Review: The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet

Chance Irving is a young man with a gift for getting into trouble—not surprising, as trouble is all he’s ever known. After losing everything he held dear one fateful night, he decides to leave New York and his past behind, and joins the French Foreign Legion. But even in Algiers, Chance can’t seem to shake his old ways, and he ends up being transferred to a unit made up of misfits and rabble-rousers like him, a unit he finds just in time to be captured and thrown into a cell with his new commandant, Jacky Valentine.

A highly respected commandant with a soft spot for hard luck cases, Jacky is the kind of guy who would go to war for you, and the three equally troubled youths he’s more or less adopted feel the same way about him. Suddenly Chance starts to think that his life doesn’t have to be as desolate and barren as the wastelands around him.

But even after their escape, with the promise of a future with Jacky to buoy his spirits, or maybe because of it, Chance can’t stop making mistakes. He disobeys orders, lashes out at the boys in Jacky’s care, and blazes a trail of self-destruction across the desert—until someone makes him realize he’s hurting more than just himself.

Published by Dreamspinner Press, ebook only, 172 pages, 56K words

Review by Erastes

A first person narrative which hits many of my buttons. As with her other novel (The Amythest Cat Caper) Chance is a very American character, but this time he’s not particularly nice. He’s a hard-bitten guy who has seemed to have lived many lives (and didn’t really enjoy many of them) by the time he hits mid twenties. He hates himself, the person he’s grown to be, wants more than sleeping around, drinking himself stupid and killing himself slowly–but he doesn’t know how. But then he’s had an unusual upbringing; he was abandoned by his parents and shoved into an orphanage at an age where he understood what it meant, and promptly ran away, to be brought up by theatre folk. His happy existence there is spoiled, and the rest of his childhood is skipped over with a few pages.

I was disappointed here, there was a great opportunity to tell the whole story, to flesh Chance out–to give us real reasons why he turned into such a soulless adult and it was missed as the story seemed to say to itself “oh dear I’d better get to the romance.”

I think for me, this book was struggling to find its niche. It had such a promising start, full of excitement, a great narrative voice with Chance, and then even more promisingly went to the French Foreign Legion–a much ignored manly organisation within m/m writing. So I was hoping that this would be the kind of adventure story where the protagonists are gay and coping amongst a World Gorn Mad. But once we arrived at sandy climes, and Chance and Jacky are shut up in a wooden crate the whole thing collapsed under the morass of predictable romance.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just I was a bit disappointed, because the set up seemed to point more at the plot, and less about the romance.

Chance is sent across the desert to find a missing unit. He does, finding them all tied up, and it was here I got rather confused, because–even according to Chance:

“Trying to decipher Jacky’s conversation was like trying to find your way through a maze blindfolded while walking backward.”

Somehow they all got free–although it’s never really explained how. Once Jacky and Chance are out of the box, there follows a predictable period of prick teasing, meaningful looks, tightening trousers until finally they have fabulous best ever sex in a tent in the middle of the camp–with the lamps on. I’m sure the rest of the unit enjoyed the show. The prose suddenly turns from hardboiled (and we’d been told many times that Chance was hardboiled and are shown why) to descriptions of weak knees and melting souls.

After the most sweet and endearing love scenes the author does try to claw it back:

“Now at this stage, let me pause to say that by no means had Jacky and I become some kinda lovey-dovey couple.”

But when there’s phrases like this:

“..he filled me up inside, every inch of my tight space coated with his beautiful essence”,

Chance rather loses some of his street cred.

I’m afraid the sex scenes were just too purple for me–they aren’t purple in the pulsing rosebud of his anus purple, but being first person they do tend to be far too much on the “I quivered as he touched me and my soul melted” (not a quote) kind of thing and I found myself skipping the rather frequent and at times rather gratuitous sex scenes because of that.

There’s also a complete lack of time and place, we lose the fact that we are stuck in a desert with “unfriendlies” (who they are isn’t really explained) all around, and the courtship takes precedence.  They move their prisoners from the ambush site to Agadir, and this isn’t explored either. We aren’t shown camp life, or the difficulties of desert survival, desert travel,  just very frequent in-tent sex. I don’t know what the Foreign Legion’s rules re gay relationships were (Marquesate explores the modern-day thinking of it here) but I find it hard to believe that they were quite this accepting. Slapping of flesh against flesh and Chance lying around naked on Jacky’s bed, scoffing dates and reading The New York Times. Heartfelt protestations of love that anyone could hear, shouting, weeping and gasping–just try not hearing your neighbour’s conversation next time you go camping. It’s not exactly Beau Geste.

It’s a shame, because from the hints here and there, Petain’s arrival in the area, mention of the Spanish and such-like, Cochet has obviously done some research. I just wished that it had come out more in the story instead of “When we reached Agadir, we dropped off the prisoners and set up camp.” When there’s a lengthy conversation, the soldiers aren’t doing anything but simply lolling about (something I think most armies try and avoid) rather than letting us see the minutiae of army life like KP duty, or standing sentry. Similarly Chance’s next few weeks in camp are dealt with by telling us what happened between Jacky and himself as Jacky attempts to tame Chance’s bad-boy personality. we are told they argued. We are told they fought. We are told there were skirmishes. But we aren’t shown them, (other than: “then I went charging in. I got shot in the leg.” These actions are brushed aside to concentrate on the relationship. As with Chance’s upbringing it’s rather rush and that for me made it an uneven balance, and I don’t think it fully works–I would have liked a more even display both of plot and character development, rather than character development as plot. Chance’s personality is uneven too, thinking like a New York gangster for part of the book, and a Mills and Boon Heroine for another part. Not knowing what a Charley Horse is, or who Chaucer is, but being able to say things like “malfunctioning neurological reasons.”

The thing is, when it takes a step backward from the sex scenes it’s interesting. The interraction between Chance and “the Brats” is exciting and really nicely done, and it fuels more character development than all the filling of asses.

All of that being said, this is a well-written novella, and Cochet (as I’ve said before) has talent and a bright future in the genre.  Ms Cochet is a relatively new find for me, but already she’s got five good stories under her belt. Lovers of romance will warm to this exceedingly and will fall in love with the love story itself. It’s just I was expecting a broader canvas, and this didn’t quite hit the mark for me. But it should state how much I rate the writing as a whole that it gets a four.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press | Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Review: Algerian Nights by Graeme Roland

In 1900, bored, wealthy Bostonian Perceval Fain finds himself in the French colony of Algeria, amusing himself with a number of local men, including members of the French military. Falling under the spell of his exotic desert surroundings, unfulfilled by his hedonistic lifestyle, Perceval meets an impoverished English artist, Preston.

At first the two men dislike each other and seem to have nothing in common. Almost against their wills, though, an attraction develops between them, fulfilling an enigmatic prophecy.

Review by Erastes

Well, going by the cover I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this–the cover won’t affect the score of the book, but shoving two headless six-packs over a desert doesn’t cut it these days–perhaps four years ago it might, but I think readers demand more, even for an ebook. The cover also doesn’t make it clear that it’s a historical, and may even put off the sort of reader who would actually really like this book, as it screams “gay porn” and not much else.

And that would be a shame, because this is quite a good historical romp. I use the word romp advisedy, because there’s a lot of sex in it, although I’d probably say that it’s not gratuitious, each sex scene does add something to the plot and characterisation, even if it’s only what a character thinks at the end of it.

I have to say that Fain was a fascinating character. A Dorian Gray without a portrait, a man who has decided to do pretty much exactly what he likes and has the money and prestige to back it up and to protect himself from the punishment the law may chuck at him. I liked particularly that he didn’t get away with this scot-free, that he was not received by polite society and that he was considered decadent and immoral and many other things by the American upper-classes. Think James’s Washington Square, then insert a slightly reined in Dorian Gray.

He’s accompanied everywhere by his lovely bit of rough, his valet, confidente and sometime bed-warmer Tommy who is himself a great character and if the author were to write any more about either of these I would happily read it. Tommy and Perceval (shortened to Perce, which annoyed me throughout, as Perce very much (for an English person) smacks of working class–the cat in “This Happy Breed” was called Perce) love each other and at first I thought that was the focus but their love, although real, is more friends with benefits, and the romance element came from elsewhere.

That pretty much sums Perce up, for most of the book. He’s loose-living, carefree and although he likes everyone he goes to bed with, or he wouldn’t go to bed with them, he’s never really formed a lasting attachment. He doens’t think that he feels the lack of this. He’s of the opinion that men aren’t naturally monogamous with other men and nothing that happens in the book convinces him otherwise, even at the end.

I’m in two minds about the level of OK Homo in the book. Granted that Perce makes sure that doors are locked and he usually has his trysts in places where he won’t be discovered, but there are several times when people are talking in public about male nudity, male attraction and male/male sex–for example Tommy and the painter Preston at the breakfast table. The author has been clever to set it in an out of the way town in Algeria, and that part of Africa was a magnet for gay men for decades because of the liberal attitude, but it’s all a bit TOO liberal, and male sex available just about everywhere. This, and the lack of any women characters, makes a little over-weighted in the OK Homo department.

It also didn’t seem to know exactly what it wanted to be. Half of the book was happy to be a good old sexual romp, with Perce leaping from partner to partners to orgy with gay abandon and the sex pretty well graphically described. This was fine, because that’s what I was expecting, something on the sexual level of The Back Passage (althugh without the tongue in cheek humour). But half way through the sex scenes were sketchily described along the lines of “they undressed and when they had both orgasmed…” which left me feeling a little cheated as I had thought this was supposed to be more of a one-handed read all the way through.

Everyone’s nice too. With his activities and lusts there needed to be some conflict, and it shows how much I enjoyed the story that I didn’t realise there wasn’t any conflict at all until after I had finished it. Everything comes easy to Perce, and with his looks and money that’s not particularly surprising, but it’s all too easy. Every man falls into bed with him without even being heterosexual, his gaydar is never off, everyone’s his friend, his servants are loyal and nothing bad happens.

However, considering that I didn’t even notice this until after I’d finished and had time to mull it over, I’m not going to mark it down much for that.

I think it could have done with a tougher editor as there are times when the passive voice is used pretty much exclusively “there was a and there was this and there was and it was and he was” etc etc and there are moments of head-hopping although they aren’t rife.

But all in all, a good edition to anyone’s library, and I encourage you to give this a go.

Amazon UK       Amazon USA    available in print and ebook

 

Review: Jungle Heat by Bonnie Dee

Congo Free State, 1888

On a mission deep in the jungle, Oxford anthropologist James Litchfield comes face-to-face with a local legend: a wild man who wanders with mountain gorillas and lives as one of their own.

The chance encounter with the savage, whom James calls Michael, leads to a game of observation and exploration. Their mutual curiosity turns to an attraction—one that Michael has never experienced and James is desperate to deny.

When members of the expedition unearth James’s secret discovery—a living specimen of man at his most primitive—Michael becomes a pawn in their quest for fame.

As their relationship deepens, James is compelled to protect Michael from the academics who would treat him as nothing more than a scientific acquisition and London society, which threatens to destroy their passionate bond…

Review by Erastes

“A re-imagining of the Tarzan legend” pretty much leaves you in no doubt as to what to expect with this book, and if you keep that in mind throughout, then you won’t be disappointed, because that’s exactly what it is for most of the book.

That’s not to say it’s not entertaining, because it is, it’s just that if you already know the Tarzan story–and few don’t I’d imagine–then there won’t be much here to surprise you.

However! I’d certainly advise you to give it a go because I found it immensely entertaining.

The first section particularly impressed me because of the method Dee uses to communicate through the Ape-man’s point of view. She could have cheated and done it all from James’ point of view, glimpses of the ape-man (Michael, as he later is dubbed) through the trees and such-like but she takes the brave step of attempting to explain things that the ape-man can think in his head but can’t translate universally, as he struggles with these new sights of intruders in his land.

It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me very much of The Inheritors by William Golding, which is written from the point of view of the soon-to-be-extinct Neanderthals, and Jordan Taylor uses the same device in The Ninth Language.

Here’s a taste of Michael (obviously not named at this point) – the ape-man’s thoughts.

His heart pounded and he breathed faster as he glimpsed one of the creatures between the leaves. It walked upright on two legs just as he did and like the Others did some of the time. He wanted to leap forward, to see all of it at once instead of flashes through the undergrowth.

There were two of them, one walking behind the other. The pair communicated back and forth with their strange calls. He caught his breath. These were like the sounds he sometimes made when he was all alone in the forest, the noises his throat and tongue made that none of the Others could duplicate.

The pair moved into the clearing in front of him where they stopped and stood looking around. His heart raced even faster. The two creatures looked like him, or what he’d seen of himself reflected in still water. Their faces and hands were naked like his with the same prominent noses and fully formed lips. Hair grew on the lower part of their faces. Their bodies were covered with something that was neither fur, skin nor scales but something completely foreign.

One of them took a thing off the top of his head and ran a hand through sweat-flattened hair—hair like his, not fur as most animals had—and white like the streaks in Old Grunt’s ruff. These animals were his kind. There were more in the world like him. He wasn’t alone.

Obviously there are concepts there that the ape-man couldn’t know, like numbers and proper nouns, but overall, I like the feel of the prose, it sets a nice balance between bafflement and comprehension, and it’s nice to see an author doing something like this.

The friendship between the two is sweet, and the teaching and learning scenes were some of my favourites. I loved the protective nature that each had toward the other. Of course, with stories like this one has to have a certain suspension of disbelief, as if I’m going to be really picky then I’ll have to say that feral children have huge learning difficulties after a certain age…But – if like most rational adults and readers you don’t give a stuff about that, you’ll find yourself rooting for the pair of them and wanting them to be happy.

I’ve tried to make this review longer, but it’s a bit difficult–with the Burroughs parallel. I think I would have liked to have seen something a bit more different than gay Tarzan–a wild child in South America, or Russia, or India even…

But I did enjoy it, for all the familiarity, and I recommend it if you are a fan of the original!

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

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