Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Erastes - Day 2: My DIK Books

Hello everyone and many thanks to the ladies of the Island for inviting me here. I'm armed with my Factor 200 (pale English skin, you see) a big floppy hat and an ankle length caftan. Now, where's the fruit-based drinks with the umbrellas?

I've been thinking about what to blog about and I think as a starter I'd like to share some of my essential reading with you. As some of you know I specialise in gay historical fiction, not just writing it, but doing my darndest to promote the genre and to get it recognised as a genre in its own right. When the romance and/or gay awards start to have it as a category I can die happy.

So, in the course of my work in this pimping, reviewing, promoting, generally-being-a-darned nuisance mode I read a lot of gay historical fiction. Almost in fact to the exclusion of all else and I've read some startlingly good, and some stunningly tripey along the way.

The genre is bound to grow--is growing, I'm happy to say--blossoming like a warm prick in a receptive palm, and as it does, and as people perhaps jump on the bandwagon I worry that the quality may fall. We all know that there are great het historicals and some that... well, read like they've been cobbled together from the films Braveheart and The Knight's Tale. So while I'm here, stranded with the ladies of misrule, I'll bring along my seven historicals and try to explain why I think they are the top seven, and why they are, in my opinion, my own Desert Island Keepers - and "Essential Reading" for anyone who wants to give the genre a go. I won't bore you with them all today, but will do a few today only, will chat about something different tomorrow and continue the list. Each one has a different reason why they are my DIKs

Although these are numbered 1-7, these aren't in any particular order - all of my Essential Reads occupy the number one spot in my heart. You'll notice that not all these books have a HEA. I believe a book can still have a stunning love-story and still end sadly.

1. At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill (1914 ish, Ireland)

It's hard to define this book. It's not what I'd call an easy read; you have to be in the mood to read it and the first few chapters are frankly enough to put any prospective reader off. I've been in contact with O'Neill about this and he says he's had to justify those first chapters all over the world and now he just says bugger it, they are as they are. Believe me, if you've not read this book, and you are at all interested in history, characterisation and a story that will tear you to little tiny tiny pieces, then you really need to. If I could make one person feel the way I felt after finishing this, then I would have achieved something magnificent.

2. As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann (17th Century England)

This one is an E.R. for the characterisation. Jacob Cullen is probably one of the most unpleasant characters you'll ever meet in gay historical fiction--as a romantic lead, at least--and if you check this list of traits for a sociopath, it pretty much sums him up. McCann's genius with this book is that she makes you care for this ghastly man, really care, and I for one was sobbing at the end.

3. The Charioteer by Mary Renault (Second World War England)

I'm sure no-one needs me to tell them it's a masterpiece. There is nothing wrong with this book. What makes it so amazing is that its one of the most erotic books of the genre without a single sex scene, or hardly even a kiss described. There's a part at the beginning where Laurie has a crush on Ralph, an older boy who is leaving school under a cloud, and Ralph says something like, "come here. There now, it wouldn't be any good." And you suddenly realise that between two seemingly innocent sentences was an entire scene for your brain to fill in. The dialogue and depth of emotion makes this a never ever ever be without book for me.

4. False Colors by Alex Beecroft (mid 18th cent. Age of Sail)

I've read all of Alex's works and enjoyed them all. However, as good as Captain's Surrender is, and it is, this book is as different from it as Swallows and Amazons and Master and Commander. This is E.R. because--although yes, it's a wonderful gay romance in every sense of the word--it's so much more than that. Many gay romances simply deal with the characters love for each other and the plot happens around that, but this is a real Boy's Own adventure, huge in scope, with a bodycount to rival anything Hollywood can produce (they'll never make this, it would be far too expensive)

I'll do some more tomorrow when I'll be discussing the fun and games a gay historical writer can have with the scents and smells and general hygiene issues that pre 20th century living can cause and the challenges of making love in the 17th Century without making the reader retch.


jessewave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jessewave said...

The Charioteer is a classic that every M/M reader should put on his/her list as required reading for the genre. What a treat!
So far, False Colors is up there for me too.

Erastes said...

Absolutely. No-one should even be allowed to put a word on paper before they've read the Charioteer at the very least.

And False Colors is, without a doubt, the best con temporarily written gay historical romance I've read so far.

Lee Rowan said...


I didn't read Charioteer!

Does Fire From Heaven/Persian Boy count...??

Anonymous said...

Is it bad of me to admit that the Charioteer isn't my favourite Renault? I much prefer the Persian Boy.

Alex Beecroft said...

Ooh! I can't believe the company False Colors is keeping :) I'm not sure how worthy it is! Though I think 'a Boys Own Story' describes it perfectly. (Except now I want to do one about Biggles and Ginger and their forbidden love in the fiery skies ;) )

I'm another Persian Boy fan, myself, though I have read and liked The Charioteer. I think the added lure of Alexander the Great made the difference.

Thank you so much! And back at you really. I think False Colors is shallow and superficial compared with Transgressions.

Carolyn Crane said...

Wow, this is the second place I've heard great things about AT SWIM. It sounds good - and that Mary Renault, too! Thanks for bringing these books on board!!!!

Erastes said...

Lee, you really must, although you get a bye - as it's you!

Erastes said...

Lexin - to be honest, I think that TPB is my favourite Renault too, but as a book that demonstrates the difficulties and beauty of gay romance - The Charioteer definitely wins

Erastes said...

Alex? PISH! Look at your fabulous review on DA. There's no way I'll get anything like that.

Now I want to do aviators too. We are evil.

Erastes said...

Hi Carolyn Jean - sorry to be so long to reply, I seemed to have missed all these comments!

You should try them - they are both not that easy to read, but SO SO SO worth it.

Mary M. said...

Thanks for the recommendations Erastes! I have At Swin Two Boys at home and started it a time or two, but the Irish dialect is really hard for me to read so so I never got far before setting it aside for something lighter or easier to understand. I do want to read it someday, though :).

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