Manhood is about more than who’s on top.
Wulfstan, a noble and fearsome Saxon warrior, has spent most of his life hiding the fact that he would love to be cherished by someone stronger than himself. Not some slight, beautiful nobody of a harper who pushes him up against a wall and kisses him.
In the aftermath, Wulfstan isn’t sure what he regrets most—that he only punched the churl in the face, or that he really wanted to give in.
Leofgar is determined to prove he’s as much of a man as any Saxon. But now he’s got a bigger problem than a bloody nose. The lord who’s given him shelter from the killing cold is eyeing him like a wolf eyes a wounded hare.
When Wulfstan accidentally kills a friend who is about to blurt his secret, he flees in panic and meets Leofgar, who is on the run from his lord’s lust. Together, pursued by a mother’s curse, they battle guilt, outlaws, and the powers of the underworld, armed only with music…and love that must overcome murderous shame to survive.
Warning: Contains accurate depictions of Vikings, Dark Ages magic, kickass musicians, trope subversions and men who don’t know their place.
I have read LenaLena's review of this book months ago when she reviewed it at Wave's site and while I usually love Alex Beecroft's books, her review was the reason why I was hesitant to pick it up. I caved in eventually as you can see :-)
Let's get something very important out of the way - I thought the writing was as beautiful as ever , I absolutely was transformed to another time and I did not feel that I was reading about the people with contemporary mentalities dressed up in the historical costumes, no these characters truly felt like people from different times. Of course there were things I could relate to them as one human being to another, but they did not think as my contemporaries. So the book definitely did for me what I want historical to do. I am not very knowledgeable about Saxons, and I have no desire to do even a brief fact checking, but since usually this author is very good with her research, I am going to take her on faith. Historical settings are definitely written with the air of authority.
I also thought both guys' struggle to accept who they were inside and how it matched who they were outside was very well done. I really liked their love story. I still was not sure if in modern terms Wulfar was a transgender, or just wanted to be a submissive in bed, but who cares, I had a great deal of sympathy for him and Leondar.
Now do I agree with LenaLena's criticism? Oh yes, I do and so much more - Christianity saves the day YAY, except to me it did not come out of the left field at all, I thought the writer foreshadowed it very well. And to be honest, I would not have even minded Christianity saves the day thing, after all if the characters think so much about religion, one of them hear Saints, we hear references to Christ several times, it is clear to me that religion is a very important and real thing in their everyday lives. I would have been fine with it, really.
No, what pissed me off the most is encompassed in this quote very well:
"A mother. Saewyn is her name. I am sad to be her enemy, because I have always admired her. She has raised the land spirits against me - as she has every right to do so - and I am dogged by darkness at every step."
Leofgar's look now was that of a sober and deep-minded man, experienced in such things. "I cannot remove curses", he said again. "But I can tell you this; that the land spirits have no strength that is not loaned to them by Almighty God, and I do not think there exists any curse in the nine words that is stronger than the word of Heavenly Kingdom's maker"
In other words, Christianity is awesome, witchcraft, paganism is a terrible thing to behold the impression I got from this quote and not just from this quote, from this whole story.
Basically what I am trying to say, paganism was something many people did before Christianity so kindly decided to erase it from existence. I am not a student of it (or of neo paganism or anything like that), but it saddens me to see such a put down of something which was also there and many people observed it. Let your characters be religious by all means (I know she is a devoted Christian), but maybe a touch more respect for something different than what you believe in will be nice.
I cannot in good faith give this book less than four star though, because this is something I did not like - not something that did not work for me in the narrative, it worked well there (small distinction but distinction I usually try to make)