Review: Beloved Pilgrim by Nan Hawthorne

Not content with a life as a passive and powerless noblewoman, a young Bavarian woman dons her late twin brother’s armor and weapons and sets out to join the disastrous Crusade of 1101. She is able to pass as a young man because, as she observes to her squire, who was also her brother’s lover, “People see what they expect to see.” She learns two things on her journey, that honor is not always where you expect to find it and that true love can come in the form of another woman
Review by Yakalskovich
A book about lesbian crusaders — that sounds either like some bizarre sexploitation premise, or a massive dose of historically incorrect strangeness. Still, once I started reading this book, I found that Nan Hawthorne made it work quite brilliantly.
Elisabeth von Winterkirche is a young noblewoman living in Bavaria around the year 1100. Owing to a series of rather tragic circumstances, she runs away from home in her dead twin brother’s armour, with her brother’s former lover as her squire. Only the squire, Albrecht, know her secret. Wanting to fulfill her brother’s vow and to find their father who had joined the First Crusade, she joins a number of latecomers to the crusade assembling fist at the Melk monastery, then in Bologna in northern Italy.
Albrecht and Elisabeth — who goes by her brother’s name, Elias — join up with a number of other crusaders and pilgrims whom they will stick will, or meet again, during their entire journey. This journey turns into a journey of self-discovery for Elisabeth, from her first infatuation through the discovery of sexual pleasure to true love. Other than her lovers, she keeps her secret from everybody, taking to the knightly life like a fish to water. After a brief if lovely respite in Constantinople, the crusaders depart for the Anatolian highlands, to fight free a direct overland route to the Holy Land through the Turk occupied territories…
This book is filled with historical detail and characters that we really learn to care about. There are three problems, however, that keep me from giving it the full five stars. For one thing, Hawthorne gets many of the German names wrong; she should have asked a native speaker whether these work as place names or surnames. Unfortunately, many don’t, which made me laugh in places where I shouldn’t have.
Then, there is a very slight undercurrent of OK HOMO in the development of the main characters. They keep happening on people who keep telling them that love is love and a good gift from God, no matter what the circumstances, which would have been deeply heretic at the time, to put it mildly. Acceptance and self-acceptance comes a tad too easy to the protagonists. And lastly, there is a problem with the POV. We normally stick strictly with Elisabeth, apart from a few surprise moments when we do not. These moments increase in frequency and length after the crusaders leave for Anatolia; during the campaign and battles, we often see events from a vague third person omniscient POV in which we observe the commanders talking, whole armies moving, and strategies explained with nary a sight of Elisabeth for several pages. Also, a map would be really helpful at times.
Still, despite these little weaknesses, it is a lovely book that I enjoyed very much which makes me look forward to a potential sequel. Plot lines have been left dangling that the reader still cares about — what happened with Elisabeth’s father? Will any of them ever actually reach Jerusalem? Will they return to Bavaria and oust the usurper from the castle? This calls for a second book; and the author’s web side reassures us that it is in the works.-
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Review: Loving my Lady by Penelope Friday(f/f)

When her father dies, Cordelia Brownlow’s future looks bleak. She has no money and must sell Ashworth, the family house, in order to pay the debts of honor that her father ran up. The offer her cousin, Lady Dennyson, makes to buy Ashworth and keep Cordelia on as a companion seems like the answer to her prayers. But Lady Juliet Dennyson has an unusual idea of the duties (and pleasures) of a ‘companion’, and Cordelia finds herself falling in love with the lady who shows her delights of the body she’s never imagined.

Lady Juliet has secrets in her past and they threaten to spill over into the present, destroying her relationship with Cordelia. Can Lady Juliet learn to live with her past – and can Cordelia accept it, too?

Review by Kalita Kasar

Set in Regency England, the story reads like the journal of a genteel lady fallen upon hard times after the death of her father. Forced to sell the ancestral home, Ashworth, to cover debts left by her deceased parent, Cordelia looks set to be cast upon the streets. Then fate intervenes in the form of a widowed relative who wishes to buy the house, with one stipulation. Cordelia must come with the house and remain as the new owner’s companion.

Expecting to greet an elderly dowager, Cordelia is taken by surprise, and utterly smitten by the arrival of a young and quite beautiful cousin by marriage, Lady Juliet Dennyson.

Juliet is beautiful, and as a rich widow, highly sought after on the marriage market, but her heart in relation to men is quite cold. The one love of her life having been her late husband, she now toys with the affections of men, and teaches Cordelia to do likewise. At the same time she schools her companion in the ways of love between women.

I found myself simultaneously spellbound by the writing and disappointed at how many elements the author brushed over without fully developing them. I felt that there was enough content here to fill out a novel had the scenes been expanded upon and it left me wanting something that was never quite delivered. The tone and voice of the writing is appropriate to its setting given that the narrative is first person.

This is the debut GLBT novella of a newcomer to the gay-historical scene and if this is an example of what Ms Friday can do, then I sincerely hope that she will stay around and write many more stories.

ebook: 48 pages / 19000 words
Available file types – html. lit, pdf, prc
Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

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