Kate Cotoner’s Book Swap

ebooks:
Fall of a State by Kate Cotoner
Lion of Kent by Kate Cotoner and Aleksandr Voinov
Enslaved by Kate Cotoner
Pasion’s Dream by Kate Cotoner
The Puppet Master by Kate Cotoner
The Silver Knight by Kate Cotoner
The Year Without Summer by Kate Cotoner
The Imperial Cat by Kate Cotoner

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What to if you want any of these books

REPLY to this post with suggestions of what you have–it doesn’t matter if you’ve already had a post on the community, you can also offer your books on the replies. The owner of the post will then choose what they want (probably will take a day or so) and then I’ll connect the two of you and you can arrange your swap or gift.

Review: The Puppet Master by Kate Cotoner

Istanbul, 1622. Considered hotbeds of sedition, the city’s coffee houses are in constant danger of being shut down by imperial command. Haluk, who runs a cafe in an old caravanserai, is more concerned with brewing the perfect cup of coffee than inciting rebellion. While storms in coffee cups rage around him, Haluk tends his clientele and waits for the right moment to tell his friend and lodger Aydin how he really feels about him.
Aydin has been entertaining the people of the Old City for three years, but still he doesn’t fit in. He hides his courtly manners and graceful charms behind the boisterous satire of the shadow puppet plays that have made him popular.  He’s not what he seems. Now he fears his past is catching up with him, bringing danger to Haluk, the man he loves

Review by Erastes

I was a little confused over the rating of this book; Torquere has it in their “Spice It Up” line, which I assumed was an imprint handling the more spicy and erotic books in their already spicy and erotic stable, but this book has absolutely no sex in it, so don’t buy it thinking you are going to get a one-handed read. It seems however, that the line is all based around one particular spice and in this case it’s sumac.

Cotoner is a master of atmosphere, and in this book she doesn’t disappoint on that score. Even though the era, the history, the politics, the location were pretty much muddy waters for me, she writes so deftly and so immersively that it doesn’t matter. The book opens with a man working in his coffee house, and stopping a fight between two janissaries. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what a janissary  is, because it’s made clear in context, and there aren’t that many writers in the genre who can do that well with no info dumping at all.

The book is told mainly from Haluk’s point of view–the coffee shop owner–with forays into Aydin’s–and I particularly like how Cotoner doesn’t make the mistake of many books of this length, to dwell entirely on the charms of the love-interest, Aydin, and why Haluk loves him. No, in fact she whets my appetite with the way that coffee shops are considered to be hotbeds of sedition, and that coffee is thought to inflame the senses–and this simple drink is causing political unrest. True facts of course, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from this very thorough researcher.

The wonderful detail grounds you entirely in time and place. I really felt as if I had been dropped into a time that I didn’t know exactly when it was, but I was standing there watching the customers, and seeing the bright colours, the copper trays, the smell of the coffee and the spices of the suk. The setting is play-like, as it mostly takes place in one or two rooms in the same location but this works well, and for the shortness of the story, helps the totally immersive feel.

The plot revolves around one simple point, but it’s well done, and had me wondering who Aydin really was. (In fact, I’ve taken the fact out of the blurb which spoils the little spot of suspense in the book)

The only problem I had was that I would have liked a little more of it, but that’s my problem, not a problem with the structure of the book.  I have no recourse but to give this short novel a well-deserved five stars.

Author’s Website

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Lion of Kent by Aleksandr Voinov and Kate Cotoner

Squire William Raven has only one goal—to finally receive his spurs and become a knight. When his lord, Sir Robert de Cantilou, returns from a five-year crusade in the Holy Land, William wants nothing more than to impress him.

After Sir Robert’s return, noble guests arrive from France, bringing intrigue to the castle. William is oblivious to the politics, as he’s distracted by nightly visits from a faceless lover—a man who pleasures him in the dark and then leaves—a man he soon discovers is none other than his master, Sir Robert.

But William can’t ignore the scheming around him when he overhears a plot to murder Robert. He becomes intent on saving his lord and lover from those who would see him killed…

Review by Sally Davis

Mailed fists, velvet gloves, illicit passion plus the tension of a planned assassination attempt – Lion of Kent is a romping read and the authors have packed a lot into about a hundred pages.

First of all the cover made a very good impression on me. Lovely font, attractive design, two models suitably kitted out as hard man knight and pouty youth. Possibly, in retrospect, the youth is a little too pouty for William and the armour is way too late for 1176 but I can forgive Carina for that. From a design point of view, plate armour is much more interesting to light than mail. It’s a GOOD cover, so ignore the quibble.

The whole story is written from the point of view of William Raven. He comes across as a little out of place. He is older than the other squires, illegitimate, totally dependent upon the goodwill of his overlord for advancement. Consequently he has a huge chip on his shoulder and is willing to defend his honour against any perceived slight. He even challenges Sir Robert, verbally, when they meet. This is a young man desperate to prove himself, yearning for action and not overfond of thinking things through. I liked the character very much and loved the means the authors used to get this tension in him across:

The thought of fighting alongside his lord made William curl his hands as if to grip a weapon.

He’s ready to fight at the drop of a hat – or a gauntlet – but also has the nous to rein in his aggression when absolutely necessary.

Sir Robert, his master and eventual lover, is self-contained, self-controlled and civilised. I liked his ease with the French contingent and his forbearance under the verbal lash of his obnoxious churchman brother, Stephen. He also shows a lot of patience with hot-headed William. If there’s a war, I would like Sir Robert on my side, please.

Their relationship builds slowly leaving plenty of time to explore the other plot – the assassination of Robert – and didn’t ignore the illegality of what they were doing. The authors trod a fine line, using Roberty’s privileged position and the way of life at the time to allow the protagonists steamy encounters. For instance their first encounter takes place in the great hall at night. All the squires, men at arms, servants etc are bedded down together. The shutters are closed, the fire has died, the candles are out, the darkness is complete so nobody can see, and the sounds William and his visitor make are masked by those of other lovers nearby. This lack of privacy, appalling to our minds, becomes an aid to fulfillment in the hands of Kate and Aleksandr.

Great stuff.

Aleksandr Voinov’s website
Kate Cotoner’s website

Buy at Carina

Review: Fall of a State by Kate Cotoner

The desire of an emperor… Bored with his usual palace musicians, the emperor Liu Che is tempted by a new song from lowly qin-player Li Yan Nian. Yan Nian is also beautiful, and Liu Che is in the mood to take a new lover. His lovers usually come to him, but Yan Nian’s shy reticence intrigues the emperor.

The yearning of a man… Yan Nian has been in love with the emperor since he entered the palace. Regardless of his heart, he made a promise on his father’s deathbed to use his musical skills to bring his beloved younger sister to the emperor’s attention. However, Lady Li has no intention of becoming an imperial concubine.

The danger of love… An attack at a victory celebration heralds an attempt on the emperor’s life, and desire and yearning collide when it’s revealed there may be no way to protect all the hearts threatened by a plot to overthrow the state.

Review by Erastes

The author herself calls this book a “fluffy version” of the true-life affair between Lui Che, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty of China and Li Yan Nian a court musician in the Emperor’s court. But I wouldn’t call it fluffy, as such. Perhaps it is a little rose-tinted, but there’s no way this could be labelled as “wallpaper” because of the solidity of the world painted around the characters and the obvious depth of knowledge that the author has. If you dig a little deeper into the “what happened to these characters in real life” then the happy ever after loses some of its gloss it has to be said.

It’s a shame, really, that this is almost a throwaway novella with a sharply erotic focus because Lui Che was a hugely fascinating man–and the way he shaped the Empire around him would be more than enough material for many, many books — and has been.

But what this book does–as an erotic novella–it does exquisitely well, and exquisite is a good word here, because the careful elegance of Chinese courtly life is described so beautifully that you can see every graceful movement of the courtiers, hear the swish of silk and brocaded satin as it sweeps along nightingale floors, and even smell the weight of history.

I don’t doubt the a man as powerful as Lui Che was could have had any man or woman in the kingdom, so his manner of “seduction” strikes true (that being said, it stretched my credulity a tad that he’d bother to go to Nian’s room in the musical quarter to have sex with him) and the interplay between them, particularly in the first sex scene is as taut as a guitar string and quite lovely. There’s some whipping, and even though it’s not my thing, I admit it’s gorgeously done, and you really get a sense that–as with the time period–Cotoner knows exactly what she’s doing and how to describe this play.

It’s a hard balance to do quite such an erotic novella of this length and still include enough plot and characterisation to keep you enthralled from beginning to end, but this manages it very well. Highly enjoyable. I hope that the author does a more detailed book in future of this era because I’d love to know more about it.

The cover deserves a special mention and is certainly one of my favourites this year. It really looks like it could have been done in the era concerned.

Interested in China and same sex relationships? Then read Kate’s article on The Macaronis.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

The Gosechi Dances

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Review: Enslaved by Kate Cotoner

Injured crusader Falk du Plessis survives the Battle of Hattin only to be sold at the slave market in Acre. He’s bought by Sinan, a mysterious Saracen who takes care to hide his true identity. Falk has the feeling they’ve met before. Their attraction is instant and mutual and their destinies are inextricably entwined, but duty and loyalty to their respective masters threaten to drive them apart.

Review by Vashtan

This review has a bit of a backstory. First of all, to get the legal issues out of the way, I was planning to buy this and asked one of my writer friends who is associated with Torquere to buy me one, since Torquere doesn’t accept PayPal. Instead of charging me, he gave it to me as a gift.

Here’s the backstory. A few month ago, Torquere Press put out a call for submissions for a historical anthology titled “Chain Male”, which then, sadly, didn’t happen, with Torquere citing that they didn’t get enough quality stories to do this. Be that as it may, Kate Cotoner’s story “Enslaved” is what is left of the anthology project, and was published in Torquere’s “Sip” line of stand-alone short stories.

Looking at the generic cover and reading nothing but the blurb, I admit a little trepidation. Would this be one of those famous “slave fics” that have a large and loyal following? Would this feature BDSM, humiliation and power games and a crusader reduced to a whimpering sex slave? The crusades are probably my favourite subject in the vastness of the Middle Ages, and I admit to feeling even more protective of them than of the rest of history.

So I braced myself a lot before opening the file.

And relaxed. Relaxed some more. Slowly, a smile started to spread, and in the end, I was so pleasantly surprised that I read the story two more times. For the review, I’ve read it twice more. I’m happy to report this is not your typical slave story. I’m even more happy to report it has actual research (!) in it.

But first things first. Falk du Plessis, the squire of his brother, a Templar Knight, survives the battle of Hattin, the medieval equivalent of Gallipolli, in short, a disastrous, all-out battle that decimated the already thin-stretched military resources of the crusader kingdoms to breaking point. At the time when it happened, our historical witnesses tell us that they didn’t think the knightly orders would recover from the loss of men and materiel. It was a turning point in the rich history of the Crusades, an iconic battle with a bloody aftermath, when the prisoners were put to the sword rather than ransomed, and the rest sold on the slave market.

Falk is lucky, he gets sold as a slave. But instead of the all too typical “woe is me” scene in the slave market, we get a Falk who’s actually optimistic. He’s a strong character, calm, and just damn glad he lived. I really enjoyed that inner strength that is so far removed from all the melodrama a lesser writer would have put in there to make an impact in such a short story (16 pages, a total of 6-7thousand words). But Kate Cotoner is not a lesser writer, in fact she’s a pretty damn good writer who has clearly made an effort to make this real, human, authentic and true.

I’m quoting you the first page here:

The second day of the slave auction drew only passing interest from the crowd. Falk stretched his tall frame, thankful to be free of the cramped quarters in which he and his comrades had been imprisoned. Herded into the adjacent market, linked together like cattle, they were shoved into line on a raised wooden platform.

Falk had watched yesterday’s auction through the barred window of the cell and knew what came next. The young and good-looking men would be sold later in the day when more traders and buyers were abroad. The morning was reserved for the older, injured, or less comely slaves who’d fetch a lower price. Falk thought of himself as neither handsome nor plain, and knew his inclusion in the morning’s dregs was due to the injury he’d received on the battlefield.

A glancing blow across his ribs had produced a gash that looked worse than it felt, and the barbed arrow he’d taken in his leg had created a bleeding mess when he’d pulled it out. Though the wound hadn’t suppurated, it was slow to heal and he’d started to favor his left leg, limping

whenever he walked.

He flexed his feet to restore the circulation, pulling against the rope that tied him by the ankles to the men on either side of him. The man to his right, a surly fellow from Swabia, turned and cursed in rough Norman French. “Stop it! We don’t want to attract attention.”

Falk gazed at the scattering of onlookers who’d gathered in the market and saw a few of them staring back at him. “Attracting attention is the only way we’ll get sold.”

“I don’t want to be sold. It’s shameful and it’s un-Christian!”

“I would rather preserve my life than concern myself with shame or Christian duty.” Falk glanced at the Swabian and lowered his voice. “If even half of what they say is true, the Templars and Hospitallers are all dead, and perhaps the King with them. The True Cross has been stolen and Saladin is advancing on Jerusalem. If we don’t get sold, we won’t survive long enough to regain our freedom. The slave traders are killing unnecessary, unsold stock. Do you understand? Getting sold will save us.”

“Being sold to a Saracen will damn us,” the Swabian grumbled.

“At least Saladin’s army has moved on. It’s likely we’ll be bought by merchants who may be sympathetic to our cause. Acre is one of the biggest trading centers in Outremer no matter who rules here — there’ll always be a need for dockhands and laborers.”

The Swabian shot him a suspicious look. “You sound cheerful.”

Falk smiled. “No point in being pessimistic. We’re still alive.”

“I’d rather be dead than a slave to an Infidel!”

Falk abandoned his reply when the slave trader came forward and hauled the Swabian to the front of the platform, forcing Falk and the others to shuffle after him. During the subsequent bidding on the Swabian, Falk studied the gathering crowd. The women barely spared a glance in their direction and instead examined goods for sale at the stalls set up around the edge of the marketplace. Men stood back and assessed the line of slaves, comparing notes with their neighbors and occasionally calling out a question to the trader.

You see? Just a day on the slave market. No high drama, and that really stood out for me. It’s a more quiet, more real story than you usually get, with a character who’s gay, has some experience, and even that rang true—little drama about forbidden homosexuality here, mostly because Falk is usually careful (he has reason to) and because he is not of high enough status to make this political for him. When he gets bought by a Syrian, Sinan, their relationship is not typical of a “slave fic”, either.

It’s a sweet, gentle romance between two men who share more than divides them, and it’s also not soppy at all. Cotoner trusts her characters to let them tell the story, and the actual love/sex scene is delightfully free from men shouting each others’ names in the throes of climax, or confessing undying love five minutes after meeting.

I have to have one little niggle – there’s this:

Falk frowned. Saracens bathed often and scented themselves with exotic fragrance, which made the Franks consider their enemy effete. Crusaders went for months on end without immersing themselves in water, and though they stank and their clothes crawled with lice, at least they were godly men and not perfumed like whores. Besides, everyone knew bathing was unhealthy.

Bathing culture in the middle ages (the battle of Hattin places this story firmly into the late 1180ies) was actually doing alright. The “unhealthy” reputation of bathing came when the Plague and likely syphilis spread via the beloved and often-used bathing houses. We still have a few Roman baths, sometimes surviving as parts of monasteries, but in general, our European ancestors did like being clean. It’s in the 14th century and later that that goes slowly down the drain. Not bathing, however, was part of the ascetic ideal, so very holy people wouldn’t bathe to mortify the flesh (yeah, I’d be mortified, too), but those are extreme cases.

So, a short, sweet read that went completely against my expectations, well-told, with an ending that promises more between the two characters. In fact, these two should be a match made in heaven, and I’d really like to read more about their adventures during the decline of the crusader states, or wherever Cotoner takes them.

Author’s Website

Torquere Press

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