Gerry B's Book Reviews

The Sacred Band, by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

A scholarly tale of pathos, romance, and adventure

Story blurb: An adventure like no other. Two Sacred Bands, united for the first time. The Sacred Band of Thebes lives on, a world away, in this mythic novel of love in war in ancient times. In 338 BCE, during the Battle of Chaeronea that results in the massacre of the Sacred Band of Thebes, the legendary Tempus and his Stepson cavalry rescue twenty-three pairs of Theban Sacred Banders, paired lovers and friends, to fight on other days. These forty-six Thebans, whose bones will never lie in the mass grave that holds their two hundred and fifty-four brothers, join with the immortalized Tempus and his Sacred Band of Stepsons, consummate ancient cavalry fighters, to make new lives in a faraway land and fight the battle of their dreams where gods walk the earth, ghosts take the field, and the angry Fates demand their due.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

This is another book purchased from Amazon.com’s ‘Gay Historical   Fiction’ list, but apart from a few vague references to homosexuality it is   not a GLBT story.

At 570 pages (929 KB) The Sacred Band (Sacred Band of Stepsons) by Janet Morris and Chris Morris [Paradise Publishing, 2010] is an epic tale of heroes, gods, and demigods. I also understand that it is a continuation of a series, but it is the first I have read.

There are a number of good things to be said about this story. The evidence of major research stands out first and foremost. This was a time when every life force was governed by some god or goddess, major or minor, and to sort all these out is no slight task. I did, however, have some questions about weaponry—particularly cross bows and throwing stars in the third century BC. It is true that the authors did admit some anachronisms here, but for me these took me outside the time frame.

The plot is also well constructed, with drama, romance, pathos and destruction, woven together in a compelling and interesting way.

The journalism is of a high order as well, but here we begin to experience some difficulties. Technically it is good but convoluted by an overabundance of esoteric description; so much so that I found myself skimming over paragraphs, even pages, to get to the next point.

Individually the characters were both distinct and interesting, but collectively (by name) they were overwhelming. This was made even more mind-boggling by the fact that many of these had two or three names used interchangeably, i.e. Tempus/Riddler/Avatar; Nikodemus, Niko, Swift; and so on.

However, for me the most critical shortcoming was a book of 570 pages in length, involving the Sacred Band of Thebes, and not once did it mention same-sex sex by name or practice. Indeed, the only time when one male character makes a brief pass at another—in a whore house—it was treated with something like, “I’m not that way.”

Recmmended for the good points mentioned. Two and one-half Bees.

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November 27, 2011 Posted by | Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

The Great Pagan Army, by Vaughn Heppner

Recommended for those who enjoy a well-written historical action

Story blurb: This is the year 885 A.D., when a thundering army of hardened cutthroats, berserks and axmen trample its way across Western Europe, raping and pillaging at will. They are the Great Pagan Army—the largest array of Vikings ever assembled into one host. No army or city can resist them; no one dares… until a crippled young count finds an old Roman book on tactics.
With a handful of desperate knights, Count Odo fortifies the river fortress of Paris and awaits the savage host. Neither he nor the Vikings realize that this will be young Paris’s most brutal siege and of incredibly fateful importance.

Available in Kindle format – 1007 KB

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Note: Although this novel was found on Amazon.com’s “gay historical fiction” list, it is not a GLBT story. I don’t believe this is in any way the fault of the author, it is nontheless sloppy shopkeeping on the part of Amazon, and misleading as well.

Author Vaughan Heppner has chosen a most interesting period in history as the setting for his novel, “The Great Pagan Army” [Amazon Digital Services, 2010]. Beginning in the 830s AD, the Vikings did indeed exploit internal divisions within Charlemagne’s empire, and several times attacked Paris—the last taking place during 885 – 886 AD.

The main chronicle of this siege is the “Bella Parisiacæ Urbis” (“Wars of the City of Paris”), the eye-witness account by Abbo Cernuus, (“the Crooked”), poet of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Heppner refers to this account in his Historical Notes, and so the events of this occupation are as accurate as Cernuus made them.[1]

At the opening of the story we get to meet Peter the Monk, a bookish fellow devoid of any knowledge or understanding of life beyond the cloister, and charmingly naïve because of it. It is for this reason we are ready to forgive him the fact that he is on his way to rob the Abbot—to pay off a blackmailer (Lupus) armed with knowledge that, in a moment of weakness, Peter gained carnal knowledge of swine herder’s daughter (Willelda). However, his scheme is rudely interrupted when a gang of marauding Northmen attacks the Abbot’s house and Peter is captured.

One of the attackers, Hemming, the son of the brutish Norse leader, Ivor Hammerhand, is roughly Peter’s age and comparatively naïve as well, and so it is a clever bit of business to cast these two similar but different neophytes on a parallel plane.

After witnessing the destruction of the abbey, and the slaughter of his fellow monks, Peter makes a penitential vow to the Abbot that he will find another holy relic (for which the abbey was known) and replace the abbey, itself. He then manages to escape, and when he finds that Willelda  has been captured by the Vikings, he and Lupus set out for Rome—and, coincidentally (on Peter’s part), to rescue Willelda.

Meanwhile, after witnessing the slaughter of his fellows, Hemming is captured—along with his father—by a vengeful group of Berserkers. And when his father is brutally murdered, Hemming sets out on a journey of destiny—a journey inspired by the revenge of his father’s death.

We next get to meet Odo, Count of Paris and later (888-898) king of West Franca. Once again there is a similarity between the Count and Peter inasmuch as the Count is in love with a woman, Judith, the illegitimate daughter of a bishop, but since she has been sent to a convent, Odo cannot openly marry her without alienating the powerful Bishop of Paris.

These two therefore team up to obtain a rare treatise on war, De Re Militari, written by Flavius Vegetius (390 AD). Odo is convinced that with this knowledge he can defend Paris against ‘The Great Pagan Army,’ and perhaps win Judith. For his part Peter agrees to copy the book if the Count will aid in the rescue of Willelda.

And finally we meet the woman Judith, a headstrong girl who is forced to use her wits and guile to circumvent the highly patriarchal society that prevails all around her.

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As I have already mentioned, this is an interesting period of history that has not been exploited in the past. Pity, for it is full to the brim with the sort of politics and power-plays that make intriguing reading, so I was delighted to see that the author had captured the essence of this very well.

I also thought the characters were well developed, particularly in distinguishing between the classes. Peter was to Lupus what Odo was to Peter, and yet they needed one another in a practical way. The same might be said of Hemming and the Beserks, for Hemming was one step above the others on the evolutionary scale.

There are also some great battle scenes, featuring both period weapons and tactics, and the author has done a fine job of bringing these to life with the written word.

Historically, I think it is as accurate as it could be—although some medieval scholar might challenge me on that. I suppose one could quibble the fact that Count Odo’s wife, Théodrate of Troyes, was not the illegitimate daughter of a bishop, but to me such is part of an author’s license.

However, at times I thought the author stretched my credibility factor a bit beyond limits—Peter and Lupus’ finding the bones in Rome, for example. My biggest quibble, however, was with the lack-luster ending. After all the great battle scenes and individual combat, I thought the ending—however historically accurate—was less than heroic. Nonetheless, I can recommend this story for those who enjoy well-written historical action. Four Gerry Bees.


[1] Some historians dismiss Cernuus’s account as being a somewhat fanciful version commissioned and written for Count Odo.

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November 20, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history, non-GLBT, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dreaming Sparta, by Richard Favio

A bold and interesting premise.

 

 

Story blurb: In ancient Greece, Demetrios trains to become a Spartan soldier but grows depressed over the loss of his mentor, Andreas. His desire for them to retain their monogamous relationship is overcome by Lysandra’s devious attempts to have Andreas fulfill his duty as her betrothed.

In present day New York, Andrew’s life is in shambles when his father threatens to evict him for being gay.

When, Andrew stumbles into Demetrios’ world through a dream portal, their encounters provide each with the incentive to confront their demons … together.

Cover design: J.M. Snyder, with photography by: Vulkanette, Frenk and Danielle Kaufmann, and Igor Kovalchuk.

Available in eBook format – 197 KB

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Richard Favio has an extensive résumé of literary reviews, short fiction and poetry, and I understand that Dreaming Sparta [JMS Books LLC, 2011] is his second novella.

The premise is an interesting one, whereby two pairs of soul-mates—Demetrios and Andreas from Ancient Sparta, and Andrew and Demetri from modern-day New York—somehow intersect spiritually across the continuum of time. Right there we have almost endless possibilities of contrast and comparison, some of which the author exploits quite nicely.

Andreas and Demetrios are erastes and eromenos, a mentoring and hands-on relationship that was accepted and encouraged for the benefits to society and the state. For example, the erastes (mentor) taught his young lover (eromenos) the proper etiquette and duties of a citizen. Indeed, it is believed by some that Spartan militarism and the well-being of the state depended on sexual love between men, i.e.:

“Older men chose young male lovers. There was no real age of consent in ancient Sparta. Childhood innocence had no meaning in the warrior state. All aspects of the life cycle were subjoined to the aim of making soldiers fit for war and the preservation of the common weal. Its practice was such an integral part of Spartan life that Plutarch writes: “By the time they were come to this age (twelve years old) there was not any of the more hopeful boys who had not a lover to bear him company.” Without a realization of the profound male love relations that animated it, no understanding of Spartan society is possible. Sparta was a homosexual state by law.”Sex and History” a blog by Stanley Pacion.

However, once a certain age had been achieved it was expected—for the benefit of the state—that these would marry and procreate. Nonetheless, this was, once again, a mere extension of underlying male-oriented society, i.e.:

“Though encouraged into homosexuality from youth and conditioned to it by the institutions in which he lived, the law nonetheless required him to marry. Lycurgus [the legendary founder or Sparta] not only excluded bachelors from participation in the greatly appreciated naked processions of women, but also prescribed, “…in wintertime, the officers compelled them [the bachelors] to march naked themselves round the market-place, singing as they went a certain song to their own disgrace, that they justly suffered this punishment for disobeying the laws. Moreover, they were denied that respect and observance which the men paid their elders.” The need for children as well as the preservation of duty to the state inspired this contradictory legislation for Sparta.” Ibid.

The wedding night, as described by both Favio and Pancion, appears to leave a lot to be desired by modern standards:

“The wedding night also fell under the jurisdiction of Lycurgus’ legislation. In a tender passage Plutarch describes the legally prescribed ritual of consummation in Spartan society: “… she who superintended the wedding comes and clips the hair of the bride close around her head, dresses her up in mans’ clothes, and leaves her upon a mattress in the dark; afterwards comes the bridegroom, in his every-day clothes, sober and composed as having supped at the common table, and, entering privately into the room where the bride lies, unites her virgin zone, and takes her to himself; and after staying some time together, he returns composedly to his own apartment, to sleep as usual with the other young men.”” Ibid.

On the other hand, Andrew and Demetri are just discovering their attraction to one another; an attraction that is frowned upon by society (as represented by Andrew’s father), and erstwhile by the state.

Modern technology was a source of contrast explored by the author, making for some humorous observations on the part of a visiting Demetrious.

Nevertheless, for me there were a number of shortcomings. The first is that I never did catch the reason that Andrew was ‘dream-transported’ back to Sparta in the first place. Perhaps it was there and I missed it, but it was a question that stuck in my mind throughout.[1] Secondly, as pointed out by Stanley Pacion, there were some very well established and interesting reasons for Andreas and Demetrios’ loving relationship, and although these are alluded to in Dreaming Sparta, I felt they could have been further developed.

That said, Dreaming Sparta is an interesting concept, and the author does include some interesting details regarding Sparta, so it is well worth the price. Three and one-half Gerry Bees.


[1] Since I am using the same scenario in my next novel (i.e. spiritual connectedness), I was especially interested to see how the author dealt with it.

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Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 15,776

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To order any of my books click on the individual cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in Kindle and Nook formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95, exclusive of tax where applicable.

       

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November 6, 2011 Posted by | Coming out, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical period, Military history | Leave a comment

   

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