Review: Drawing the Veil by Stevie Woods

The exciting prequel to Beyond the Veil!

Read how Malik became the pirate captain who fell for Robert, and how he was forced into a life of pain, fear and violence following his capture by the Corsairs.

Review by Erastes

This is a prequel and sequel to “Beyond the Veil” which was reviewed earlier on the Blog.

Like the first book, it’s a fast paced adventure story, with emphasis on the plot, and not the sex – which is how I like it, but because Malik’s story is not as tender and kind as Robert and David’s,  readers might find it a harder read. And not in a good way!

Malik doesn’t have an easy time of it; captured by pirates and instead of being forced to crew, he’s taken by the wicked captain™ as a sex slave.  This was something I’d read so often, I found myself rolling my eyes when I discovered what Malik’s fate was, but I suppose the whole rape fantasy does appeal to some people.  I didn’t find the captain anything other than entirely two dimensional almost one-d if that’s possible, he’s a monster pure and simple–and while that’s quite believable (because the POV we see him from is Malik’s)–I wouldn’t have minded have seeing something of the man as well as the monster.

This first section of the book is pretty unrelenting–there’s nothing nice or titillating about Malik’s predicament (and that’s entirely as it should be imho) but when Malik sinks into remembrances of his relationship with his beloved Robert, I would have liked a lot more tender eroticism to balance the dark of Malik’s current torment.

However, it’s a brave stance, and I see why Woods did it this way; Malik’s past, and the softer traits of his personality, are gradually razed, and he becomes a harder, darker man in himself, he stops being the kind of crew member who tries to save the victims of the pirate’s predation, and becomes one of the pirates.  I applauded this, because some writers would have made Malik a 21st century man, baulking at the horrible things he had to do.  You never get the feeling that Malik revels in his activities, but he certainly realises that it’s his life, and he needs to make the most of it. Not only that, but he feels he can’t accept any male contact again.

The friendships that Malik eventually makes were rather rushed–and this is probably due to the length of the book – it’s 80 pages or so (whereas Beyond the Veil was full sized at 220 pages)–and Drawing the Veil would not have been at all damaged from extension. Once Malik is discarded by the Evil Captain™ and joins the crew proper I found myself wondering why he (and another of the crew who complains that he is nothing more than a prisoner) don’t or can’t escape.  The ship makes landfall pretty often, and no escapes are made, and no reason is made for this.

After Malik’s freedom from his sex slavedom,  the book takes a turn, and for me that’s where the characterisation disintegrates.  Malik goes through the fire of two years of rape, and becomes this hardened bitter man, but in no time at all he starts to lust after someone else, and we find he’s actually a sulking, weepy, whiny man and one that falls in love after just one fuck – which simply doesn’t gel at all with the man he’d grown to be, shutting himself off from emotion and male lusts.

I know nothing much of the Age of Sail, and perhaps I should have asked one of my AoS reviewers to review this, but as a layperson in the genre, it worked ok for me, and it’s clear that Woods has done a hell of a lot of research and if there are sea battle errors or ship description problems they certainly didn’t show if you aren’t an expert.  It’s the characterisation rather than the historical detailing that weaken this novella for me.  If you’ve read Beyond the Veil first and found that Malik was in fact in love with a woman, you’d be confused too because the canon simply doesnt’ mesh.

However, I do recommend this book, as it’s a roaring good read and stands on its own.

Author’s website

Buy at Phaze

Review: Slaves to Love: 1 and 2 by J P Bowie

Raised in the city of Capua, renowned for its gladiator training grounds—Lucius, a young patrician, is unprepared for the obsessive desire that almost overwhelms him when he first sees Callistus, a captive Gaul condemned to a life, and probable death, in the arena. Unsuccessful in his attempt to buy Callistus and save him from a premature death, Lucius instead follows his career, attending all of his bouts in the arena, including one with Spartacus, the rebel slave. Spartacus incites Callistus and his fellow gladiators to rebel and form an unbeatable army, almost bringing the Roman legions to their knees.

Although torn between his love for Callistus and loyalty to his friends and family, Lucius determines that before one, or both of them might die, he must find Callistus, confess his feelings, and spend at least one night in the arms of the man he loves.

When Damian, a young artist, is commissioned to sculpt the image of Demetrios, Rome’s current darling of the arena, he finds himself falling in love with the handsome gladiator. Despite his father’s vow to disown him, Damian follows his heart—and when he and Demetrios are caught in the conflagration that threatens to destroy Rome, their love for one another gives them the strength to survive the flames.

But their future together looks uncertain when Damian, rounded up along with Christians accused of setting the fire, is separated from Demetrios and forced into a fight to the death in the arena.

Review by Alex Beecroft

‘Slaves to Love’ is a beautifully written book consisting of two novellas. The linking factor which connects the two stories is the fact that in each story a youth of a Patrician Roman family falls in love with a gladiator.

In the first story, Lucius and Callistus, patrician Lucius, a rather limp youth, falls for a barbarian warrior, Callistus. Callistus is a barbarian chieftain, captured in the wars and forced to fight as a gladiator. He soon becomes involved with fellow gladiator Spartacus’s rebellion, and clearly leads a much more exciting life than Lucius, who is a (lackadaisical) teacher. The big drawback of this story, to me, is that all the exciting things are happening off camera, as it were. We are riding along in Lucius’ point of view, while he worries about his big brave man away at the war, but we don’t get to see any of the action.

In point of fact, Callistus treats Lucius exactly as a traditional hero treats his lady; he keeps the youth away from any danger, sends him home and refuses to allow him to participate in Callistus’ dangerous life at all. I believe this is meant to be romantic of him, but it’s exactly the sort of example of one person refusing to allow another person to live their own life and make their own decision that the rather heavy handed anti-slavery message of the story denounces. The lovers are so star crossed and so hobbled by Callistus’ refusal to treat Lucius as a man – and Lucius’ spineless acceptance of this ‘chivalry’ – that *spoiler warning* if one of the things you demand in a romance is a happy ending, you’re not going to like this at all. *End spoiler*

J.P Bowie writes with such authority about the period that I hesitate to wonder if any Roman youth, particularly of a patrician family, could be as passive as Lucius. But still I can’t help but find it odd. Taking orders from a barbarian slave? It really didn’t work for me at all.

I was also not at all happy by the fact that all the women in this story were bitches. In a climate where m/m is often attacked as misogynistic, I would find it hard to defend this story.

Which was unfortunate, because as I say the research seems impeccable, and the author has the most beautiful, powerful writing style. I desperately wanted to like the story, but I couldn’t.

Fortunately, there is a second story. The story of Damian and Demetrios is much more to my taste. We do start off with a similar setup – Damian is a high class boy starting out as a sculptor, and Demetrios is a gladiator. But almost everything I didn’t like in the first story is overturned in this. Damian reacts to being thwarted by growing a backbone, becoming active in the story and beginning to shape his own destiny. Demetrios tries the high handed ‘I’m letting you go for your own sake’ tactic, but eventually gives in to Damian’s persistence. They go into peril and adventure together, and when one goes into exile the other goes with him. It almost seems a reward for their persistence that this story does have a happy ending.

Oh, and Damian’s sister, Portia, turns out not to be a bitch after all, so even there I have nothing at all to complain about.

I sincerely hope that the second story was written after the first and represents the author growing into a m/m sensibility where nobody has to be the damsel in distress. If that’s the case, the combination of gorgeous writing, wonderful world-building, and likeable characters makes this one a winner and a definite sign of a rising star to come.

Author’s website

Lucius & Castillus  Manloveromance

Damian and Demetrios  Manloveromance

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