Fortunes of War - Mel Keegan

Ladymol's Review

Another wonderful read from Mel Keegan. But now Iíve gone from unsure whether Mel is male or female, to being unsure itís one person at all. How could one author write superb sci-fi, incredible historical romances, sexy gothic vampire tales, sharp modern fiction and probably more? This novel is wonderfully well researched and has a strong authentic Elizabethan voice. It naturally reminded me of The Buccaneer, the only other pirate novel weíve reviewed. Sex amongst men aboard ship is presented as wholly natural and welcome and the rape and abuse, shown in Hollywood movies happening to the busty screen sirens, happens usually to boys or male prisoners. There is only one woman in this whole book and sheís so insipid I canít remember her name. Yey. This is a world of men and fighting and the sea and harsh conditions. Yet itís also one of the most intensely romantic novels weíve read. Robin, the younger of the two lovers, is only eighteen when heís seduced and falls in love with Dermot the handsome Irish/Spanish pirate. Robin is a young eighteen, too: the baby of the family, cosseted and educated and still at home rather then earning his fortuneóa sharp contrast to a fourteen-year old we meet later in the book who has already sailed across the Atlantic with his uncle and been the imprisoned catamite of a pirate for six months. Dermotís slow seduction of Robin is gorgeous. Reading the first kiss felt like actually being kissed. Amazing. But the novel doesnít sacrifice plot for romance and the detail of Elizabethís court and the intrigues and the war with Spain are incredibly rich. Dermot and Robin are separated, apparently by death, and a long winter sets into Robinís heart. Itís all quite believable and the novel has a strong ďspirit of placeĒ to it: Robin seems to wither and die in the harsh coldness of England. In the Caribbean, by contrast, he sparks with new life, full of love and strength.

I loved the scenes set in the Caribbean. The story revolves, loosely, around gold and jewels and whole second half of the novel is vibrant with colour and fast-paced action. The sex is pretty graphic, but very in spirit of the times, with a certain delightful coyness between the two men. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death and only at sea, and in their world of piracy, is Robin able to slowly come to enjoy his freedom. You do have to wonder if men have always been attracted to exploration and adventure for other reasons than merely financial gainÖ.

A great historical read and a delightful gay romance. Highly recommended.

(note: the cover shown here is by Jade and is absolutely gorgeous. I couldn't find this version in the UK, but you can purchase it direct from Mel's site, Dreamcraft

Cerisaye's Review

Thereís no way really this novel could fail to please me, seeing itís just like those old Errol Flynn movies I loved so much way back when, except the handsome pirate gets to have his man.† The setting is my ideal in historical romance: England and the Spanish Main in the tumultuous 16th C, featuring swashbuckling adventurers and bright-eyed boys begging to be relieved of their innocence, privateering, sea battles, intrigue and skulduggery.† Itís an epic adventure story centred on two very different men who meet and fall in love.†

Dermott Channon is an impoverished Irish-Spanish mercenary in England with his elderly uncle, Spanish ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth.† Purely by chance he encounters a beautiful red-headed boy hidden away on the family estates, Robin Armagh, youngest son of an Anglo-Irish earl sympathetic to the cause of Catholic Spain.†

Itís 1588, a time fraught with danger when war/peace hung on a knifeís edge.† Channon risks his life to be in England, and of course sodomy was a crime punishable by gruesome death.† Therefore love has that desperation when every embrace, or night wrapped together, could be the last in life.†

Robin is a peach ripe for the plucking, filled with adolescent lust but lacking an outlet for his desires.† His mother died when Robin was but a boy, his older brothers make their own way in the world and an illicit liaison left him disgraced, dismissed by his distant and disapproving father, desperate for love and affection.†† Channon is his teacher, in the ways of the wicked world as well as the skills of a lover.† Keegan makes it utterly convincing that an inexperienced but very willing youth should find happiness in the capable arms of a man who after years at sea knows that love is love, regardless of gender or age.† When Dermott makes known what his body wants, Robinís fevered curiosity mingled with fear is completely convincing.† Weíre in no doubt at all this is what Robin wants, and Channon is a perfect gentleman, because heís known rough handling and forced capitulation.

Iíve heard Keegan is actually a woman.† I wasnít surprised because the way he/she writes sex as an intense emotional experience is a dead give-away : thereís a beautiful first-time scene, tender, sensual, full of lust and longing, but warm too, and loving.† Honestly, this is romance to make you swoon.† Robin grows and changes from trembling boy to strong man who makes Channon submit, pupil overwhelming the master, the first time any man has done this for Dermott with love.† For Robin learns compassion and humanity along with consummate bedroom skills

Thereís no way back for Robin and Channon once theyíve tasted the full passion of union, at odds with the law and the church.† However, after the Spanish embassy is expelled from England, and the Armada sets sail, they must spend 5 years apart before meeting again by chance when Robinís ship is attacked by privateers en route to ransoming back his brother.†

Keegan has done his research to capture the flavour of the period, but itís realistic gay history that makes this novel.† The freedom of the New World anticipates the Frontier in later times that allowed Dakota and Rezo to love as they chose.† Companies of men together for long periods without female presence will find pleasure where they can, and for many thatís choice not necessity, no matter that homosexuality wasnít given a name until much later, so donít pay any attention to those who say this is anachronism.†

400+ years on, throughout the world men canít be openly intimate and gay people are still being killed for what they are, so itís nice to escape to a place and time where two men can disappear and be left alone to get on with the life they choose.† Of course there are numerous obstacles to overcome, fortunes of war and jealous rivalry, but the journey is captivating and totally enthralling, nail-biting to the end.† And did I mention HOT?!

This GMP version has been superseded by a new, complete edition published by Dreamcraft.† Over 6,000 words have been restored, Ďthe lyricismí says Mel.† I want that book!†