As a reader I’m often guilty of sticking with the authors or genres of romance that I’m most comfortable with. I won’t call it a rut necessarily… but taking a close look at my reading shelves I see that European historicals with a male/female relationship dominate. A few months back the lovely ladies here at All About Romance started talking about the choices we make at the bookstore and I was surprised to see that we all seem to stick fairly close to our favored genres in the books we review. Em Wittmann and I used that discussion as a springboard to take a walk on the wild side by each choosing a book for the other to read – outside of our usual genres.
Em knows that I’m a die-hard historical reader so when it came to selecting a book for me I think she decided to be kind and chose something that’s within that spectrum. I was given Think of England by K.J. Charles, which is still an historical but the romance is between two men. I can’t say that I read many M/M books and I review even fewer of them, so this actually was a challenge for me. I may have been a little more calculating in my choice for Em since she’s more adventurous in the books she picks. I went totally outside of her comfort zone and picked Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison for her. Contemporary Paranormal, especially with a whole lot of world building, is not for the faint of heart!
With new books in hand Em and I went back to our reading nooks with no preconceptions other than a hope that our friend didn’t steer us wrong.
~ Sara Elliott
Em: I liked it and I appreciate that you went big with this choice! Ms. Harrison’s worldbuilding is extensive and even though Dragon Bound is the first in the Elder Races series, she doesn’t pull any punches for readers who aren’t familiar with her writing or her world-building. Fortunately, I just finished the first two books in her Moonshadow series, so I had some (not much!) familiarity with Wyrkind, the Dark and Light Fae, shapeshifters etc. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have finished it! Sorry :(
That said, I liked the first half of this book and then – well, it seemed to lose focus and so did I. I loved how Ms Harrison brought the principals together and then right away forced them to work together in order to survive. Relationships forged in fire are catnip for me. But then once she established them as a couple, the story lost its urgency. What was the central conflict? The relationship? The battle against the Dark Fae King? Or revealing who she/Pia really was? I felt like Ms. Harrison couldn’t make up her mind – and the story suffered for it.
So Sara! Anyone who knows anything about my reading habits knows how much I love historical romance and that I particularly love a good m/m love story. BIG TIME. K.J. Charles is one of my all-time favorite authors. Though Ms. Charles is well-known for writing compelling series’, Think of England is a standalone (for now!) and ironically, it’s my favorite book of hers. What did you think?
Sara: I was impressed. I shy away from historical M/M books mostly because the happy endings can feel contrived or will ignore the challenges men would have faced in order to be together. K.J. Charles doesn’t ignore those challenges in Think of England but rather than focusing on them exclusively she shows that being gay was probably one of many complications the main couple faced. Issues such as racism, classism and outdated social mores all run through the plotline and force a reader to consider much more than just how will the heroes avoid exposure for their relationship. The romance for Archie Curtis and Daniel de Silva evolves naturally as they work together to uncover a blackmailing plot and find mutual respect for each other’s skills.
I would have loved for the story to have dual viewpoints, showing not only Archie’s thoughts but also exploring what Daniel felt as they grew closer. There’s a turning point in the book where both men’s vulnerabilities are exposed and I wish I could have known what that meant to Daniel; for someone to see beneath the artifice he presents to others and know his heart. Fortunately Archie’s sexual awakening provides a clear path for these men towards staying together and I was very satisfied in how justice was served on the blackmailers. You mentioned that this is a standalone story but I’d be very happy to see Archie and Daniel pop up in another book just to see how their life as partners has continued.
Em, I’m glad that you suck with Dragon Bound till the end and it didn’t put you off of trying more Paranormal books. You’ll be happy to know that reading Think of England was an eye opener for me that there are intelligent and entertaining M/M books within the historical genre. What authors would you recommend for readers like me who are curious to try an M/M romance but don’t know where to start?
Em: I’m so happy you liked Think of England. As to further recommendations… I recently read a terrific historical m/m YA book, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, that I would recommend to anyone dipping their toes into queer historical fiction. It’s a standalone (so far); the principal character is a rogue with a tendré for his best friend. And if you’re looking for more m/m historicals that contain the same terrific balance of history and romance, I’d recommend read any/all of KJ Charles’ other books, any of Joanna Chambers books (the Enlightenment series and A Gathering Storm are all terrific and I recommend them all the time), Cat Sebastian (all her books are DIKs for me), Harper Fox and on the slightly naughtier/lighter side, Ava March. That shortlist should keep you busy for a bit!
And turning the question around, Sara, I would also love to know what else you can recommend in fantasy/paranormal. I don’t think I’m going to finish The Elder Races books – but perhaps you think I should? Are there certain titles that are better than others?
Sara: On the fantasy side I’ve always enjoyed Lynn Kurland’s Nine Kingdoms series. It’s full of magic, epic quests and the eternal struggles between good and evil. If you’d like to try another straight paranormal series I could recommend G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin series (dragon shifters in a medieval setting) or there’s the ever popular Black Dagger Brotherhood by JR Ward. Be warned, both of these series can be highly addictive once you’re hooked.
Em: Thanks again Sara, I loved doing this genre-swap with you! Let’s do it again. Soon :)