the fact that Nikki is helpless to do anything about it, is hammered on repeatedly. I think the author was trying to create a sense of drama, but for me it had the opposite effect. The story really plodded along, as there was very little left to discover. I never really connected with Nikki. Meleagros is actually the more engaging character, but over the course of the book he’s all over the map emotionally, which left me a little confused as to his true self.

Having read Eromenos by Melanie McDonald not long ago, this book drives yet another nail into the coffin of the whole romantic notion of the erastes / eromenos relationship. It points out just how young – thirteen – the boys were when they entered into the arrangements, and that they often had no choice in the matter. I hope they never try to convince me Alexander was straight, because I don’t think I could cope with having any more bubbles burst.

Given the poor storytelling, this is a three star read at best.

G.A. Hauser’s website

Available as an ebook and in print

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

The Historical Novel Society International Award 2012/13

  • http://historicalnovelsociety.org/hns-award/
  • £5000 ($8000) prize plus e-publication (to include professional copy-editing and cover design)
  • For an unpublished novel that is neither under contract nor option
  • International and open to all (previously published or unpublished authors)
  • Historical Fiction of any kind admissible
  • Electronic submission only (here)
  • Initial submission of synopsis and first chapter(s) up to 5000 words by 30 September 2012
  • Entry fee: $25 for non-members, $15 for HNS members (Pay here)
  • Long list of 15 selected by experienced HNS reader panel, moderated byRichard Lee (see guidelines)
  • Long list announced by 30 November 2012 and authors asked to enter full manuscripts
  • Shortlist of 3 selected by reader panel for announcement by 31 January 2013
  • Winner chosen by three international top judges
  • Winner announced by 11 March 2013
  • Complete rules of entry here

Review: Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier

In 1918, Michael McCready returned from the war with one goal: to lose himself in the pursuit of pleasure. Once a promising young medical student, Michael buried his dreams alongside the broken bodies of the men he could not save. After fleeing New York to preserve the one relationship he still values, he takes a position as a gardener on a country estate, but he soon discovers that the house hides secrets and sorrows of its own. While Michael nurses the estate’s neglected gardens, his reclusive employer dredges up reminders of the past Michael is desperate to forget.

John Seward’s body was broken by the war, along with his will to recover until a family crisis convinces him to pursue treatment. As John’s health and outlook improve under Michael’s care, animosity yields to understanding. He and John find their battle of wills turning into something stronger, but fear may keep them from finding hope and healing in each other.

Review by Sally Davis

The somewhat bleak black and white cover of this book caught my eye when it was released so I was delighted to be asked to review it. The unusual image might be passed over in favour of something more colourful but these two hands delving into the earth are appropriate for the story on more than one level, both evoking the torn up ground of the Western Front during the Great War and the garden that is so important to the story.

Michael Macready is the main protagonist and point of view character. He is an intelligent young Irish American educated well beyond his humble beginnings. But his studies were interrupted by the Great War and Michael has abandoned his ambitions, returning to what he knows – a job at the St Alexander bathhouse in the village where he works as a masseur and takes tips for sexual favours. The blurb suggests that he is losing himself to pleasure but Michael only bestows it on others. His experiences during the war have made him, he feels, a hollow shell.

Then fate intervenes in the form of self-righteous uncle Padraig who arranges for him to obtain the post of gardener at the country home of the wealthy Seward family. There Michael meets John, a broken man, and finds that his massaging skills can be put to good use.

At 240 pages this isn’t a quick read, but nor it it one to be rushed. Much better to take ones time and savour the elegant prose and the pin sharp descriptions. Michael and John are sympathetic without being mawkish – in fact John is a bit of a handful. Prickly, bad tempered, refusing either help or pity, John takes a long time to relax enough to accept the physical relief that Michael’s skill can offer his damaged muscles and even longer to acknowledge the relationship that grows between them. Meanwhile Michael does his best to tend the garden as well as John while fighting back the memories that the raw earth and John’s scars keep bringing back to him.

There is a very good cast of supporting characters – Michael’s and John’s families, their friends and John servants. I adored Millie, the manager of the bath-house with her careful maquillage, and, in complete contrast, Thomas Abbott, the Seward’s general factotum with his stiff manner and dreadful driving. One of the pleasures of the book is in finding characters mentioned at the beginning coming back to play an important role later.

The historical details, and especially the medical ones, are used deftly to give the story a sense of place and purpose. Sometimes the medicinal or massage terms are a bit heavy but on those occasions we are in Michael’s head and the complexity is appropriate. We are being shown just how much more he is than he appears on the surface and it works well, whereas in another context it might have felt over done.

The author doesn’t allow her protagonists the luxury of an easy way out. Both, but particularly Michael, have to pay for their pleasures, but I found the ending very satisfying. I think this book deserves a “Highly Recommended” rating.

Author’s Blog

Available in Paperback and ebook format.

Buy at: Dreamspinner PressAmazon UK,   Amazon USA

Review: Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann

During the Civil War, two young soldiers on opposite sides find themselves drawn together.

One man, Ian, is a war-weary but scholarly Southerner who has seen too much bloodshed, especially the tortures inflicted upon the enemy by his vicious, sadistic commanding officer, his uncle.

The other, Drew, is a Herculean Yankee captured by the ragtag Confederate band and forced to become a martyr for all the sins of General Sheridan’s fires.

When these two find themselves admiring more than one another’s spirit and demeanor, when passions erupt between captor and captive, will this new romance survive the arduous trek to Purgatory Mountain?

Lammy-winning author Jeff Mann’s first full-length novel brings two opposed war heroes together in a page-turning historical drama of homomasculine love.

Review by Elliott Mackle

For many Southern Americans, especially those of us descended from generation upon generation of British, Irish, Scots and French forebears, the American Civil War (A.K.A. The War between the States, The War of Northern Aggression, The Late Unpleasantness) is never far from our thoughts. Like a movie within a movie, a looped tape, or parallel reality, the war—its causes and outsize characters, its victories and defeats, the awful aftermath of Reconstruction and segregation—are endlessly replayed, debated, mourned, celebrated and reenacted. It’s almost as if, by turning up new bits of information or reimagining the details of crucial events, we might alter the outcome for the better.

Even today, some of us retain memories of the war. My maternal great grandmother was born in slavery times. Her father, a Confederate officer, was part of the Army of Tennessee that withdrew south prior to the battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Atlanta, and she remembered and later wrote about being a child of the war. When she died in Nashville in 1950, I was in the house, a ten-year-old doorkeeper attending to worried callers. In her last delirium, I was told later, she mourned not two dead husbands, not parents and friends, but the five Confederate generals who died during the Battle of Franklin in 1864. I remember that.

Jeff Mann’s spectacular adventure-romance, Purgatory, creates war-related images and incidents I’d never imagined; characters who may have existed but who, until Dr. Mann conjured them out of history books, fevered dreams, blood-lusty desire and poetical sensibility, never appeared on any printed page, at least that I’m aware of.

The time and place: March 2, 1865, the Battle of Waynesboro, Virginia, and skirmishes thereafter, which will culminate at Appomattox the following month. The result: Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s forces are destroyed, with many killed and 1,500 captured, by the superior forces, masterful maneuvering and plain good luck of Union Major General Philip Sheridan’s gunners and cavalry divisions. General Early and his staff manage to escape, as do Mann’s fictional, untidy band of about two dozen half-starved volunteers from the Greenbrier country in West Virginia.

Among them soon arrives a lone Yankee prisoner, Drew Conrad, 20, a giant of a man, a Pennsylvania farm boy captured in the ensuing melee by the squad’s cruel, prudish, unbending leader, “Sarge” Erastus Campbell, who happens to be the uncle of the narrator, a bookish, bespectacled and diminutive private named Ian Campbell.

The man’s big and blond. His hands are tied in front of him and tethered to Sarge’s saddle horn. He’s bare-headed, cap lost in some scuffle, I guess, dressed in Union blue and muddy boots, and he’s gasping and stumbling, trying to keep up with the horse’s pace.

Oh, God, not again. A man that young and brawny, that’s the kind of prisoner Sarge tends to keep. I know what’s coming next, and it makes my belly hurt. Sarge has done this before, despite the proper rules of combat. No one in the company’s got the guts to object. Guess they’re afraid if they do, they might end up suffering like the Yankees. Besides, most of them enjoy the spectacle and convenience of a helpless foe to focus their rage on. The war’s been going on for years; despair and exhaustion make men mean.

“Ian! Get over here!” Sarge yells. I lope over just as the Yankee slips in the mud, falls onto one knee, then hits the ground face first.

Sarge, it seems, has a taste for torturing prisoners, a kink his nephew soon discovers in himself. In rapid succession, Ian becomes his brother warrior’s keeper; briefly and only partially unwillingly, his tormentor, and finally his lover.

The love scenes early in the novel are just that: tender explorations of feelings, touch, breath and warmth:

I slide against him, tugging my blanket off the cot to supplement his; I pull the doubled wool over us, tucking it around his bare shoulders. Then I do what I’ve ached to do for days: I slide one arm beneath his neck, wrap the other around his bare torso as best I can, considering my significantly smaller frame, and hold him close, his broad back pressed against my uniform jacket. Surely he can feel the physical evidence of my excitement against him, hard inside my wool pants, but, if so, he makes no objections, and besides, it’s my heart and not my groin that rules tonight. As much as I want to make love to him, it’s comforting, not fucking, he’s asked for, and that’s what he’ll receive. I may be an accomplice to torture but I still have some honor left.

The narrative line is a tale of retreat, survival, hardship and last-minute escapes punctuated by scrapes, repeated torture of the unfortunate Yankee, and stealing, begging and bargaining for food.

One of the most memorable images is that of an attractive young female trader who transports hams, coffee, fried pies, beef jerky and other comestibles under her voluminous skirts.

Food plays a big part in the novel. For men living out in the open, a hoecake or biscuit and a slice of warm bacon might be the difference between starvation and carrying on another day. When supplies run low, the soldiers are forced to consume such dainties as roasted rat with peanut sauce and weevil-infested hardtack. Dr. Mann’s well-known interest in traditional Appalachian fare gives the novel a kind of edible sub-plot. Among the sources listed in the bibliography, cookbooks and culinary histories far outnumber the works devoted to sex and everyday military life. Not surprisingly, the only other sympathetic male characters in the novel, besides Ian and Drew, are Rufus, the cook, and Jeremiah, a soldier whose brother left home after being caught kissing another man. Against the orders of Sarge, they conspire with Ian to share enough food and drink to keep the prisoner alive.
Sarge, whose wife was shot and killed by a Yankee soldier, seems to believe this loss gives him a pass to massacre the Union Army—one captive at a time. Drew, Ian explains to his prisoner, is one of a succession.

“Sarge has his fun for two or three weeks, till the prisoner dies on him after such steady abuse, or till Sarge gets bored and murders him. I’m in charge of them while they last. I keep them tied, I feed them, I mend them as best I can for Sarge to beat on and break down again. And eventually, I bury them.”

Sarge, in other words is a coward and petty tyrant with no further interest in facing the enemy. On several occasions he and his men hide behind trees and rocks, silent and still, as figures such as George Custer and Philip Sheridan ride by. Might a few choice shots, even then, have changed the course of the war? Probably not, but Sarge is unwilling to risk his own skin even on that faint chance. His excuse? That he’s shepherding his ragtag band toward Petersburg, there to join forces with the larger army for the ultimate battle that may turn the tide of history.

That he spends considerably less time traveling than attending church, drinking whiskey and torturing Drew gives lie to his stated intention.

The varieties of torture are manifold. Drew is whipped with Ian’s leather belt and Sarge’s bullwhip. He is strung from a branch, tied to a tree and “bucked”—bent over a sawhorse and tied to it. He is kicked, punched, slapped, pissed on, spat on and insulted verbally and physically.

On at least three occasions, Weasel-Tooth George, the most repellant of Sarge’s men, proposes to “poke” the gagged prisoner’s naked, bleeding ass as further proof of Confederate scorn. Here Sarge draws the line. Ian, a bit later, does indeed poke his by-then willing lover, albeit under very different circumstances. There are no complaints.

Drew is presented as herculean, a giant rippling with muscles, an Achilles. And yet he has a softer side:

“I didn’t take it. I cried when your uncle whipped me and I cried when I was bucked. I break easy, Ian.” Drew’s voice is low, shaky. “I may look strong, but I’ve got this scared little boy inside me. His tears shame me again and again.”

From what I know of Dr. Mann, both as an admirer of his work and as a fellow laborer in the garden of Southern fiction, it’s clear that Drew is here speaking in the author’s voice. Purgatory is a celebration of much that not only fascinates but drives the author: bondage and submission, the eroticization of pain, mountain men living the outdoor life, traditional food well prepared and enjoyed, the love of one man for another, and the quest for the precisely right word or phrase.
Full disclosure: bondage and pain hold little interest for me. Culinary matters, military adventure, manly love and good writing, on the other hand, define much of my own life and work. Were Purgatory merely a succession of torture scenes interposed with stealthy hand-feedings of the captive, I wouldn’t bother with it.

Mann, however, has more in mind than mere flesh, blood and spit-roasted rabbit. Drew is presented early and often as a Christ figure. Toward the end, he is forced to march carrying a thick branch tied across his shoulders and outstretched arms:

Drew’s brow furrows. He grunts, tries to rise, sags beneath the wood’s weight, then, heaving himself to his feet, straightens up, white teeth gnashing the rag and grim determination stiffening his features.

With this image of the suffering innocent stumbling toward Golgotha (Purgatory the place is in reality Purgatory Mountain, Virginia), the reference is clear enough, as it is in soaring earlier images such as this:

If Drew’s torment reminded me of Christ’s before, it does even more so today. During his week of captivity, his beard has filled out and his hair has grown shaggier. He’s like a German-blond version of Jesus. This morning he’s white, bruise-violet, and gold, a cuffed, rag-gagged, black-eyed savior wrist-tethered to my cart, trudging beside me along the road to Purgatory. He’s naked, save for slave-collar, layered bandages—those with which I’ve plastered his lash-maimed back, those which I’ve knotted into a makeshift loincloth around his hips—and a spare undershirt I’ve torn into pieces and bound about his feet. All that are missing are the crown of thorns and the Cross. Or rather, those take another form, the racked and bruised body he carries stiffly down the road.

Mann’s writing combines elegance and earthiness in realistic passages that move the action along swiftly and dramatically. A professor at Virginia Tech, Mann has taught such courses as Appalachian folk culture, gay and lesbian literature and creative writing. His familiarity with Southern history and American lit enrich and color the narrative. Whether intended or not, the cast of characters recalls that of Melville’s Billy Budd, with Drew the Billy-Christ martyr figure, George the repressed Claggart and Sarge an unreflecting Captain Vere. The novel’s last page, in which the lovers try to imagine the future, calls to mind nothing less than Prior Walter’s blessing in the final scene of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

Still, Dr. Mann didn’t quite convince me to suspend my disbelief in the possibility that even a strong young man could be kept on the edge of starvation, forced to sleep naked in the snow, marched mile after mile tied to a cart and whipped into bloody insensibility on an almost daily basis—and walk away from it so easily. Occasionally, the succession of BDSM incidents reminded me of the kind of porn in which each of the partners enjoys five or six explosive ejaculations and then, after a few hours’ sleep, repeat the exercise. Could happen; feels improbable to me.

As does some of the language. Despite his book-learning, it seems doubtful that Ian would know and correctly use the word “trauma.” It’s just possible he might be on familiar terms with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

No matter. For lovers of gay historical fiction, fans of BDSM action and open-minded students of the Civil War, Purgatory is required reading.

Author’s Website

Buy at: Amazon UK   Amazon USA (available in paperback and ebook)

(Bear Bones Books is an arm of Lethe Press dealing with Bear Fiction)

%d bloggers like this: