An East Wind Blowing - Mel Keegan

Ladymol's Review

This is probably as good slash is ever likely to get. And I use that term slash advisedly because I do think there is a difference between gay books and slash. Cerisaye and I read an amusing blog the other day where the author was complaining bitterly about the tendency of women writing fanfic to slash totally straight men. Well… duh. As I was reading this, the fifth novel of Mel Keegan’s we’ve reviewed, it felt a little like reading the slash (and therefore much improved) version of Lord of the Rings: it’s Boromir and Aragorn in post-Roman Britain.

In this impressively authentic portrayal of early Britain, life was short and often brutal and boys were men by the time they were sixteen or seventeen. Desperate to escape his peasant background, Ronan leaves home to join the warband of the local warlord. Any good swordsman is welcome, for all the British tribes live in fear of an east wind blowing: a wind that will bring the fearsome Angle menace to their shores. Ranks buoyed by Saxon mercenaries, the Angle’s were a terrifying hoard of murderers and rapists, killing anyone who opposed them and taking as slaves those who could not. They attack one day when Ronan is away from home, and he returns to find the settlement in ruins and all his family murdered.

One other had escaped the destruction: Bryn, the chief’s arrogant seventeen-year-old son. Ronan would have chosen any other to be his companion but Bryn: Bryn who watched him train with scorn and perhaps open lust. Forced together by tragedy, they form an unlikely but intense bond, one that death threatens every time the east wind blows.

The sex is not graphic or the main focus of the story, but it is very erotic and sprinkled through the plot just enough to make this a really scorching book of male love. What particularly fascinated me is that Keegan writes this story in pre-Christian Britain. There are a few early converts mentioned, but they are treated rather as freaks—particularly for their odd prohibition on male love. For Keegan presents this as a society where male/male bonding is just as accepted as male/female. Indeed, in the warband Ronan and Bryn join after fleeing the first Angle invasion, male/male love is the only kind allowed. For men to have women and sire children not only distracted them but often left widows and orphans who had no way to fend for themselves if the men were killed in battle. It makes such eminent sense, and seems to me to give credibility to the whole premise of slash: that actually most real men (and all the pretty ones) would rather take male lovers, and if it weren’t for religion they probably would. We slashers just make it happen!

I loved the build up of tension in this book as the Angle’s come again and Ronan and Bryn must go into battle. Not particularly fond of boy’s own or war stories, this one kept the action very much at the level of the individual. You really care for these men and want them to survive for each other. I would most definitely recommend this book for any older gay teen: Ronan and Bryn are wonderful role-models and the idea of a place where male love was celebrated as being one of the most important of warrior traits can’t help to leave you with a very upbeat feeling. Once more, Keegan doesn’t disappoint. Definitely one to buy and read.

Cerisaye's Review

A treat of an historical romance set in Dark Age Britain, a time unmarked by homophobia.  Of course these people are pagans and, sadly, already Christians threaten their freedom to love as they will by introducing concepts of sin, hellfire & damnation.  Still, we can enjoy while it lasts with them, an example of openness and tolerance our society would do well to emulate.

Ronan is a 16 year-old peasant’s brat who wants to carry a sword, unthinkable for someone born to be a farmer. Ronan has the heart of a warrior's, one of an extraordinary breed of men.  Another is Bryn, spoiled heir to local chieftain Gryffydd.  Ronan’s startling green-eyed red-haired beauty catches Bryn's lustful, acquisitive eye.  So when Ronan subsequently works his way into Gryffydd’s warrior band to become Bryn’s rival, sparks fly. 

Then the Angles come from the east and Ronan & Bryn face their first test as men.  Thrown together, forced to depend on each other despite rivalry that masks fierce attraction drawn by passion and desire neither can control.  In a terrible new world they’re equals, part of Gareth Ironhand’s warband free to explore their feelings.  Gareth knows about the Greeks, the Theban Band of warrior lovers and accepts no married men into his service.  His righthand man has never got over losing his lover, showing devotion that proves how wrong Christians are to judge and condemn without understanding.  As with all good historical romance the novel speaks of our own time as much as distant past.

Ronan & Bryn become mates, married in every way.  It’s powerfully erotic, with explicit sexual scenes as you’d expect from Keegan.  Secondary characters are well developed though appearing briefly.  Before Ronan’s attachment to Bryn he beds beautiful disabled boy Dafydd who he loves and cares for deeply, if not in the same way as Bryn, the man who is his equal in every way (like Jarrat & Stone!).  That’s what I liked about the novel, the way it shows hard, muscular men, prideful and fiercely independent, so willing to be vulnerable for each other, complete surrender.  Swoonworthy stuff...or maybe on holiday after 2 weeks without porn I was particularly susceptible?!  Bryn is an unsympathetic character to begin with but won me over by the honesty of his devotion to Ronan- the enemy becoming a lover is a staple of romantic fiction for good reason!

There’s a strong story with plenty of action, as Ronan & Bryn are blooded as warriors, fighting to survive in their harsh environment- the time of Arthur the warlord and Merlin his druid magic man.  Ronan & Bryn experience loss & grief yet learn too that the Angle invaders with their own sad stories seek refuge from hostile tribes in their homeland.

Transported to a far time & place, I was captivated by the powerful love story at its heart, not least because Ronan & Bryn are men unafraid to snatch happiness in an era when life was nasty brutal and too often short.  Recommended.