Desert Isle Keeper
His Fateful Heap of Days
His Fateful Heap of Days is the eighth – and possibly last – book in John Wiltshire’s amazing More Heat than the Sun series. It is not a standalone novel. I think the best way to open this review is with the poem John Wiltshire has used at the beginning –
There is a destiny that makes us brothers:
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.
I care not what his temples or his creeds,
One thing holds firm and fast
That into his fateful heap of days and deeds
The soul of man is cast.
This novel is one of the most romantic of the series, but first, I had better talk about the characters, the overarching tale of the series, and the plot in this novel. Nikolas and Ben are two alpha males. Ben is younger than Nik by a decade, gorgeous, but down to earth, an ex-SAS soldier, now film star. He met and fell hard for Nik about ten years before when he applied for a job, and their story has not been an easy one. Nikolas is complex, but his life before Ben was very complex; in fact, he is not even ‘Nikolas’ – but explaining that would be a series spoiler too far. Nik’s inner demons often threaten their relationship as much as events endanger their lives. Yet his internal dialogues, coloured by these demons, are part of my fascination with this character.
Over the years Ben and Nik have fought evil in the form of men; in the form of illness or fear, and even evil that made them fight each other. Whatever life has thrown at them they have survived together, making theirs is truly an epic love story. Along the way, they have gathered a ‘family’ around them, as neither have biological families they can call on. None of this has anything to do with the men being gay, which, in m/m romance, is refreshing.
Their ‘family’ includes a Russian woman and her granddaughter, a teenage boy and his mother, several ex-members of the SAS, a hacker; a Professor, and a toddler. They all live in the comfort afforded them by Nik’s billions. However, do not think for one moment that this is a gay billionaire/virgin type novel or series, because nothing could be further from the truth. We have been used to sarcasm, snark, humour and violence in these books, but in this novel we see Nik’s love for Ben, totally revealed. We also see past hurts and worries rectified. In the last novel, we saw Ben rejecting being gay and in a relationship with a man. This hurt Ben’s friend Tim, the most – and now he tells Ben how he feels –
“…you’re just mercenaries, Ben. You and him [Nik] both. You fight for the cause if and when it suits you, but you don’t wear the colours, haven’t sworn to the flag, don’t show any allegiance. When the battle’s over you don’t stay in the country, and when the war resumes, you might just decide to sign up for the other side. Does that make it clearer to you? You rejected being gay. You said it was unclean. That’s me. I’m unclean.”
I think some readers of book blurbs might have thought this about Nik and Ben’s attitude, too. It is easy to misinterpret some aspects of their story as manly posturing, but I have never felt it as masculine insecurity or gay erasure. The characters have always acted as the story demanded, and certain turns of phrase or the subtexts have erased any suspicions I had of this. As I mentioned, many issues, large and small, are resolved in this novel, but this is achieved against the background of a macabre discovery close to their home in Devon. The discovery and the ancient wisdom and rituals behind it once again endanger Nik, Ben, and their loved ones. This mystery is investigated and solved together with their friends this time, and includes a hilarious if not very adept, night time museum break-in under the influence of chocolate brownies. Even the undoubted lack of female characters in the series is partially resolved, as women, and the female is very important to the plot.
The unfolding story is, as always with John Wiltshire’s novels, intriguing, occasionally disturbing, but always captivating. It is Nik’s fear of approaching fifty however, and what this might mean for him and the younger Ben, that underpins the plot. The realisation that age is something he cannot fight seems to rally Nik into appreciating what he has. This includes those around him, although it his thoughts regarding Ben that makes this the most romantic of the series, as he finally accepts that not only does he love Ben, he is in love –
Ben Nikolas felt a surge of love so powerful that he actually swallowed and glanced away for a moment…
…When he looked at Ben, he wanted to smile. Whatever he was in was exceptionally welcoming. For the first time, it occurred to Nikolas that love wasn’t weakness. Love didn’t leave you vulnerable. If it did, then you were in love with the wrong person.
Nik fears that his age will be what finally convinces Ben to leave him, which seems farcical to us after all this couple has been through in the preceding seven novels. However, Nik is – again – merely expressing what all of us feel at some point. I also believe it is an observation on the world, where youth and beauty are held up as more valuable than anything else. It has to be said that the gay ‘scene’ is even more entrenched in the worship of youth and male beauty than the heterosexual world. Age is the one factor that cannot be defeated, although we all give it a try. But if ageing brings about thoughts like this in our partners, why worry –
Was there anything better than kissing Ben? Nikolas didn’t think so. He wondered idly as they ground their mouths together and their tongues danced whether he was getting soft in his old age…..He sometimes thought now he could stay kissing Ben for the entire day and never grow weary or impatient for more.
More Heat than the Sun is a marvellous series. I enjoyed every novel and fully intend to read all eight over again. I love the main characters, who evolve and develop as they age and their relationship is tested. I love the secondary characters, who are all individual and are also allowed to evolve over the series. I love how the author addresses difficult subjects and debates them through the minds and adventures of these two extraordinary men. What I love most of all is that I believe in Nik and Ben’s relationship, and the strength of their feelings for each other. I could wish this series to never end, but sometimes it is right that they do.
When I encountered these two men inLove is a Stranger, I didn’t realise that I would end up addicted to a whole series and never expected to read this most romantic of thoughts from Nik –
Ben kissed deeply into his neck at the same time as he tipped over the edge into sleep, and Nikolas plunged after him, unwilling, even in this, to be left alone and in a conscious world where Ben wasn’t present.
I would take this series to a Desert Island and be perfectly happy – until I had finished.