Title: Dance of Stone
Author: Jay Lewis Taylor
Publisher: Manifold Press
Release: 1st May 2014
Genre: M/M (historical)
Late twelfth-century England: a country of divided loyalties while the Lionheart is on crusade. Hugh de Barham, master mason at Wells, walks a dangerous path between Glastonbury and Wells as the two vie for supremacy, a path made more dangerous still by the fact that Hugh, if he could, would share his bed not with women but with men.
The only way to stay safe is to keep his head down, but building the church of his dreams is no way to do that: and then there is Arnaut l’Occitan. What does this stranger from Provence want with Hugh? And can he, or anyone, be trusted?
A wide-sweeping historical epic that will take you back to the days of stone masons, cathedral builders, religion and church politics. This book is not for the faint hearted, beautifully written, full of historical details, spans several years as we follow the life of Hugh.
Hugh de Barham is Master Mason at Wells Cathedral and if anyone has ever visited Wells or any other European cathedral it is truly astounding what they managed to build in this day and age with no modern technology to help them. Hugh is struggling with his sexuality or I should say he knows exactly what he is and prefers but in this time not a good idea to advertise the fact. Hugh is travelling to Wells and on his travels meets Arnaut l’Occitan a secretive stranger and is obviously very interested in Hugh but Hugh’s affections are for someone else, Godric, who was his guide to Glastonbury and now lives with Hugh as his servant. Hugh is attracted to Godric and doesn’t see the affections from Arnaut, so we have your typical case of not seeing what is right under your nose. Arnaut tries to win Hugh over but it is a long way and tough fight until Hugh eventually sees that his affections for Godric are completely lost and is wasting his time. Once he lets Arnaut in then a romance develops that is loving and caring as much as it is frustrating and annoying. Arnaut is most definitely the more experienced sexually and with patience and time shows Hugh all the affection he needs to be able to let go and fall in love. The emotions being played out by the characters for me felt real and realistic for the time, not we’ll ever know for sure, but I definitely felt their behaviour and attitudes for this time were plausible which is a sign for me of a good historical romance.
This is definitely one for hard core historical readers, the detail and attention historically is breath taking and I could feel as if I were back at Wells Cathedral during the days it was being built. I could imagine the lofty towers and heights of the vaults, the dangers of working on such constructions in this time at such lofty heights. I was getting vertigo while reading! It was really like being in a time capsule. Of course at this time all the political intrigue is there between rival deans and bishops all trying to out do each other. One minute dishing out their blessings and goodwill and the minute your back is turned stabbing it to further themselves. In all of this Hugh remains true to himself and others but it’s exactly not keeping his head down and speaking up for what he believes, staying true to himself that gets him into lot of trouble and has to flee to Lincoln. Caught up in a political cross fire.
This is where for me, as beautifully written as this book is, I just felt the plot was a little confused at times or maybe it was just me and the old grey cells. It seemed to meander a long time without going anywhere or having any one focal point / climax in the plot to keep the orientation of the reader. It was for me a little directionless plot wise at times until it got to about 70% then it started to come to some kind of final conclusion. There were many times I was left with a “huh? - How did we just arrive here from where we were before?” feeling. This is first and foremost an historical novel in my opinion and an M/M romance second, so I wasn’t expecting HEAs and soppy sighs at the end nor a fluffy read. So therefore it hit the spot and was exactly what I was looking for in this type of read. This book is challenging and did keep me interested for sure, I just had the feeling it was trying to be a wide-sweeping, historical epic of a novel but just didn’t quite make the mark for me on this particular point.
After all is said and done, this book is a real joy for all historical fans who wish to sink their teeth into something a little meatier, leaving the fluff behind for a while and immersing themselves into a past as dangerous as it is intriguing. A mediaeval historical novel that gives us an insight into the life and times of the great Cathedral Builders.
Meet Jay Lewis Taylor
Despite having spent most of my life in Surrey and Oxfordshire, I now live in Somerset, within an hour’s drive of the villages where two of my great-great-great-grandparents were born. I have worked in a wide range of libraries in my time, but am in fact a thwarted medievalist with a strong arts background.
I have been writing fiction for over thirty years, exploring the lives of people who are on the margins in one way or another, and how the power of love and language can break down the walls that we build round ourselves.