Alex Beecroft is blogging with us today and takes us back in time to Anglo-Saxon Britan where men were men and the fight for survival was an everyday occurrence.
A Word from The Author
Can we talk about that cover for a moment? It's probably my favourite cover out of all my books and is by the inestimable Kanaxa. We worked hard on getting this cover right – by which I mean that Kanaxa worked hard, and I kept saying things like “can you make that helmet look more like a spangenhelm,” and “can we make it a round shield please?” But as a result of that unflinching back and forth we ended up with a cover that is not only beautiful but is also a kind of microcosm of the book itself.
Say “Early Medieval England” or “Viking Age England” and most people will think “Dark Ages.” It conjures up visions of grim horsemen, battleaxes, snake-prowed Viking ships running up the beaches, disgorging angry armoured men. Burning villages, looting, rapine, war. A bit like the Vikings TV series where everything that isn't bloody is brown.That would naturally make you think of dark colours, maybe some battlements, flames against a lowering sky and an atmosphere of oppression and threat. And that was exactly what I didn't want for the cover of this book.
I understand why so many people who write books set in this period focus on the battles between Saxon and Viking, the war and terror that that implies. After all, they tell you as a writer to focus on conflict and what more obvious conflict is there than two bunches of people trying to kill each other with swords? But I wanted to do something that was a bit less obvious.
You see I love the Anglo-Saxons. I have done ever since I discovered that they were the closest thing to the Rohirrim you could get in the real world. I studied Anglo-Saxon art and archaeology at university and did a Masters degree focussing on the Saxons' pre-Christian beliefs in magic, medicine and the gods. As a result of which I read most of their extant literature (in translation.) I even learned to read Old English, although I have thoroughly forgotten it by now, so that I could begin to appreciate the way they used their beautiful language.
For the last twenty years, I've been a member of the Saxon, Viking and Norman re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, which has certainly helped me when it came to getting the small details of this book right. For example, here I am by the fire playing the same kind of bone whistle that Leofgar carries up his sleeve in the book:
And yes, I know exactly what it's like to sit in a longhall on a cold winter's night with your eyes streaming from the smoke, smelling like you've been kippered, and hearing the wolves howl outside. Even the wolf part is true – Regia has a longhall in Kent, just outside a nature reserve on which there are wolves. Close enough to hear it when they sing. I love the Saxons' art, the amazing colours and brightness of their illuminated manuscripts, the gold and glitter and garnet of their jewellery. I wanted some of that sense of light and colour in my cover and by Jove I think I got it.
I love the thoughtfulness and romantic melancholy of their poetry. They felt that they lived in a diminished age, that great things had happened in the past and nothing now lived up to it. They built their wooden halls in the shadows of Roman walls and made songs about “the ancient works of giants.” They had a cooperative and really quite egalitarian society – much better for women's rights, social mobility and the treatment of peasants and slaves than the Norman culture that replaced them.
So what I wanted in this book was to show that society working, in the last years before the Viking raids began to turn into a Viking invasion. I wanted to show that society at peace, so that I could look a bit closer at the kinds of things that war doesn't leave time for: music, magic, gender and the social construction of masculinity. We know very little about how the Anglo-Saxons treated gay men, so I've had to borrow from what we know of the Vikings' attitude. I feel OK about this, as the Angles were essentially the same stock as the Vikings, they shared the same gods and many of the same words. They shared a past. It's not a stretch to think that their beliefs about sex were similar.
It's both good news and bad news. On the one hand no one is thinking same sex relationships are unnatural, illegal or damned. On the other, it's a proof of your masculinity to be the top, but woe betide the bottom. He is the object of ridicule and the same kind of contempt that Victorian society dealt out to fallen women. So there's a conflict. How the hell do you negotiate a relationship of equals in a culture that's preoccupied with the assumption that one of you must be the bitch? If you're a well respected, high born, dangerous warrior, can you ever dare to be some man's boy? And if you're poor and beautiful and dependant on charity from your local warlord – like an itinerant bard – how do you get him to accept that you will never submit to him because you're just as much of a man as he is?
These questions and many more are answered in the story, which does in fact contain numerous sword-fights, fist-fights and other types of conflict both magical and mundane. War, after all, isn't the be all and end all of everything. Even a society at peace is not necessarily free of bandits, backstabbers, supernatural horrors and men with lethal levels of entitlement.
Title: The Reluctant Beserker
Author: Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: M/M (Historical)
Rating: 5 Stars
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.
Alex Beecroft is for me one of the historical masters of M/M romance. This time she takes us back to Anglo-Saxon Britain at a time when life was a fight for survival and manages to combine into this backdrop a thoroughly convincing M/M romance.
Wulfstan is an anglo-saxon warrior and was fostered by his master Lord Ecgbert and trained in his service. One evening when they arrive at their village Wulfstan hears a music that magically draws him. This music came from the main hall from two musicians or scops. Leofgar and his master Anna are in the hall playing for the crowds gathered there.
However, with Wulfstan all is not what it seems. Deep down he has a longing for a love that as a saxon warrior can’t speak its name and he tries to suppress those feelings, however that proves in the long run an almost impossible task. Trying to be something he isn’t. After a chance meeting with Leofgar and a passionate kiss with all those feelings surfacing he shuns Leofgar after nearly being discovered. The fear of discovery is greater than the act itself and Anna needs to plead for Leofgar’s life and both are thrown out of the village.
This sets them both on two very separate paths at the beginning. Anna is getting frail and they both need to find somewhere to stay for the winter. They find a place under the Saxon Lord Tatwine, where Leofgar promises to be his loyal servant if they can stay on his land. However, the price that Leofgar pays for comfortable lodgings is a high one and when his master Anna dies his Lord comes to collect.
In the meantime, Wulfstan has a brutal disagreement with Cenred his best friend which leads to a fight and Cenred’s accidental death. Although it was accidental, Wulfstan finds it difficult to live with the shame and guilt and so leaves his village. He is also scorned by Cenred’s mother Seawyn and as she practices witchcraft puts a curse on Wulfstan and starts to stalk him to see if the curse works.
Then fate plays a role and by a chance meeting, Wulfstan meets Leofgar and their paths are inextricably linked. Both on a kind of pilgrimage, Wulfstan trying to come to terms with his guilt and Leofgar fleeing from his cruel master and on his way to find another in the form of Anna’s friend Gewis who is now a monk at the monastery of St. Aethelthryth.
I loved the way that this plot worked out. First of all they are separated, but that one passionate kiss neither can forget, keeping them thinking about each other constantly during the separation. Neither believing that their paths would once cross again.. When they eventually meet again after a number of circumstances brings their paths together, it is with caution. Leofgar still sees the warrior in Wulfstan, strong stubborn and in conflict with himself. Wulfstan soon realises that Leofgar’s strength is not in his physical strength but his power with words which in Wulfstan’s eyes is a mighty a weapon as any sword. I love the way Alex gets exactly the characters right, balancing each other out perfectly, but not without its tension and angst as Wulfstan battles with his feelings internally. In this respect Leofgar is more confident and outspoken, knows his own mind and exactly what he wants from life, even if this does get him into a number of troublesome escapades. His love of music is compelling and only second to the feelings he has for Wulfstan.
How do you write about an M/M romance in historical anglo-saxon Britian? Well, if I can trust anyone to get it exactly right then it’s Alex. She paints such a vivid backdrop and sends the reader whirling right back in time. I find the backdrop and how it’s described one of the most important aspects of any historical novel and Alex achieves this brilliantly, atmospheric and fitting to this time.
I loved the way she uses old anglo-saxon words, e.g. wyrd for fate / destiny, wycce for witchcraft / magic, scop for musician, etc. However, this does not confuse the reader as due to the brilliantly descriptive writing you know exactly what these words refer to and what is meant without having to look things up on Wikipedia. The research for such a novel is so important to get the facts right, traditions, behaviour, customs, attitudes, etc. and here Alex displays here meticulous research in getting the historical aspects just right.
Another important aspect for me is the dialogues, they should be simple and easy to understand, but also reflect the language and conversations of this time without being too modern in their nature. Once again Alex does this with a skill that is breathtaking, bringing the characters alive; vivid, feeling, breathing, tangible and real characters although we find ourselves way back in time. Also I believe they of course wouldn’t talk directly about their sexuality or feelings in this time, but more through innuendos and circumnavigating the subject, but leaving no doubt what is being referred to. This style of writing for me was the most beautiful and poetic in many ways.
So what about the “gay” aspect in a historical novel? Well, this I guess is a tricky one as it’s difficult to know exactly what the attitudes were to this particular theme. However, Alex portrays something that I feel is near the truth and totally believable. In manyrespects they were probably not as homophobic as we would maybe think, being something that could be viewed as normal for “brothers-in-arms” or the Saxon Lord taking a “toy boy” for his nightly escapades. I really think this would be totally within in the realms of believability and feels totally natural for this time. Wulfstan is obviously having a huge internal conflict with the fact he is the tough guy warrior but his feelings towards other men could be construed as a sign of weakness. Leofgar is a lot happier in his skin, being a musician and more determined, seems to be more in touch and at home with his feelings.
Eventually they both find their path together and the book ends on a HEA with a hint of more adventures to come maybe. I would like to think so as I would love to read more about Wulfstan and Leofgar. Once again and beautifully written book from Alex; rich in detail, emotion and intricacy of plot. A must read for all historical fans of M/M.
About The Author
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.
Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper.
She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency
Contact The Author
Alex will be giving one ebook copy of The Reluctant Beserker away.
Enter the draw below and GOOD LUCK!!