Review: The Slave’s Mask by Patricia Logan


American blockade runner, Captain Anthony Charles, has made a fortune in gold, running guns and other contraband between England and the Confederate States in 1863. He craves a young submissive man. Francois, a young prostitute, might be just the man to satisfy all of Anthony’s taboo desires.

Infamous American blackguard and blockade runner, Captain Anthony Charles, has made a fortune in gold, running contraband between England and the Confederate States at the height of the Civil War in 1863. Anthony knows good brandy and fine cigars and his English clients appreciate him for it, but the captain also craves young submissive men. When he wins a young prostitute at an auction, Francois becomes his slave for seven days.

Francois has turned to prostitution to survive, but he is more than a whore. While most men who enjoy his favors treat him cruelly, he is stunned by this temporary owner’s kindness. Being a slave to this blue-eyed Master is no difficult task. Both men find that love may not be as elusive as they thought. Will the separation of oceans and time test their love or bring pain beyond bearing?

Ebook only – 86 pages

Review by Sal Davis

This book is the middle one in the Masquerade Trilogy. All three bear the lovely cover designed by Reese Dante and the other unifying element is a masked ball held by the Downe family. This book takes place some years after the first in the series.

Captain Anthony Charles, blockade runner, smuggler and all man, is in London to celebrate a successful voyage by finding his preferred prostitute of choice – male, young, beautiful and submissive. In fact he’s so much of a man that he repairs to his cabin to have some quality time with Mrs Palm before he goes to the whorehouse. Francois is just what he requires, with a quivering eagerness to please fostered mainly from previous ill treatment, and Anthony’s previous activities in no way blunt his desire. The beautiful prostitute falls hook line and sinker for the blue-eyed captain, while, by the end of the first encounter, the larger man acknowledges that the smaller man could easily fulfill his deepest most secret desires.

There is some minor conflict when someone tries to make a move on Francois but that is soon resolved and we get down to the business of the book, which is a celebration of the varying ways two men can express their desire and the growing romance between the lovers.

Since that was the book’s aim, it succeeds admirably. The sex scenes are many and frequent, using a flashback during a part of the story when the lovers are not together. Most of the period detail is set dressing but there were bits I liked very much – brief scenes on board Anthony’s ship, descriptions of house interiors – but I felt I was in historical fantasy land rather than seeing a true depiction of life in Victorian London.

That prostitution was rife in the capital is well known, and it’s reasonable that the many ships that docked in the Pool of London would disgorge their crews, every man desperate to work off his appetites. That Anthony found Francois, a young man who was well up for what Anthony had in mind once he’d got the hang of it was sheer good luck and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Francois hadn’t been available and some other less compliant boy had been handed over to Anthony, as on previous occasions. Even Francois though eager eventually, was very anxious at first but was given little choice. Anthony, frankly, came over as a dick, though obviously a fine, upstanding, prodigiously endowed one. As the hero he could be forgiven much, but it amused me that he considered everyone but himself to be lechers and I reserved my sympathy for Francois.

Historically I found the setting confusing – for instance, it is 1863 and King Edward VII is on the throne of England. The author must have intended this but I haven’t been able to work out why. If the story was overtly steam punky then I’d know it was an AU scenario. But everything apart from the monarch seems to be in accordance with mid-19th century history, unless my sparse knowledge of the American Civil War is letting me down. I would have loved to have seen a bit more of the Civil War action but I got the impression that it was mostly a cool way to separate the lovers for a while.

Naturally they are reunited and naturally they have their HEA, and I’m sure that the story is hugely popular. It deserves to be popular because it is written with such joy and I think readers who like a lot of detailed sex scenes and a lite approach to history will enjoy it very much.

Couldn’t find a website for this author.

Buy at Silver Publishing | Amazon 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)

Review: Long, Hard Ride by Keta Diablo

Grayson Drake has been sent by a covert spy agency from the South to break Marx Wellbourne out of Elmira Prison at all costs.

Ordered to return Wellbourne to Richmond so the Confederate Army can pick his brain about the maps he’s memorized, Gray soon discovers Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia. To complicate matters further, the decadent, gorgeous Wellbourne is none other than the same man he coveted from afar four years ago in a Charleston brothel.

Pursued by the villainous warden of the prison, Major Britton Darkmore, nothing is as it seems when intrigue, suspense and raw passion collide on the long, hard ride back to Richmond.

Review by Bruin Fisher

From the blurb above: “Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia”. Courting death in my version of the English language is daringly taking risks that could cost one’s life. Malaria and pneumonia don’t count. In the hands of a master, inventing new uses for words can work, Shakespeare did it and his usage stuck. But here it makes for difficult and laboured reading. Several times the sound of a cough is described as a chortle – which I always thought was a kind of laugh, but what do I know? I quite like this: one of the characters wakes up

“Sore and dogmatically stiff, but nothing a dip in the river and a hot meal wouldn’t rectify.”

And

“He’d checked the bottle of quinine before their trek to the river only to find it empty. Another conundrum.”

If you’re going to read this book you will have to cope with a lot of flowery prose, some of which doesn’t make much sense, such as this:

“Gray lingered between darkness and light it seemed for eons. He likened his re-emergence to that of a drowning man who’d thrashed and clobbered his way through the claws of a cloven-hoofed demon.”

and a thin plot, and characters who act without much apparent motivation. If you can get past that, there is some mildly enjoyable reading in the middle part of the book when the two main characters are fleeing their pursuers and failing to decide whether they like, love, distrust or just hate each other.

Grayson Drake is a physician from the town near the prison, and also an agent of the Confederates (Gray, see?) sent to spring the man the blurb describes as ‘the decadent, gorgeous Marx Wellbourne’ from prison. He has to get him back to Confederate territory for de-briefing, since he has information about battle maps which will, apparently, change the course of the war. We don’t ever discover quite why it will change the course of the war, and when he finally hands it over he points out that it’s months old.

Wellbourne is, apparently, gorgeous although he’s skin and bone after a starvation diet in prison and “two days in the sweat box had greatly compromised his maladies”. He’s also well-born (Wellbourne, see?), having inherited a big southern estate and slaves although slavery is, of course, abhorrent to him – after all his name’s Marx. We are not, however, given any evidence that he’s decadent. He’s a corporal which seems to be an elevated rank although in the Confederate army it was only one grade up from the lowest enlisted man, the private. His vocabulary includes shit, and bugger, and fuck, and Jesus and Christ used as expletives, which doesn’t quite ring true considering he’s a Southern Gentleman and not a mill worker from the North of England. He has heroically helped ten other prisoners to escape and for his trouble ended up in the ‘sweat box’, presumably a punishment cell of some sort, and contracted pneumonia, and malaria, apparently from drinking the water from a frog-infested pool – no mention of the usual mosquito bite transmission method. Why the poor frogs are implicated, I can’t say.

Gray gives Marx a forged pass hidden in a Bible to get him through the front gate of the prison, and a Union soldier’s uniform with a knife in the pocket, but no help with getting past the locked door of his cell. We’ve been told that the door is heavy, and metal, and incorporates metal bars, and that it is unlocked by inserting a key (but apparently there’s no need to turn it) and it can then be opened despite its weight by pushing with a toe. Gray has hinted to the guard that Marx may be very infectious, and dying, and warned him to keep well away from the prisoner, despite which Marx convinces the guard to hold his hand and read to him from the psalms, and then he threatens him with the knife until he hands over the keys.

We have to assume that the rest of the escape goes smoothly, because the next chapter begins when Gray and Marx rendezvous in woods and begin their ‘long, hard ride’ to Richmond, Virginia, pursued by the prison warden, Major Britton Darkmore (he’s the baddie, Darkmore, get it?) who considers their capture so crucial that he’s abandoned his prison and searches the towns on their route house by house with a posse of soldiers to help him. It’s difficult to see why Wellbourne’s memorised battle maps, months old, can be quite so important to Darkmore or to the Confederate ‘covert spy agency’ either. Are there any other kinds of spy agency?

Wellbourne and Drake have seen each other before, in a brothel they both frequented. Now they are attracted to each other despite their continuing distrust of each other – although Drake has sprung Wellbourne from prison and is doing his best to get him back to his own lines, which would be enough reason to trust each other, you’d think.

They pause on their journey and Wellbourne’s exhausted condition doesn’t prevent them having energetic sex. A day later Drake has been shot in the chest and they get the wound treated by an Iroquois healer, a friend of Gray’s whose camp fire “flared in the middle of a small clearing. Behind it stood a lean-to, the slanted mud and straw roof sagging like his Aunt Rosie’s tits.” Aunt Rosie, I should point out, plays no further part in the story – very wise of her, I’d say.

They’ve smelled the smoke of the fire from a distance but apparently their pursuers missed it so they can spend some time and recuperate. The next day they have more energetic sex despite the chest wound. The sex scenes are among the better passages of the book, although there’s a hint of BDSM which never really takes hold. These are two men physically attracted to each other but there’s no affection developing between them.

The day they strike camp and continue their journey, Gray has pain in his arm, but he “rotated his arm in a circle and realized most of the pain stemmed from stiffness”. Nevertheless he apparently loses the use of it for the next few pages and there is no further mention of the bullet wound in his chest. Marx’s pneumonia and malaria seem to be better, too.

So: can I recommend this book to you, dear reader? Umm… well, No. Sorry. It’s rubbish, poorly written hokum. None of the characters are particularly likeable, there’s no satisfactory resolution of tension, very little plot (I’ve told you nearly all of it) and although civil war dates and events are mentioned there’s nothing about the characters or their dialogue that anchors them to the early 1860’s. I give it two stars because the cover art is attractive, although the man in the picture looks about a hundred and fifty years too modern. Oh, and the punctuation is immaculate.

Author’s Website

Buy from Decadent Publishing 

Review: Samurai’s Forbidden Love (Katana Duet) by Silupa Jarun

The Matsumoto twins, or “mirror samurai,” are bound together by a horrible crime committed during the civil war. Eager for a new beginning, the brothers travel to America where they are befriended by the Lennartsson brother and sister, Konrad and Klara. Akeno becomes attracted to the seemingly innocent young Klara, while Aki allies himself with, Konrad, who is desperately trying to find a cure for his sister’s mysterious illness.

The bond of brotherhood between the samurai grows into a forbidden relationship as they realize “Katana Duet” is not the only stage show they must perform for money but they must also play out an elaborate act to free themselves from a deadly game in a household full of secrets.

Review by Erastes

I enjoyed this story in the main, and really warmed to the brothers in particular. The story worked for me, overall, but the mark reflects the several issues I had with the telling of it. The story in essence is a decent family saga, showing actual historical events, the war in Japan, the research on tuberculosis, and it was interesting to read about times, places and events that I knew almost nothing of.

Jarun clearly knows her subject and her locations and that comes through strongly, the research is there and I didn’t get jolted by anything terrible. I don’t know this era at all, but Jarun does write with an air of authority, so it seems like that “safe pair of hands” that I’m often banging on about.

As the title and cover suggest, this story involves brotherly incest, so if that’s an anathema to you, then you need to stay away. There is also some graphically described heterosexual sex, so again be warned.

When referring to Japanese items, I didn’t like the way it was punctuated and it threw me off. When the author introduces a Japanese word to the reader, and explains what it is, it’s done like this:

The traditional, simple fundoshi, undergarment.

With the translated word after the Japanese one, and a comma. This really jarred with me, and I found myself gritting my teeth every time an italicised word came up. It wouldn’t have been difficult to word it in context e.g. The traditional, simple undergarment, the fundoshi. As it was it had the effect of pulling me out of the story.

This is not a limited POV book. I won’t call it omniscient, because that’s handled in a different way but generally we get the thoughts of everyone on the page. When the twins speak to each other in Japanese, even if we are in Klara’s POV we are shown what they are saying. I don’t mind this, but I know that some readers have an issue with it. But to be honest, of all the head hopping I’ve read in books, this is one of the most readable types.

I think i would have preferred it to be more linear, too. As it is it jumps from the 1860’s Japan, then 1875 America, then back to 1874 Japan and so on—there are even flashbacks within flashbacks. My memory isn’t what it used to be and having to go back and forth to find out whether the piece  I was reading was before or after another piece was rather confusing, and with a converted pdf on a Kindle, not an easy task either. In the end I just made notes of the timeline, but of course that pulled me out of the book, too. This jumping around stopped about mid-book for which I was grateful.

It’s not a happy read, and for those expecting a gay romance I need to point this out. There’s a lot of dark lurking, the hints of which are gradually explained the further we go through the book. The subject matter of gay rape and tuberculosis and the unpleasant aspects of research for this disease will not appeal to everyone. Jarun seems to have a liking for animal dissection as I remember a cat being dissected in one of her earlier books.

I have to add, for readers seeking a gay romance that the ending is definitely not a romance ending, I can’t really put it clearer than that without spoiling.

But it is readable, and although there were a few confusing moments, in the end a lot of things were explained, but some were not. I would imagine that the research into tuberculosis was sound, but I can’t verify that, but it reads as if written from a position of confidence and that’s appreciated.

If you want a rather unique, but a little gory in spots, story with an unusual subject and setting then this will probably appeal to you. It’s a bit uneven, there are grammar and spelling errors throughout but it’s probably worth the investment.

Author’s Website

Amazon UK     Amazon USA

Review: One Eyed Jacks by India Harper

A Civil War veteran and recovered opium addict, Adam Finlay, knows the cost of taking pleasure too far. In life, as in poker, he plays things close to the vest. The only way he knows to survive is to let no one in. Jackson Talbot loves a challenge. And no one is a greater challenge than the closed-off Adam Finlay. An awkward partnership gets Jackson’s foot in the door, but it will take every bit of skill he possesses to get any further with Adam.

Amidst the excitement of a high-stakes poker game, white lies and past mistakes threaten to destroy the fragile relationship the two men have begun to build. In the end, can two Jacks beat the Queen of Hearts?

Review by Erastes

I have to say I was easily sucked into this story because the whole idea of the paddle-steamers and the poker games that were played upon them fascinate me hugely, with the romance and atmosphere. In general, this book does well and it kept me interested although it was a little light on immersive atmosphere.

The two main characters meet believably and I enjoyed the banter between them. I found it a bit difficult to remember who was who–and I’m not sure whether it was just my attention span, or whether it was subject confusion,because there was a smattering of this here and there. I had to concentrate and think to myself “Which one is Adam again?” which pulled me out of the story from time to time. The description of their meetings is well done, although I would have loved more of the life of the paddle steamer but that’s just me–I’m greedy and if I find a nice novella, I always want a full sized novel!

I had a couple of major niggles which stopped this book from being a four star, which otherwise it deserved.

One was the money. I haven’t done the research to know how expensive these games were, but the “buy-in” for this particular game was $5,000 which struck me as a HUGE sum- worth around $500,000 in today’s money.  The plot point which causes the men to meet is that Jackson needs an extra  $200 to join the game and it struck me that if a man had $5,000 at this time, he’d hardly need to earn more, gambling. The winning pot was $250,000 which again was a king’s ransom at this time. ($28 million today–source: Measuring Worth). I think these amount are vastly over-inflated.

The other was the total disregard for the protagonists regarding sex–they hardly seem to care that they are on a boat with thin wooden walls and bounce and thump and scream and roar and fuck like rabbits and discuss their proclivities in public and with others.  At one point they fuck on deck in the open on a very crowded ship, and no measures are put into place to ensure their privacy.

The sex scenes however, because the erotic love affair is the focus, rather than the rather thin plot, are well described and nicely hot. Like many other recent books there’s a nod to BDSM which seemed a little pasted on, but I know many readers like bondage.

All in all,it’s an enjoyable and hot read which will occupy a good couple of hours and I do recommend it. It does teeter on wallpaper historical, but only just and there’s been sufficient research done to satisfy more picky readers, and less-picky ones will enjoy it a great deal.

India Harper is a writing collaboration between Philippa Grey-Gerou  and Emery Sanborne

Author’s website

Buy at Amber Allure


Review: Sam’s Hill by Jack Ricardo

A young man coming to grips with his homosexuality during the latter half of the 19th century, through four years of The Civil War, the Indian Wars with General Custer’s 7th Cavalry, into the rough and tumble town of Cheyenne and up into the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory.

*Available in Kindle format, 382KB

Review by Gerry Burnie

A revisiting of the American Civil War is not a new theme, nor is gay, Union and Confederate soldiers, but “Sam’s Hill” by Jack Ricardo [Amazon Digital Services, 2010] contains some of the best, graphic descriptions of battlefield action I have ever read; the carnage, the confusion, the fear and the impersonal killing are all there in almost tangible detail.

The plot—at least for the first half of the story—is equally well conceived with some quite unexpected twists.

Sam Cordis is a young Union volunteer from New Jersey; green, innocent, seeking to become his “own man” and heading west when the war is over, “…a mere two or three months, he was sure.”

After a taste of war, and the reality of it, i.e.

“The order came. “Tear Cartridges.”

“Sam did exactly that. He poured powder into the barrel of his musket, dropped a metal ball inside, stuffed the ramrod down to push the ball into position, and carefully placed a cap under the hammer.

“When he heard the first shot, the taut skin of his neck strangled his throat, his heart stopped. The woods began bleeding with an indistinct jumble of men in gray yelling ferociously, shooting indiscriminately. Sam wanted to run for cover. There was none. And there was no interference when he lifted his musket.

“He stayed his mind, focussed his eyes, spied his target. He couldn’t see the Rebel clearly. He didn’t know if he was young or old, an officer or a volunteer. He was merely a target. Sam aimed the weapon with ease, as if marking a jackrabbit on the banks of New Jersey’s Rampo River. He pressed the trigger and squeezed as his older brother taught, gently, caressing the tender skin of a newborn calf. The report of the musket was lost in the din.

“Sam didn’t wait to see if the ball hit its mark. He followed the example of the others, crossing the former path, running wide, stumbling, turning, reloading, firing again, this time with haste. As hastily as the enemy fired at him.”

Under such perilous circumstances men frequently bond out of necessity, and the mores of a conventional society are either relaxed or shirked in favour of a new reality. So it was with Sam and his young companion, Davie, when a tender friendship gradually blossomed into love, like a flower amidst the ruin. Just as quickly, however, it was snuffed by a sniper’s bullet, but not before Sam had discovered a love that would not be denied.

As the war dragged on Sam found himself in Savannah, Georgia, with Sherman’s army, and during a lull in the hostilities he is drawn to the docks in search of male companionship. It is a mixture of intrigue and inert desire until he encounters an older man who almost succeeds in fanning his smouldering desire into a flame. However, in an unexpected twist, he is mugged and then rescued aboard a gunboat where the stranger is first mate. Romance nearly blossoms there as well, but when the gunboat is attacked Sam is thrown overboard during the mêlée. Miraculously he is washed ashore on the coast of Florida, and making his way inland he encounters a regiment of Black, Union soldiers, who are themselves captured by Confederate forces.

A forced march then proceeds to a POW camp somewhere in South Georgia—a non-regulation compound where corruption and cruelty prevail. A “King Rat” type-of-character also rules, and he sets his sights on seducing Sam. On the other hand, Sam befriends a badly wounded youth who would otherwise die. These are the characters that will play a significant role later in the story, but for now they are certainly interesting enough.

When peace if declared Sam and the now rehabilitated youth start for their respective homes in the north, where Sam’s several family members await, but first there is another character to be met; an Indian brave named Kehoe.

To this point I would have no hesitation in giving this story a five-star rating. The journalism is first rate, the characters are interesting and credible, the action is breathtaking, and the pace compelling.

Regretfully, the second half of the story begins to bog down under the burden of characters that, in their numbers and complexities, nearly overwhelm the reader. Likewise, to accommodate each of their parts, the story loses its linearity to twist and coil around the various subplots.

There is no question that Mr. Ricardo has a flair for historical fiction, but sometimes less is more. 

Review: Bitter Creek’s Redemption by T A Chase

Bitter Creek is a town on the brink of war. Lines are being drawn and sides taken as two powerful men gather armies of gunfighters. The townspeople are helpless and the law worthless. One man has already died in the opening salvo of this land war and an air of fearful anticipation hangs over the town. Eagle, the half-breed who works at the livery stable, manages to survive by not taking sides, until one day a stranger rides into town. Eagle’s life changes, and he realizes that he can no longer hide with his horses if he wishes to be the man he claims to be…

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Travis Ramsay is the “Helper” in his widely extended family – the one homeless rover who appears when somebody in his family needs help, whether it’s driving cattle or standing by his family in a shoot-out. When his brother Ralph is murdered, he comes to Bitter Creek to investigate and avenge his brother’s death. He meets the Comanche half-breed Eagle, who was with Ralph during his last hours, and the attraction between the men is instant. But there are feuding cattle barons, a cunning murderer, gunslingers and not least of all Travis’ duty, his family and a whole load of prejudice to keep them apart.

For the most part, I enjoyed “Bitter Creek Redemption” as a light holiday read in the stupor of a Turkish summer midday. I still have some niggles about the text; Eagle, the halfbreed Comanche, doesn’t actually develop at all as a character, and I found his sometimes smug superiority rather grating. Travis, on the other hand, had a whole lot of growing up to do, overcoming teenage trauma, his ‘Helper syndrome’ as well as his reputation as a stone-cold killer with some of the cast.

Wrecked by insecurity on the inside, and appearing aloof and apart from the others on the outside, he was certainly the most interesting character in the book, and there’s certainly enough going on to keep things interesting and not bogged down with just relationship drama. There are real impediments to their relationship, and the author goes to great pains to tell us that homosexual relationships face harsh odds when they become more than a fumble in the hay, but, satisfyingly for romance readers, the main couple takes that risk in the end.

Speaking about the setting, I would have liked more of a flavour of the Old West. While the Civil War, the railway and the rough frontier justice was mentioned and the story moves between Bitter Creek, Ralph’s farm and the Indian camp, the world could have used more description for my taste to really immerse the reader. The description is so sparse that for the most part, we don’t even know what people look like.

In addition, a lot of what the characters say rings too modern to me, and there’s a fair bit of kitchen psychology coming into play as the actions of the characters don’t speak for themselves, but are explained either by the author or by the supporting cast to make sure the readers suffers from no ambiguities. Personally, I like wondering about character’s actions and don’t need any supplied explanation, but this might not be true for every reader.

There are also several editing issues (often, past tense is used when it should have been past perfect, confusing the reader about the actual sequence of events), and a few sentences that make no sense. “He resisted the urge to blush” is one of them. Last time I blushed, I didn’t think it was much of an urge and I certainly had no choice to suppress it. That said, these issues are not bad enough to seriously detract from the story.

Since this is a historical m/m erotic romance, there is sex, but not without rhyme or reason, as in other historical m/m romances I’ve read recently, and the prose is rock-solid and certainly stands out as some of the better and less sentimental writing in the genre. Absolutely read it as a solidly enjoyable read at the pool if you like Westerns and want to spend a couple hours with a romance.

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Review: Conflict by Stevie Woods

The sequel to Cane.

Two men, one war. Can love survive when each takes a different side?

Leaving his lover behind to support the abolitionist cause, Piet Van Leyden finds himself leading one of the first all-black Union troops into the heart of battle. Reuniting with free slave and former love Joss brings some comfort, but will his presence tempt Piet into forgetting the love waiting for him at home?

Sebastian Cane wonders how he’s able to go on without Piet by his side. When a series of unfortunate events lands him a prisoner of the Union, Seb knows he must rely on his wits and his love for Piet to survive…and get home to him. 

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

Reader, I was bored. This book echoes, rather unfortunately, my impressions of J P Bowie’s “Warrior Prince”. I know that there are readers for this book, alas, I’m not one of them.

Short summary of what we find here. At the time of the American Civil War, Sebastian Cane, a “Southern gentleman”, his lover and plantation manager Pieter van Leyden, and Pieter’s childhood lover and Sebastian’s ex-slave, Joss, end up in something of a love triangle against the backdrop of the civil war.

Pieter goes off to fight, where he meets Joss again. Sebastian stays behind, moping, until he hears that Pieter is dead, and, seeking death himself now, joins the Confederates.

If I’d have to sum up the impression the book made on me in one word, that word would be ‘repetition’. Everything’s repeated. Both men (Sebastian and Pieter) are approached for sex in the name of comfort. Both men agree, after some soul-searching and angsting, both do the dirty with a stranger/friend, then feel terrible about it and angst some more. Both men are taken prisoners by the other side in the conflict. And so on, and so forth.

The book opens with a lot of backstory, many, many pages devoted to bringing us up to specs about what happened in the prequel, “Cane”, and my eyes glazed over during those long, long passages where absolutely nothing happened, and things were repeated in three different point-of-views – Sebastian Cane gets his version, Pieter van Leyden gets his version, and Joss gets his version, too. Not that any of this is important to the plot, only that Sebastian and Pieter love each other very much and Joss has a connection to both. That could have been told so much faster and more efficiently without boring the reader to tears (who was, in this case, not even aware he was dealing with a sequel).

The history seems okay for the most part. Woods’ main issue is that for the life of the author, they don’t manage to bring any of this alive. This reader didn’t care. It could have happened on another planet – nothing that happened had any impact on me. Instead I wondered why on earth anybody needs three characters telling the same story, when the author chooses an omniscient narrator. Technique here seems lacking; I’m not sure the author chose any point-of-vierw deliberately, because it seemed to want to be third person, but ended up omniscient – and all characters, slave, southern gentleman and plantation manager, sound exactly the same and act exactly in the same manner. Maybe Joss is even more selfless and sacrificing than the other two, but that’s really the only difference I could detect. They speak the same, they act the same, they sound the same when they think. And this reader didn’t care about them just the same.

Another killing blow – the characters have no flaw. Joss is a saint, Pieter is a saint, and, guess what, Sebastian is a saint, too. They are all so good and pure and cute, possessing the pure hearts of five year old boys brought up in a cloister, that I found myself entirely disbelieving I was reading about people. The sex was all cute and nice and totally unerotic – nothing was resolved, there was, quite ironically for a novel called “Conflict” no real conflict, no real progress, no sparks flying, it was all nice and sweet and placid, with bad things happening that never really touched this reader or the characters. The author claimed they were suffering, but these saints bore it placidly, spiced up with lots of angst and luke-warm longing.

Add to that a language just as tepid and unexciting, and you get a good idea why I was dreading my commute more than normal (and it had nothing to do with London’s horror or the suffering of morning/evening cattle class). I just didn’t want to spend my time in the company of these weepy little boys. At no point did I feel I was dealing with characters from the time period. The most jarring example is when our “southern gentleman” sounds like a modern-day California porn star during a ‘wet dream’ sequence which I found cringeworthy rather than sexy. I’m talking about this scene, which, in terms of writing, is pretty typical:

It took longer than he expected before Lane was able to check on Cane, but he was relieved to find the man sleeping, and reasonably peacefully. Often delirium caused those affected to sleep very restlessly.

Lane pulled up a stool, taking the opportunity for a few minutes rest; it was for once fairly quiet in the ward. He’d almost started to doze when he heard muttering from Cane, and saw that even though the man still appeared to be sleeping peacefully, his eye movements were rapid. The captain realized he was dreaming and if the slight smile was any indication it was a good one. Cane began to mutter again, a little more clearly this time and Lane could’ve sworn he heard the words, ‘yeah, just there’.

Staring at the man he considered a friend, albeit not a particularly close one, Mason wondered if it would really matter if he listened a little closer. If his guess was correct,

Cane was having an erotic dream and a little titillation wouldn’t do any harm. Damn, but it would do him some good!

The man was well and truly out of it and he’d never even know. Carefully, so as not to disturb the sleeping man, Lane moved his stool as near as he could to the bed.

“God … harder … yeah, that’s … ooooh, fuck!” Cane moaned, tossing his head from side to side. Lane leaned closer. “Deeper, Pieter … more … oh, God.” Cane’s movement stilled, he gave a deep sigh and was silent.

Mason sat frozen on the stool, staring at Cane. He could hardly believe what he’d heard but then a smile broke slowly over his face. He’d wanted titillation and he got more than he bargained for. Who’d have guessed?

“Oh, boy, you and I have got some talking to do when you’re better,” Lane muttered. “Lord, do I hope you don’t die of this thing.”

Taking one last look at the lieutenant as he got to his feet, Lane nodded his head and whistling softly, walked away.

While I’m not an expert on Southern gentlemen and plantation owners in the 1860ies, I’m not convinced this is what one of them sounds like in his sleep. And this is just one example where the characters just weren’t believable.

As I said, the history seemed mostly okay, the main flaw was that I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t engage with the characters, I didn’t care about them. At the end of all these things that happened to them (wounding, long prison sentence, loss of friends), they haven’t changed at all. And I’m not starting on the fact that Sebastian spends many months in a prisoner-of-war camp with not a fruit or vegetable in sight and doesn’t lose his teeth – some creative license can be taken when dealing with the past. One is a bit thinner and greying, the other is tired of war. I’m not sure what the author tries to communicate here. War is hard? War isn’t worth it?

The book is a “historical romance” with a couple sex (pretty tame) sex scenes, so if you just want a nice sweet romance with lots of pining and a war that is mostly used to keep two lovers separated for almost all of the book, go for it. Personally, the book didn’t make any impact on me, the writing and characterisation was just not strong enough for me to get anything from this. I know there are readers out there for this kind of stuff, and at least it has a discernible plot and the research seems mostly ok, but this wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Author’s Website

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Review: A Heart Divided by J M Snyder

Confederate Lieutenant Anderson Blanks has grown weary of the War between the States. When a wounded soldier is heard, dying in the darkness, Andy takes a lantern and canteen in the hopes of easing the soldier’s pain. Andy is shocked to discover none other than Samuel Talley, his first love and a young man Andy’s father had chased from their plantation when the romantic relationship between the two boys came to light. It’s up to Andy to tend his lover’s wound and get Sam the help he needs before it’s too late…and before Andy’s compatriots discover Sam’s presence…

The opening of A Heart Divided is absolutely wonderful.  Lieutenant Anderson Blanks is writing a letter to his sister and then shortly afterward moves through the camp of his Confederate regiment.  To those pundits who say that you should start with action and ignore things like description, I say pooh.  This is the sort of beginning to a book that I really like, and the sort of thing that grips me.

It really drips with atmosphere; a heavy, hot Virginian night.  Insects sounding the night, men spooked for no good reason, and a man who doesn’t know if he’ll live through the night, let alone the week.

When he finds Sam, injured, and in a bad way, the atmosphere becomes even more tense and claustrophobic, which was very impressive.  If I have any criticism at the stage it is that perhaps the reunited lovers were more concerned with kissing and talking than worried about Sam’s injury, but who knows how we would really act under those circumstances?

As someone who appreciates the touch of gritty reality in their reading material, the part regarding Sam’s injury pleased me, but those reader who don’t want grim realism in their books might want to skip that section.

I was slightly confused by the top of every page said “Wicked Comes the Beast” – I assumed that it was a chapter name, but now I see it’s a typographical error on behalf of Amber Quill. I hope that’s been fixed now.

I was a little concerned by Andy’s lenghty absence from his regiment – he was gone all night, which I’d say he could have got away with. But then he was missing at dawn, and the regiment moved to bury the dead on the battlefield, he would have had men under his command, he would have been missed, by noon.  I was pleased when he was finally called on this — but it was almost a day later. I think I would have preferred if some reason had been given for his able to go off on his own for this protracted time, perhaps if he’d been officially on the sick roster or something.

Although I wasn’t convinced by Snyder’s All Shook Up, A Heart Divided is a much stronger book, showing the same skills of prose as did ASU, and the short story No Apologies, which I enjoyed a lot. It relies a lot on coincidence, but where would we be without them?  Sometimes it got a little too romantic for my taste (considering the danger and the injury) with Sam sulking and pouting – and with kisses while walking with a badly injured leg, and phrases like “verdant eyes” and “green gaze” but all in all, it was engrossing and I really cared about these people and wanted them to make it. Snyder is unashamedly romantic, but when there’s good writing to back it up, it becomes more believable.

Well worth a read.

Author’s website

Buy from Amber Allure

Confederate Lieutenant Anderson Blanks has grown weary of the War Between the States. He is all too aware of the tenuous thread that ties him to this earth—as he writes a letter home to his sister, he realizes he may be among the dead by the time she receives the missive. His melancholy mood is shared by other soldiers in the campsite; in the cool Virginia night, the pickets claim to hear ghosts in the woods, and their own talk spooks them.

Andy knows the “ghost” is nothing more than a wounded soldier left on the battlefield, dying in the darkness. With compassion, Andy takes the picket’s lantern and canteen in the hopes of easing the soldier’s pain. After a tense confrontation with the soldier, Andy is shocked to discover none other than Samuel Talley, a young man Andy’s father had chased from their plantation when the romantic relationship between the two boys came to light. The last time the two had seen each other, Sam had been heading west to seek his fortune, and had promised to send for Andy when he could.

Then the war broke out, and Andy had enlisted in the Confederate Army to help ease the financial burden at home. Apparently Sam had similar ideas—he now wears the blue coat of a Union solider.

Sam is severely wounded and infection has begun to set in. Andy can’t sneak him into his own camp for treatment because all Union soldiers are taken prisoner. But Andy’s Confederate uniform prevents him from seeking help from the nearby Union camp, as well. It’s up to Andy to tend his lover’s wound and get Sam the help he needs before it’s too late…and before Andy’s compatriots discover Sam’s presence…

Review: Two Spirits by Walter L Williams, Toby Johnson

With its sweet tale of inter-racial romance between a young Civil War survivor from Virginia and a Navajo berdache/two-spirit healer of the Old West, this novel demonstrates gender variance as a source of spiritual power and documents “same-sex marriage” as indigenous to the American continent.

Reviewed by Ruth Sims

Two Spirits combines a moving love story with a dark part of American history. Most American know, and choose to ignore, the historic treatment of the peoples who “were here first,” the broken treaties, the broken promises, the broken hearts and lives. It would be silly to pretend that the Indians (if I may use that non-p.c. term) didn’t war among themselves because they did. But they didn’t have machine guns and railroad trains and the belief that God gave them all the land from coast to coast, a.k.a. “manifest destiny.” Two Spirits is about one small group caught on the dark side of that manifest destiny: the people Americans called Navajo, but who called themselves Diné.

In 1864 the Diné were forced to walk 325 miles in winter from their green, fertile homeland in what we call Northeast Arizona, Canyon de Chelly, to what was actually a concentration camp at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. At least 3,000 of their number died on the way. This was General James Carlton’s version of “pacifying” the natives. Carlton, by the way, was a real person. The U.S. Government allocated what probably was sufficient money for the displaced Diné to feed, clothe, and house them, but the money found its way into Carlton’s private coffers. Not only were the Diné starving and unable to grow crops in the inhospitable land, living in substandard shacks, and dying from illnesses, Mexican bandits regularly struck from what became New Mexico, carrying the Diné children to be sold into slavery. Carlton did nothing to protect his charges.

Into this living hell comes a shy, uncertain and untrained Indian Agent named William Lee from Virginia, a young man kicked out by his father for loving another man. Young Will is truly tested by many fires—both from within and without. He’s puzzled why he’s fascinated and attracted to the beautiful healer and wise woman,

Hasbaá, a loved and revered member of the tribe. A near-tragedy reveals Hasbaá’s physical strength and Will soon learns that the beautiful, spiritual, strong woman is really a man—a two-spirit. Far from being shunned, as she would have been in white society, Hasbaá is considered blessed. Will and Hasbaá fall deeply in love and are joined in a union by the customs of the tribe.

There is plenty of action and danger in this book, as Will, the Diné, and Hasbaá face persecution and annihilation when Will uncovers Carlton’s corruption and evil. He delves deeply into the life and spirituality of the Diné and his beloved Hasbaá.

As an incurable reader of forewords, afterwords, and footnotes, I especially appreciated the commentaries at the end. “About the Historical Accuracy of This Novel” is as interesting as the book itself, explaining as it does about, among other things, the use of peyote, some of the mystical references, and the acceptance of two-spirit people. This is followed by “A Commentary” by Wesley K. Thomas, a member of the Diné. These brief extras are the cherry on top of the sundae.

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Review: Hot Valley by James Lear

It’s New England, 1861, and the troubles in the southern states seem a long way off for Jack Edgerton, the spoiled son of a prominent Vermont family. Howver, when he meets and falls in love with Aaron Johnson, the sexy son of a slave on the run from Virginia, Edgerton’s world is turned upside down. Separated by circumstances, the lovers pursue each other through the escalating madness of the Civil War and both find themselves forced to choose sides.

Review by Erastes

I was utterly enamoured and in love with Mr Lear’s last novel “The Back Passage” that I was over excited that another book was coming out. I pre-ordered.

Sadly, though, I was rather disappointed, because where TBP was witty and unique (whilst incorporating a series of fuck scenes to solve a mystery) this was nothing but a series of fuck scenes.

Whilst it won’t dissapoint readers who like a hot scene to excite them on every other page, that’s where the book failed for me.

In The Back Passage, the hero goes from sexual encounter to sexual encounter in his quest to find out clues for a murder in an Agatha Christie style romp and although the sex is possibly gratuitous its cleverly done and never feels like it. There’s also much wit and humour.

But Hot Valley – set in the American Civil war–felt to me that sex scene after sex scene after sex scene (…) were linked tenuously by the hero’s travels. It felt like the background of the war is added as an afterthought. It also feels hugely anachronistic as surely to Betsy 1860 America wasn’t so accepting of gay sex.

Every single man that Jack meets, from his co-workers, his father’s employers, drinking companions, fellow soldiers – everyone! Wants to (and does) have sex with him in many various ways. As much as I enjoy (heaven knows!) an erotic book, there is a case for Too Much – and I found myself hoping that the next man that Jack met simply wanted to have a chat. Or a cuppa tea. Or anything! I found myself skipping the sex to find the next piece of plot, which, as I’ve said before, always makes me feel that the reader is cheated.

I’m sorry, James, that I didn’t like it. I wanted to, but I was hoping for a good gay historical romp but didn’t find it in Hot Valley.

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Review: A Different Sin by Rochelle Hollander Schwab

 

Review by Erastes

Wow. What a read!  I had few expectations of this book – I’d seen it around here and there, in this limited genre the same books are bound to crop up from time to time – but the cover always put me off.  However, eventually I ordered a copy and it arrived  (and it’s a signed copy no less!) 

It starts simply and familiarly enough; our main protagonist, David, is the son of a plantation (and slave) owner.  He chafes against living at home and the hum-drum existence and wants more. But the twists start almost immediately and there’s a hell of a lot packed into this not very long book.

It would be almost impossible to write a book about this war without mentioning race and RHS meets this head on. David’s father has a shameful “secret” – which is no longer a secret – he fathered a child, Mike, from one of his slaves and has helped him escape from Virginia to Boston to become a doctor.  David lives under the impression that, as an artist and someone who has no interest in taking over the plantation, that Mike is the son that his father would have really wanted, especially now as he’s acknowledged him publicly.

David is offered a job on a New York paper and becomes friendly with Zach who he quickly becomes friends with and soon realises that his feelings are a little more than platonic.

The nice difference here is that the men aren’t the usual hairless 20 year old Adonises, (Adoni?). These are bearded men of their era in their late 30’s and early 40’s. Zach in particular is rather beary-hairy and the way that David fixates on his solid mature body is no less sexy than the endless stories of six packs and ridged hips.

The love story itself is familiar though, Zach is an experienced homosexual who knows what he is and he’s finding a way to communicate his preferences to others, finding others with his tastes in the big city. David has been unsatisfied with sex with women and doesn’t know there’s something missing. The difference between them is that when David does fall in love and into bed with Zach he can’t accept himself for what he is and he fights his “perversion” almost every step of the way. (This jarred me a little because I knew that the word pervert/perversion applied in this sense was anachronistic in itself and wish that (as Schwab has so much right) that she had found another word to use – because David uses it a LOT.)

He’s a very angsty man, and sometimes he was so repetitive in his angsting that I wanted to smack him.

He tries to break with Zach time and again, (despite knowing now that he loves him) as the country falls into conflict and then into war and then finally he can bear his own perversion no longer and volunteers to go to the front for the paper, despite having had it proved to him that he’s no hero.  He joins Grant and some very bloody history is recounted at this point, seen, on the fringes by David, and his new friend, Al.

I’ve seen this book accused of having “too much history” which has to make me smile – it’s rather difficult to avoid the history in the middle of Grant’s Wilderness Campaign!  However I know that military campaigns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and despite having a penchant for Sharpe they aren’t usually mine, but here I really I enjoyed reading about an era that I only know from Gone With The Wind.  I didn’t know anything about the draft riots for example – and some of the violence, truthfully written, is quite hard to read.

People’s wildly varying attitudes to the black population are interesting, difficult to cope with, and inspiring in turns, and I admire that the author didn’t shy away from all this, as she could have done, she could have smothered a difficult and bloody time for all involved with a gay love affair in a wallpaper historical.  But she doesn’t, for my money – there’s politics, and the man on the street, and the soldier’s opinions about many different things.  I would have been happy if this book had been twice the length, to be honest – I find it hard to work out how she managed to cram so much in.

Yes, this is about love, but it’s also a message (that Zach mentions) that there are “different sins” and perhaps two men loving each other in private can’t compare with what America was doing to itself. It’s still easier for some Americans to see a man with a gun in his hand than another man’s hand, actually, isn’t it?

I also particularly liked the New York social scenes; they are entirely masculine – the only mention of women being when one of the group goes to a brothel.  The newspaper men meet up in journalists’ bars, men frequent gymnasiums and you get a real feel of hard bitten journalists working round the clock. Walt Whitman makes an appearance (at one point rather disturbingly kissing a young armless soldier) and there are hints of men meeting up in groups for possibly orgies, but as David turns the offer down, we never know. It is clear however, (Zach gives us broad hints of this) that there is a large and close homosexual fraternity in New York.

Anyway – all in all very enjoyable. However, I have to say- it has possibly one of the worst covers ever. I AM going to continue to critique the covers of these books because I think that it’s important. However, as one of the protagonists is a war artist in the American Civil War, I can’t help but wonder if this was deliberate and that the painting is supposed to reflect that.  However I hope that David’s art was a little better.  If I saw it on a shelf, there’s no way in God’s green earth I would turn it over to see what the blurb said.

And then I’d have missed an excellent book, which would be a criminal shame.  Historically weighty, yes, (for the size of it) but the theme of this blog is Gay Historical Fiction, and this book certainly is one of the examples I shall point to when I say “This is gay historical fiction.”

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