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

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Review: Abominations by Paul R Brenner

The year is 68 CE. Led by the fanatical Sicarii, the ideological dagger men, Jews seize Jerusalem, execute the Roman garrison, and begin to cleanse Judaea of all impurities and foreign influences, including Greek love. Nero sends Vespasianus with three legions to quell the revolt. Caught in this conflict is the Sacred Community of Men, whose leader is the man who was Jesus’ lover, and Joanna, in whose home was held the Last Supper with Jesus. To escape assassination, Jesus’ beloved flees Judaea for cosmopolitan Alexandria, where he has been accepted as a Visiting Scholar in the famous Temple of the Muses, the Mouseion. Within days of arriving in the city, fierce ethnic fighting breaks out between Greeks and Jews, disrupting his life and plans. Further complicating his life is Markos, the sexy, wealthy young Greek, who wants a relationship with him, Hakor, the young orphaned Egyptian boy whom he befriends, and Diokles, Director of Visiting Scholars, who takes more than an intellectual interest in him. He senses he is being followed without being able to identify by whom. When he and his friends are viciously attacked, they discover the Sicarii have him marked for assassination. Finally, to end the chaos, Tiberius Alexander, Governor of Egypt, recalls the legion from fighting bandits in the south of Egypt. As they attack the quarter, our hero is trapped and comes face to face with a Roman centurion with drawn bloody sword eager to kill. Will he survive?

Review by Erastes

It’s taken me a while to review this book because I wanted to be as fair as I possibly could be. At first I was mildly excited because although there are a couple of Jesus gay books they are more erotica than historical fiction. Abominations is very “closed bedroom door” which was an approach I liked and would have left room for the plot.

That is, if there had been a plot. I kept reading and reading in the hopes that some kind of plot would manifest itself, but sadly it simply didn’t. It’s simply a book about a bloke who travels about, meets people and does stuff. Content doesn’t equal plot.

It’s set about 30 years after Jesus (called Joshua in this) was killed and it covers some of his friends and disciples as they come to terms with his death and how the world is getting to know about him and how everyone has a different take on “who he was.” This, I found interesting. Even if Jesus was just a normal person, albiet wise and charismatic, there was going to be some confusion afterwards as gradually more and more people claimed to know who he was and what he stood for. This is illustrated well, as the groups of people grow and split apart as their opinions differ.

There’s an awful lot of theology in this, and I’m afraid I know nuffin’ about theology and religious history so whether the facts–or even the myths discussed–are accurate, I simply couldn’t tell you. I admit that I was taking it all on faith (scuse the pun) that Bremmer knew what he was talking about when a couple of large mistakes hoved into view and then I started to doubt it all. Someone with more knowledge than I would know whether there was a Sacred Community of Men (and one of women) and what they stood for etc. I admit I was a bit lost in this respect.

What jarred me more than anything was the entirely modern feel to the book. Now, I’m not expecting people to be speaking Greek, or Aramaeic or anything like that, but these characters were speaking “2011 San Francisco” as far as I could see, and you could pick any of them up by their “fabulous, darlings!” and transplant them to Castro and they would simply fit right in. No, I didn’t want everyone to be thee-ing and thou-ing, but I find it unlikely that everyone would be quite as flaming as they are depicted here.

Everyone is gay, too. Simply everyone. Everyone the narrator meets fancies him, or makes a pass, or leers over him, or offers himself up. He’s simply irresistible, it seems. The librarian is gay, all the soldiers they meet, chance encounters on ships and in cafes (in fact there are gay bars, for goodness sake) There’s a thriving gay community where everyone seems to know everyone else.  It was this very gay community (in Alexandria) that gave me misgivings, because I had read a lot about the Greek attitude to homosexuality and it didn’t strike me that it was particularly OKHOMO to this degree. Yes, men were considered to be the best teachers of the young (heaven forbid the women would be allowed to do it, after all as they weren’t really allowed out of the house that much) but an erastes/eromenos relationship was pretty unequal when it came down to it, the erastes being older and allegedly wiser. Here the men pair off according to whim and attraction–and love–and live together as easily as… men living in San Francisco. As far as I was aware men did not carry on homosexual relationships with men of equal age, in fact it was quite frowned upon.

The prose is fairly regular througout, despite the modern feel to it which jarred me on a basic level on just about every page. But the first major love-making scene (which, as I said above, are non-explicit) was so bloody hilariously written I ended up snorting tea out of my nose.

Here’s a snippet of the first part of it (and it goes on for several pages of my Kindle after this):

…our mouths open to each other, and all that has been

detoured, denied, disrupted,

unspoken, unapproached, untouched, unfilfilled, undone

erupts

in an

enmeshing, entwining, enwrapping, engulfing, enflaming

frenzy

of

touching, tasting, tonguing, teghtening, twisting,

savoring, sucking, swallowing, sliding, squeezing, squishing…

Hmm.

Add to all of this that the author got the erastes and the eromenos muddled up and presents the erastes as the younger partner, rather than the younger plus the fact the sailing ships (in first century AD) had portholes when they weren’t invented until the 16th century, –  and you’ll begin to see why I was doubting the research into the rest of it.

Continuing with the language, the author has attempted to flavour his book by chucking in Greek (and probably other, but it’s not explained what language they are) words at a fairly regular rate and at times it was intrusive and annoying, particularly with the over-modern language used throughout, and the “As you know, Bob” translations to phrases spoken. There’s quite a lot of “As you know, Bob” throughout as the backstory is explained which made me grind my teeth.

What I did like, though, despite my entire non-belief in the entire affair–was the way it made me think about the way word would have spread about Jesus after his death and how that people would shape the stories around him, even from the word go (let alone how they have been twisted 2000 years later.)  It’s clear from much of the book — and from the postscript — that the author has done a great deal of research, but whether he has actually portrayed first century Alexandria with any conviction, I really don’t know. Personally if you have any expertise in the era, I would be very interested to know your view on it, should you read it. It’s worth a look, I would say, for its rarity value. But it left me puzzled to be honest.

Buy at Amazon

Review: Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory

Horses, love, and the tang of thyme and honey…

In Classical Greece, apprentice sculptor Philon has chosen the ideal horse to model for his masterpiece. Sadly, the rider falls well short of the ideal of beauty, but scarred and tattered Hilarion, with his brilliant, imperfect smile, draws Philon in a way that mere perfection cannot.

After years of living among the free and easy tribes of the north, Hilarion has no patience with Athenian formality. He knows what he wants – and what he wants is Philon. Society, friends and family threaten their growing relationship, but perhaps a scarred soldier and a lover of beauty are more alike than they appear.

Review by Michael Joseph

Anatolios and Philon are young apprentice sculptors in Classical Greece. Anatolios is a precocious boy of just 13 years. Philon is much older, around 20, and treats Anatolios like a brother. Their master Nikias treats both boys as his own sons. They are rather talented, and Anatolios may one day even surpass his master.

The young men and other sculptors are working on a commission Nikias has received from Eutychos, a rich trader who is building a new house that he wants to be sure will impress people. Given leave one day to take their lunch on the beach, the boys encounter a group of men riding horses. Among them is Aristion, Eutychos’ son, as well as his older cousin, Hilarion.

The scarred Hilarion is no beauty, but there’s something about him that makes Philon’s heart go pitter-patter. Apparently the feeling is mutual, but the two barely start their charmingly awkward courtship before they’re distracted by shouts of panic from Anatolios. Aristion, on his big horse, is bullying the young boy and nearly drowns him. Hilarion and his friends come to the rescue and berate Aristion for his bad behavior, but this only infuriates the spoiled brat.

A few nights later there’s trouble with the mules in the sculptor’s yard, and one of the panels Anatolios and Philon have worked hard on is broken. Philon is certain the Aristion is behind the trouble. A few days later, while all of the rest of the sculptors are up at the house site, Philon is alone when Hilarion comes calling. Hilarion admires Philon’s work, as well as the sculptor himself. They finally consummate their growing love in the heat of the afternoon.

The ending section contains a mild conflict, which ramps up the tension sufficiently, but never to put us in fear of the HEA.

“Alike As Two Bees” is a sweet little story. It’s quite short, even for a novella, which is usually a problem for me. But in this case there are no dangling plot lines, no mysterious back-stories crying out to be filled in or impossibly convenient coincidences. It’s a quite surprisingly complete work. I didn’t notice it until I finished the book and was digesting it for review, and perhaps it was even subconscious on the part of the author, but what she’s done is make quite effective use of archetypes. Aristion is quickly identifiable as the typical evil spoiled rich kid, Nikias the kindly uncle and Eutychos is the nouveau riche fat cat with more money than taste. None of this detracts from the story. It just helps to move it along by subtly giving us familiar character types we recognize and understand easily. The two lovers are drawn much more fully. You may not know them as well as you might like, but you know them well enough to care about what happens.

If I had to pick out one tiny niggle with the story, it would be with the one and only love scene. It’s communicated in such genteel language that it’s a little hard to figure out who is doing what to whom. But in a way it all fits with the sweetness of the story, so it’s a very minor flaw, at most.

This delightful little story definitely deserves four out of five stars.

Elin Gregory can be found on-line at Blogspot or LiveJournal

Amazon UK   Amazon USA

Review: Achilles a Love Story by Byrne Fone

Achilles: A Love Story

By the author of American Revolution: A Gay Novel. The story of the war at Troy, as Homer’s readers all knew, was not only a tale of battles and exemplary heroism, but also a a story of love between men–of the devotion of Achilles, unrivalled hero, terrible warrior, and so it is said in legend, the most beautiful man in the world, for another great warrior, the handsome Patroclus. Their names resound in the catalogue of heroes and lovers and their tragic tale is one of the greatest, most emblematic, and earliest gay love stories ever told. In the “Iliad” Homer also tantalizingly hints at another love story, that of the handsome Prince Antilochus for Achilles, as it plays out against the legendary battles of the Trojan war that brought down a great kingdom and created one of literature’s greatest stories and most enduring legends. 

Review by Michael Joseph

The Greek era has always been one of my favorites for historical romance. Perhaps it’s because Mary Ranault’s Alexander books were the first historical novels with a gay bent I ever read, or maybe it’s just because it was a time when love between men was not only accepted, but almost expected. So I had high, perhaps unreasonable, hopes when offered “Achilles: A Love Story”.

This is the story of Homer’s Iliad, re-told from the point of view of Antilochus, a prince, the son and heir of King Nestor of Pylos. The young prince has formed a sort of obsession with the already famous Achilles, who is only two years older. Antilochus comes off as a bit of a stalker at first, determined that one day he will meet the object of his desire, and they will instantly become lovers.

Then comes news of the impending war. Kind Agamemnon comes to Pylos to enlist King Nestor’s support in the war against Troy. Nestor somewhat reluctantly agrees. He and Odysseus then embark on a tour of the other Greek states to garner their support. One of the stops is to be Pythia, where the support of King Peleus and his son the mighty Achilles will be sought. Antilochus naturally jumps at the chance to finally meet his lover-to-be, and begs to go along. Of course, once the party lands in Pythia, Antilochus is slapped with the cold hard reality of Patroclus. Somehow, the fact that Achilles already had a lover to whom he was practically joined at the hip had escaped the young prince.

Antilochus is crushed, but he doesn’t give up the determination to one day make Achilles his. First though, there’s a war to fight. Nestor, Achilles and the rest of the Greeks take off to fight, while Antilochus is deemed too young and left behind in the care of his mother. The prince cools his heels in Pylos for eight long years. His mother won’t let him leave to join the war without word from his father, and Nestor never sends for his son.

Tired of waiting and anxious to partake of the glory of battle, as well as win the heart of Achilles, Antilochus arranges to make his way to Troy with the help of a sexy sea captain. Arriving in Troy, the prince faces the wrath of his father, but Achilles intervenes and it’s agreed that Antilochus will serve as Achilles’ squire. Actually, he will serve both Achilles and Patroclus since they live together. At first this seems like a boon, but faced with the obvious love the two have for each other every day does drive home how impossible Antilochus’ hopes are, although he never gives them up.

Not that Antilochus doesn’t get to experience what Achilles is like as a lover. Achilles and Patroclus seem to have an ‘open relationship’ and Achilles takes Antilochus from time to time when Patroclus isn’t around, and apparently Patroclus also beds the prince at least once. Achilles does teach Antilochus the art of warfare, and eventually the prince returns to his father’s service to lead his own battalion as captain.

Antilochus fights alongside Achilles on occasion, and he is there to witness the capture of Chryseis, a priestess of Apollo. This is a pivotal event that sparks the tiff between Achilles and Agamemnon, and ultimately leads to first the death of Patroclus, and then Achilles. If you know the Iliad, even the Marvel Comics version, then you know most of what happens.

The author does a rather good job, on the whole, of capturing the epic style of the Homeric tales. This is in spite of a huge number of typos and a few seeming anachronisms – would King Agamemnon really say “we’re in a pretty pickle”? However, the authentic sound of the prose was not entirely a good thing. I found that the formality of the style put a distance between the reader and the characters. I never quite connected to Antilochus in the way I would have liked.

Of course, a lot of this is because the author doesn’t really share much of what Antilochus is feeling. He’s very good at bringing alive the blood-lust and fog of battle with some rather eloquent prose, but when it comes to love – what the book is supposed to be about – Antilochus gets very terse and even downright vague. You would expect someone so besotted with a man that when he and Achilles do couple, even if it’s not as lovers, you would think he would go on and on about it. But Antilochus gives us little more than a sentence or two. He has flings with others on occasion, but says no more about them and sometimes simply infers that he’s slept with a man without really coming out and saying it.

As for Achilles, he never really becomes a fully fleshed character. He remains more the mythical abstract object of Antilochus’ obsession rather than a real person, or demi-god. While Achilles is the key character in the story, he doesn’t actually appear in person that much. We spend more time getting to know Odysseus and King Agamemnon. In many ways, this book is more about the folly of war and the greed of men than about love, but then I don’t suppose many people would want to read a book titled “Agamemnon: A Drunken Sod.”

Given the degree to which any discussion of love was avoided, in the end I’m not sure what the “Love Story” of the title is alluding to, even after reading the author’s afterword. Is it Antilochus’ unrequited obsession for Achilles? That never seemed real to me, and hardly qualifies as a love story. No, I have a hard time seeing this book as a love story, or a romance of any kind. It’s a capable, though unexceptionable, piece of classical literature with a slight homoerotic bent, which is why I’ve given it three stars.

[Author does not appear to have a web site]

This book may be purchased in hardcopy or ebook form from Amazon (self-published)

Review: The Praise Singer by Mary Renault

Born into a stern farming family on the island of Keos, Simonides escapes his harsh childhood through a lucky apprenticeship with a renowned Ionian singer. Travelling through fifth century BC Greece, Simonides learn not only how to play the kithara and compose poetry, but also how to navigate the political intrigue surrounding his rich patrons. He is witness to the Persian invasion of Ionia, to the decadent reign of the Samian pirate king Polykrates, and to the flourish and fall of the Pisistratids in the Athenian court. Along the way he encounters artists, statesmen, athletes, thinkers, and lovers, including the likes of Pythagoras and Aischylos. Using the singer’s unique perspective, Renault combines her vibrant imagination and her formidable grasp of history to establish a sweeping, resilient vision of a golden century.

Review by Jean Cox ( apologies that there’s no podcast yet, the pronounciation is hard!)

If you come to this book thinking it’s another “Persian Boy”, then you’ll be disappointed. This is primarily Simonides’s story, he’s heterosexual and his sexual encounters are given their due. There are homosexual elements, though—integral because of the nature of Greek society at the time and also key to the plot. The cover blurb of my copy states, “Hipparchos’s folly precipitates his murder by Harmodios and Aristogeiton…” and that simple phrase hides a wealth of intrigue and unrequited sexual longings.

You won’t be disappointed by Miss Renault’s writing, however; it constantly amazes me how she can say so much by saying so little—I reread “The Charioteer” every few months and always find fresh nuances.

So too here:

Dark-haired Aristogeiton stroked the horse’s neck; they smiled; spoke a few words, as it seemed about the race; Harmodios gave the groom his orders and handed over the bridle.

I can see that scene clearly as if it were being played out on screen, despite what appears to be a paucity of description. Many writers would have taken a page to depict the same occurrence, and not as elegantly. Less is more, sometimes. Simonides himself might have concurred; one of the running threads of the book is the nature of composition and the most economical use of words in describing something, the learning of old works to recite and the composing of new ones.

There’s also what feels like a “soap opera” thread running through—passion, arguments, tittle-tattle, everyday things mingled among the feasts and festivals. Simonides and his protégé aren’t averse to gossiping like old women, although they’re too wise to do it in public

“But you don’t tell me the (Hipparchos) pays his court on the wrestling-ground?”

“Well, almost. He stands staring.”

If you want explicit sexual scenes, this is not the book for you. Nor is it right if you’re looking for flowery praise or overblown explanations about life “back then”. It does work if you want an intelligent and elegant story in an entirely believable world, the political intrigue, domestic dramas and petty jealousies as fresh and relevant now as they would have been in ancient Greece. This ceases to feel like ‘history’; it’s just life, in all it’s abundance. If you know people who don’t “do” historicals, they could start reading at a much worse place than with Renault.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Champion of Olympia by Margaret Leigh

Ariston is an athlete who dreams of fame and fortune and the chance to open his own Palaestra someday. Iason is an aliptes (masseuse) who dreams of winning the heart of Ariston. Can they overcome the competition of rival athletes and the caprice of fickle gods and attain their hearts’ desires?

This is a lovely short story set in Ancient Greece, between a champion athlete and the man who helps keep him in top physical condition.  Iason is a likeable, if possibly a little typical, protagonist, who thinks himself so unworthy of the object of his desire that he enlists Zeus’s help to win him over – and then is terrified that he may have gone too far and brought disaster on them both.  Ariston is a sunny, confident young man, sure of himself, his athletic prowess, and winning nature.  The romance between the two is sweet and charming, not hampered by any great obstacle other than the fact that neither has dared talk to the other about it yet.

This is not a story which is going to wring you out with angst or keep your heart in your mouth and your nails chewed to the stumps.  It’s a charming, unhurried tale of falling in love, enlivened and made interestingly exotic by its historical location.  The writer conjured up a sense of Ancient Greece – sun, sand, naked young athletes – that I thoroughly enjoyed, and even – in the Temple of Zeus – touched upon some of the fear which the ancient gods inspired.  I think my major criticism is that it ended too soon, and a little abruptly, with the question of Ariston’s health unanswered.  Did Zeus extract a terrible price from the couple after all?  I wish I knew!

A definite feel-good read.  I would recommend it.

Sadly out of print at the moment

Review: Sandals and Sodomy (anthology)

Review by Erastes

I don’t often comment on a book’s layout but this one deserves it. It’s beautifully done – a tasteful cover to complement the mention of Sodomy and a restrained, classical theme inside. Books aren’t often this pretty. Well done, Dreamspinner Press.

Greeks Bearing Gifts by D.G. Parker

Young Antenor of fallen Troy faces violation and death, only to be rescued and enslaved by a gruff, older Greek, a hard-bitten soldier in the king’s good graces. What Antenor does not expect is Calchas’s good heart that sees him through shipwreck, marooning, and rescue.

I was expecting another sex-slave-who-comes-to-love-his-master story and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t go exactly the way I envisaged. It turns into a decent adventure which I found very readable. The period details are few, but not so very vague as to be completely unfocussed in time. If I have a quibble it’s the fact that Calchas admits to have been an erastes “many times” and yet he has been at the Trojan siege for at least ten years. He’s described as “older” but I’m not convinced that he could have entered into an erastes/eromenos arrangement “many times,” as it often lasted for more than ten years itself.

It’s a great little story, sweet and surprising in turns.

Troy Cycle by Dar Mavison

When the gods abandoned men during the battle of Troy, the greatest of those men – Hector, Odysseus, Paris, Achilles – schemed to end the war. Amongst themselves they waged war both vicious and tender in a desperate attempt to achieve peace, a peace that for some would only be found in death, leaving others to discover it in new life. But no one would ever be forgotten by the other three.

This is an AU story, Trojan fanfic if you will, a scenario where Paris, instead of being rescued by Aphrodite during his duel with Menaleus is captured by Odysseus and delivered to Achilles

It’s an interesting take on the relationships, however, for all the warping of the story, Paris’ relationships with his father and brother are examined – and Achilles’ thoughts on the other people in the saga make sense. There’s explicit incest too between Hector and Paris, for those who find that unpleasant. I thoroughly enjoyed that part. However it’s a little difficult to see Hector (in the light of what that civilisation thought about the “female or passive role” in homosexual sex, that the receiver was weaker and of a lower status than the giver) bottoming for Odysseus.

All in all it’s well written, the dialogue is formal and fraught with politics and machinations. I particularly liked canonical Achilles who treats Agamemnon with disdain. However, I felt a bit lost at times – it’s clear that the author knows the saga inside out and I was floundering around trying catch the nuances of the dialogue: why so and so did this, why so and so said that, which is always a danger with fanfic and the reader isn’t as expert with the canon. It’s an interesting take on the Paris-Achilles-Hector triangle but for that’s its very well written I would have preferred an original piece. I couldn’t get past the “Yeah, but this changes the saga” part (although the last line really made me laugh out laugh. Genius).

Undefeated Love by John Simpson

The men of the Sacred Band of Thebes are remembered for their valor, their honor, their devotion to duty, and their great love for their partners. Alexandros and Agapitos found a place amongst them, but little did they know their love and sacrifice would face the test of war – and survive to shine eternally.

I was initially thrown by this one, as it seemed a little “Thebes High 90210” with the two Jocks in the gymnasium who everyone loves and one of them saying that he had to brush his hair for ages until it was just right. Clueless in Thebes, I wondered? Then there’s a long and graphic sex-in-public scene and I sort of forgot about all that. However then the characters started to speak and I was jolted away again. There’s a difficult fine line to tread when one writes dialogue with characters from a time and/or a place where we wouldn’t understand them, and I’m afraid I found this over-affectionate and high-fallutin’ style of dialogue a little risible.

“That was incredible, Agapitos. My thanks for taking my seed into your mouth and making it part of your body.”

“Go on then. Deposit your seed deep within my bowels.”

The over-formal language put me off, and really, nothing actually happens other than the battle at Chaeronea and towards the end it slips in omniescent narration-style, pulling the reader out of the action completely. It’s more of a docu-drama sadly and failed to grip me.

Hadrian by Remmy Duchene

Roman Emperor Hadrian is all-powerful … and alone. But when Antinous trespasses into Hadrian’s bath, the ruler’s eyes are opened to a whole new world of love.

This starts well, with a believable introduction of Antinous to Hadrian – Hadrian insists on bathing alone, and that’s canonical from what we know of him, as he was a bit of a recluse and liked his solitude. However it slips when the sex scene begins as it all becomes a little 21st century with phrases like “Hadrian lost it” and “getting drilled”. And that’s all there is, really – just a short PWP introducing the characters to each other – I would have liked some plot, I have to say.

The POV is off-putting, I’m afraid with POV switches vacillating wildly between the two. And Hadrian allows Antinous to top him – which is a little unbelievable in the customs of the day. (It should be said that it was rumoured that Julius Caesar allowed this when he was a young man, and the rumour blackened his name all his life)

Short and a little disappointing.

After the Games by Connie Bailey

When the Emperor sends a beautiful concubine, Valerius, to the slave pens to slake the hunger of his fiercest beast, the fighter Alaric, he doesn’t anticipate that Alaric just isn’t interested. But to keep Valerius from being punished, the fighter keeps him close for one night, a night that turns from talkative to passionate.

Much more absorbing is After the Games. A successful gladiator is offered sexual tribute from his Emperor and tries to refuse it, and ends up sheltering a male concubine to (seemingly) save him being gang raped by other gladiators. It’s clear Ms Bailey has done her research and I learned things I didn’t know. This is a nice little story, as the concubine tops from the bottom as it were, seducing the barbarian gladiator in a Scheredzarde kind of way. It’s all very sensual and arousing, spoiled only now and then with silly euphemisms such as Alaric prodded the young man’s nether port with the head of his arousal. (shudder)

However – I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and thought it the highlight of the anthology; it’s highly erotic, with a keen sense of the storyteller’s art and a surprise ending which makes me hope well for the characters’ futures.

The Vow by Ariel Tachna

Adrastos still mourns his dead partner and lover, and he has hardened his heart and spirit to any other. Knowing his duty to bond and train a soldier, he reviews a trio of Army recruits, but he insists he will not choose one. Eager to prove himself worthy to serve the Army and Aphrodite alike, Erasmos presents himself for the final test…and finds that he, the petitioner, is the savior rather than the saved.

This is another bonded pair of soldiers story, and starts off, quite arousingly, with a group sex session – which, according to the author is the way the bonded pairs were chosen, (although the reader shouldn’t take this as fact.) Sadly, the editing – which has been fine up to now, falls down a little in this story and there are a few silly typos here and there. However, it’s an attractive tale, as Erasmos slowly works to heal the pain that Adrastos feels for the loss of his previous bond-partner using music and the inevitable baths! I particularly liked how this story explored the erastes/eronemos relationship in more detail than is often seen – how the responsibilities of the mentor for the pupil are laid out, and we see just what is involved in moulding a new citizen, and the problems that might arise when the eronemos is old enough to become the erastes to another.

This is another decent read from Dreamspinner, who seem to be going from strength to strength.

Buy the book: Dreamspinner Press Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle

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